Tuesday, October 1, 2019

DIVERSION PDX: 1891 @ The Multnomah Athletic Club

Eater called 1891 The Best Portland Restaurant Where You'll Never Get to Eat.   For me, this statement proved erroneous on two counts: I can eat there (I'm a non-resident member), and it's only the best restaurant you'll never get into because I don't know of any other Portland restaurants with that kind of exclusivity (although Ataula's no-reservation system might be just as, or even more, off-putting).  Chef Phillipe Boulot may have spiffed things up from its prior incarnation, but there are quite a few snags that keep it from being much of anything to write home about.  Even if it IS where I consider "home" and I gave it a lot of concessions for nostalgia's sake.

We actually only even ended up there because of an hour and forty-five minute predicted wait time at the aforementioned Ataula, and at least we knew we'd have pretty good odds (though no guarantee) for table given its members-only status.  It was still fairly well occupied, mostly a mature clientele, but no one appeared post-workout in terms of dress- they adhere to a fairly strict dress code, in the restaurants and throughout the club.  The MAC has pretty much everything one would need to live, all-inclusively, within the facility, from the swimming pools, library, spectators porch looking out on to Providence Park, a gift shop, obviously every imaginable workout option, and myriad restaurants.  Aside from 1891, there's a seasonal outdoor bistro, Joe's Pub and a few snack shops.  Suffice it to say that the MAC prides itself on its amenities, so I had pretty high expectations going in, especially given Eater's rave and Boulot's reputation... but while the food was good, there was little to get excited about.



The room itself is quite pubby, low-lit with dark wood, and t.v.s above the bar, giving it much more of a bar-like feel than anything even close to fine dining, as which is seems to bill itself.  The menu is nicely arranged and offers enough variety, featuring some Oregonian specialties, but for the most part is fairly classic (read: generic). A few salads on hand included a pretty traditional Caesar, a Bacon & Bleu on butter leaf, and a beet salad with the predictable goat cheese, although this one was zinged up with a hint of
 horseradish, which nicely cut the sweetness of the beets.  Other starters included a French onion soup, gratinéed, some nice deviled eggs with Dungeness, and on a slightly more modern side, a crispy tofu and broccoli salad or tombo tuna poke.... nothing even remotely revolutionary in New York, but maybe a bit novel for Portland, and certainly in comparison with the rest of the menu.

And entree offering of roasted cauliflower was just the right size to be shared by the three of us, and might have been the highlight of the evening.  It was savorily sauced and meaty, tinged with delightfully crusty edges and smothered in a delicious salsa verde, bright, rich and herby.




From there, main plates feature local seafood varieties, like Columbia River sturgeon, silky black cod or a pristine halibut filet, the latter two quite univentively served with the same
Halibut
Black cod
 accoutrements, a confit of summer vegetables, squashes and eggplant, formed into a compact cylinder, and a light, silky cushion of polenta.   Since our dinner had been somewhat delayed by that Ataula debacle, my hunger got the best of me before I recalled to take a picture of our selections, which appear here partly consumed.  That said, portion sizes are
pretty  meager, much more in tune with the description and price points of the menu, but out of sync with the t.v. screens and pub-like ambiance.  The addition of a mi-cuit spinach with Japanese
 flavors and a sprinkle of sesame was a welcome supplement.  Prime Rib, as might be expected, was a more ample plate, teamed up with some fat stalks of grilled asparagus, some hearty mash and a fragrant au jus.


A rhubarb crumble that I had made the day before lured us back home, a more enticing sweet than the dessert options offered at 1891, and especially given the sort of lackluster quality of the meal.  I fully endorse the excellence of the food, but only with that weighty qualifier that the restaurant is in an athletic club.  Standing on its own two feet it just wasn't quite as stellar as the press had made it out to be.






Multnomah Athletic Club
1849 SW Salmon St.
Portland, OR 97205

Phone: 503-223-6251 


Saturday, July 27, 2019

PASTIS

Just like the old location, the new Pastis is buzzy and as hard to get a table at as the old one.  And just like before, the scene and the name and the hype are much more of a draw than the food, although it certainly provides palatable sustenance to go along with the experience.   The food is at times quite good, and serviceable when it is not.  The dining room is slightly smaller than the original, as far as I recall, but the decor evokes the same, classic Parisian bistro atmosphere; the red banquettes, specials marked on mirrors, and an abundance of francophiles.  Even our server was a dashing French gentleman, adding a lot to the ambiance, and he paid good attention to us as well.


I arrived a little later than my tablemate, who had already made solid progress on a chilled, pistachio-studded pate, sided with zippy pickled onions, cornichons, and toasted hunks of rustic baguette.  I ordered an heirloom tomato salad sas my starter, but it didn't arrive until the entrees did, perhaps conceived as a side dish rather than a salad as I intended.  Instead, it served as an assiette, although in retrospect I wish I would've ordered one of those additionally, since I ate my tomatoes before getting to my entree, in which the vegetable component  seemed pretty scanty (here and in all cases).  They were lovely, juicy,
market-fresh tomatoes, however, of varying hues and degrees of fruitiness, speckled with fresh chervil and basil.



Hamburger à l'américaine c/o Nick Solares
My go-to source for all things meat related, and hamburgers in particular, Nick Solares had this to say about Pastis' rendition: "Cheeseburger à l’Américaine. Pastis. Believe the hype on this one. It’s an absolutely killer chef’ed up version of the classic double patty smash burger. "   So if you're the hamburger type, I 
would rank this one high.  We were a more piscine duo, my tablemate opting for moules
 frites , and I, the skate Moutarde.  The mussels were deep bowl of glossy black-shelled mollusks,
 submerged in a garlicky white wine broth touched with cream. They were sweet and plump, and fairly perfect as far as mussels go.  The frites were good, crisp and salty, the best ones showing a bit of skin. 






 
The same could not really be said for my skate, which was (inexplicably) served on the bone (make that bones), so my first forkful was an unexpected mouthful of pulpy skate riddled with a dozen twiggy, cartilaginous shards of its skeleton.  I don't mind things being served on the bone, normally, but skate is a lot of work to navigate that way, and I would've appreciated someone in the kitchen having done this for me.  Regardless, the diner should be informed upon ordering that that's what they will be served, so they can prepare accordingly.  The plate was a little monochromatic, sluiced in a creamy mustard sauce that could've used a little more zip, and bedded with spinach that had only just seen the heat of the fish atop it, and nothing more.  It wasn't a wholly unpalatable dish, just a little barren.  A little more kick to the sauce and some attention to the spinach would've imparted a little more intrigue to the skate , which having been steamed, displayed a sort of mushy texture that needed something on the plate to counter.  



The highlight of the meal was inarguably dessert.  I was torn between a Tarte Sablé à la mirtille, and the Biscuit Mirliton, but I chose the latter correctly- or at least not having known what I missed of the blueberry tart, was thrilled with my milliton discovery.   It is a beautiful almond-scent puck of cake, soaked in fragrant strawberry juices and a mess of berries, dolloped with barely sweetened cream, whipped enough for a bit of flounce but with all of its lusciously creamy heft.   Some toasted thinly sliced almonds atop gave crunch, gently sprinkled with powdered sugar.  I have never seen nor heard of a mirliton before that night, but apparently it has been around since 1800.  Perhaps for this introduction alone, I welcome back Pastis to the Meatpacking District with open arms.  I'm not sure if the rest of the experience is worth the battle to procure a table, but if you wait for the crowds to subside 'til a later hour and just come by for (at least this?) dessert, Pastis will live up to every expectation.











52 Gansevoort Street
Tel. 212-929-4844

Thursday, July 25, 2019

THE FULTON

Jean-Georges may be spreading himself too thin not only throughout  New York, but across the globe, in my humble opinion, BUT! at The Fulton, he's got an extremely capable team covering all the bases.  And while it doesn't feel so much like a J.G. restaurant, per se, there are glimmers of his presence intermittently, although ironically the two "signature" elements I noticed were among the few faults incurred.

The restaurant itself is pretty spectacular.   They play up the seafood/nautical theme to the hilt, painting the walls with a muted, deep sea panorama and thick glass light fixtures reminiscent of buoys.  The East River ebbs and flows past, its surface frothed by speeding jet-skis and ferry boats, tourists cruises and an occasional sailboat, all of which make for a lovely vista, especially on the steamy summer night which I visited.  As the sun set, the sky lapsed into a splendid cotton-candy hued backdrop for the Manhattan Bridge, the waning sunlight glinting off the river's gentle caps.  Of course, the menu is similarly ocean-centric, and not exorbitantly priced.  There are classic seafood towers and raw bar options, presented on their tiered caddies and plates mounted with ice, as well as Crudos with Vongerichten's signature Asian flourish.




The only salad aside from a composed chilled asparagus duet was a kale and pea concoction, shrouded in a fluffy layer of lacy pecorino shavings and anchored in a thick, verdant avocado puree.  On paper it was an excellent salad, but it was a bit too salty and rich with an excess of cheese and avocado; a lighter hand on the dressing elements would've made it really wonderful.  As it was, I only made it about halfway through before my lips got little tingly from a salt o.d.  The menu is pretty big; there is a lot to choose from, although the focus is obviously maritime.   All the pastas have seafood
c/o Terri S. on Yelp
 elements, and the fresh tagliatelle with broccoli and cockles that we chose was superb.  Punched with black pepper and mint, the sturdy noodles held their own, effectively costarring with their accouterments and the abundance of sweet, fresh cockles in their shells.  Spice-crusted salmon was rich but delicate, a little skimpy
 on the roasted heirloom squash nestled beneath it, but sauced in a lovely balance of lime and coconut, tropical but not too tiki.  I was torn between medallions of monkfish with Calabrian chili, roasted potatoes and spinach and what I ended up with, a luxurious filet of black
 sea bass nestled into a rich lemon-turmeric emulsion impaled with long, spindly greenmarket carrots roasted tender with tufts of tarragon.  I was absolutely happy with my choice, although that monkfish might be my go-to on a revisit, although there are a roster of Simply Grilled options that showcase the freshest of the fresh, and this being the modern new incarnation of what was the Fulton Fish Market of yore, their prioritization of freshness is exemplary.



For those who just cannot stomach this devotion to the ocean, there's a hamburger, French-onion-souped out with Gruyere and crispy onions, as well as some roast chicken and a Wagyu tenderloin.  There are a category of Vegetables as well offered as side dishes, although the only one that I would technically categorize as a vegetable was an excellent plate of grilled asparagus, nothing fancy but solid, whereas the rest of them definitely fall iunder the rubric of starches: mashed potatoes, French fries and quinoa, albeit the latter of which features peas and favor, starchy vegetables though they are.

Desserts were, might I say, controversial.  Our server pushed the Chocolate Mousse, a layered quadrangle of peanut brittle and chocolate iterations, some noticeably bitter, sided with opposing orbs of passion fruit sorbet and vanilla ice cream.  The dessert was, apparently, somehow a "mistake"... I'm not sure at which point of production whichever ingredient interrupted the others, but so the story goes.  And the moral of that story is that they need a better editor.  Nothing made sense with the other components, and while chocolate desserts aren't my favorites anyways, this one wasn't even worth a second taste.  It just wasn't good, in texture or flavor, and really wasn't even that pretty.  It was also enormous.  The other one we tried, a lovely Strawberry Sundae wasn't going to win any awards for novelty, but it was beautifully cool and creamy and rife with myriad versions of peak-season strawberries, so many, in
fact, that it was hard to taste them all unless one is a big dessert eater.  Berries fresh, freeze dried, jammy, poached, and frozen into sorbet along with ice cream, whipped cream and subtle lime meringue bits served in a deep bowl was big enough for three or four people.  I can't imagine someone could fully appreciate either of these desserts to the full extent- the portions are just too big and multifaceted to hold one's attention.  They end up seeming wasteful and garish; it would be better to specify that they are made for sharing, or else minimize them.  The prices could even stay the same, or nearly the same, and just eliminate the excess.

But really, that was the biggest misstep, and fairly minimal, all things considered.  For me, this is J.G.'s strongest restaurant in the city right now. That and ABCV, which just goes to show you that as long as one keeps on top of things and stays current, focussed and aware, even the old dogs can perform the new tricks.







89 South Street at Pier 17 in the Seaport District 
(follow the signs)
tel.  (2120838-1200










Thursday, June 20, 2019

LEGACY RECORDS

Legacy Records has been on my radar since its opening, but no recommendations or reviews had encouraged or motivated me to go, until on of those last minute I-Can't-Think-of-Anywhere-to-Go-that-We-Could-Get-Into-at-This-Point scenarios landed in my lap, and it became the mosts suitable destination.  It's pretty remote, located over in the Netherlands of far West Chelsea, more notable for its galleries and clubs than restaurants, which perhaps was part of the inspiration.  You'd think the place would have a rock 'n roll feel, but it's much more understated than that. Although that could've been partially because it was practically empty; there was but one other party of two brunching simultaneously. The soundtrack,
however, played up the theme to the hilt: it was so raucously loud conversation was nearly impossible, which was noticeably bizarre since the restaurant was so empty.  It kind of felt like being in some cavernous venue before a concert while they were doing sound-check: all the cacophony of the band with none of the presentation.

The room is stately.  It looks a little "Mad Men", retro touches abound and the room is very handsome and well-organized.  I can't say whether it was because it was so dead that the service had just kind of given up even trying, but although each intermittent interaction with staff was absolutely pleasant and  efficient, no one really went out of their way to being a little more liveliness to the vacuity.  We were brought menus, which are limited enough at dinner, but the brunch one was even more succinct.  Vegetarians here are fairly screwed, relegated to a whipped ricotta on miche, a grilled avocado dish, or two salads... one of which they had "run out of."  Which seems highly weird, 'cause I have a tough time thinking they had been very busy earlier on, but at any rate, the Little Gems with charred snow peas were not available, and there are
 no vegetable side dish or really even a main (avocados, as fatty fruits, don't really count in my book), so the whole scenario is pretty non-leafy, balking the trend of plant-based seasonal cuisine quite blatantly.  We took the one offering that lived up to that description, which was a nice lacinato kale salad with tender beets, and a creamy, fruity, saffron-inflected dressing beflecked with crunchy crushed almonds.









We went lunchier with mains, drawn to the Tuscan fried chicken, in part because my tablemate was Tuscan.  It was a stellar dish, as far as fried chicken goes, craggy and crunchy and burnished a deep russet.  The meat was so juicy I'm not sure how it didn't sog the crust.  It is served with a small medley of sharp pickles and a moderately hot dipping sauce, but was basically just a big pile of (albeit excellent) fried meat.  Additionally, our other selection of spaghetti with Dungeness, again, featured nary a hint of chlorophyll.  The spaghetti itself was excellent, cooked to a perfect al dente and the lumps of crab fresh and sweet, but the whole meal just read very carb- and protein-heavy, with a distinct lack of freshness.  I guess a lot of people eat this way; I don't.   So while execution might be en pointe, menu balance leaves a lot to be desired.  Too that it would've probably been a little difficult to scream any off-the-menu requests to our server, given the volume of the music.  (That's actually kind of a lie, because I DID request some veg side option, but he looked at me quizzically and basically shut that inquiry down.)

I'm not sure if there was a dessert menu from which my tablemate ordered without me while I visited the Little Girl's Room, or if they shuffled out a complimentary post-prandial sweet just as a thank-you-for-being-like-the-only-patrons-to-show-up-today, but it was a nice scoop of vanilla studded with six densely sweet Italian cherries and a flutter of cocoa nibs.  It would have been
 really nice had I conserved some of my Counter Culture iced coffee to enjoy alongside it, but it had long run out: stuff's good- it's hard to drink slowly.  I'm not sure if this brunch, which wasn't cheap,  was good enough to encourage a return to try out dinner, which is always pricier.  There was nothing to make me constitutionally opposed, however, so especially if summertime bequeaths are greater proportion from the farmer's market, I might flip it over for Side 2.









517 West 38th Street
https://resy.com/cities/ny/legacy-records?date=2019-06-18&seats=2

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

KYMA


The search for an exceptional Greek restaurant in the borough of Manhattan has been elusive for me. There are plenty I have enjoyed, but none so much that I would direct others there, or return voluntarily.  Kyma, a fairly recent newcomer to Chelsea, might have been just a half step above these others, but I had a strange experience there making it a little more difficult to separate the restaurant from the situation.  The room is pretty, to be sure, and well-populated, buoyant in the chattery, lively way of people enjoying themselves, which always improves the energy.  But full disclosure: a lot of my opinions might have been severely affected by a lackluster date situation I was enduring, someone who- unlike any and every and all of my prior tablemates- seemed almost wholly uninterested in the food.  I tried to retain my focus, but let's just say it got tricky.

Especially when he ordered a shrimp cocktail to begin.  You know, those giant crustaceans slung over the rim of a chilled glass filled with cocktail sauce.  Even the best rendition of this isn't a very remarkable dish, nor is it at all Greek.  They were very fresh, to be fair, but this is the stuff of wedding banquets, and require zero consideration from a chef.  My beet salad, on the other hand, was excellent.  Playfully plated with piped dabs of a luciously garlicky skordalia and a flounce of zippy micro greens, it welcomingly sidestepped the obvious goat cheese much to its advantage.  A basket of warm, pliant whole
wheat flatbread was slicked with an herb-flecked oil, and very useful in swabbing up any remaining residue of the skordalia.






The Greek influence was also minimal in a raw shredded Brussels sprouts and kale salad, which was crowned with what turned out to be a barely-warmed egg; undiscernable at first glance, it looked like a blob of translucent burrata or half-gelled whey.  Breaking it open, though, released it
from its shredded wheat nest helped to help lubricate the otherwise sturdy greens.  It was actually a pretty nice salad, undercooked egg notwithstanding, and the kataifi at least nodded Hellenic.   The menu is pretty vast, and by missing explorative opportunities with those shrimp, much of it left unexamined, which may explain some of my discontent.  More interesting sounding options were zucchini fritters with sumac yogurt, or a snacky sounding pan-seared sesame-crusted feta with cranberries and raspberry honey.  Another selection from the starters, a simple grilled octopus with roasted peppers, capers and an onions was stellar, and ample: had it been sided with some accoutrements it would have made for a terrific
 main course, the octopus super fresh and flavorful, if a bit saline, but with a wonderful char and perfect texture.   These, along with a side dish such as the brussels we got, would've made a fine meal.  This veg itself was sautéed with loukaniko, a type of Greek sausage, which was a little mealy, and the sprouts were noticeably
sweet and on the undercooked side, but they were all right, even in their redundancy with the aforementioned salad, but then again I have a lot of leeway with brussels sprouts: give me roasted/sauteed/seared one and I cannot turn it away.




Of entrees, then, we sampled but one, with was a cheffier concoction than the myriad selections of Simply Grilled items from the sea, ranging from daurade to branzino, two types of snapper or swordfish, and crustaceans like lobster or tiger shrimp.  Another advantage here is that all the items are priced per dish, not per pound, so you know what you're getting yourself into.  There were listed eight "Other Specialities", from which I chose pan-seared scallops with poached clams and buttered leeks that formed a creamy, luxurious base with a puree of parsnips, some thin strips of which were gently fried into a delicate garnish.  It was a solid composition, again making me wonder, or actually confirm, that my subtle dismay of the evening had less to do with the restaurant itself, but for the effect that an underenthusiastic dining companion can have on the meal itself.  I think, perhaps, I owe Kyma a second shot.... which would also allow the opportunity for dessert, which was skipped since my "date" called for the check before even our plates from dinner were cleared.  So it was probably a first-and-last for my date, but I'll give Kyma another chance.




15 West 18th Street
tel. 212.268.5555





Saturday, May 11, 2019

CROWN SHY


With what might be the best restaurant logo of all time, Crown Shy opened up with a quiet murmur worthy of its arboreal nomenclature.  It is uber-on trend with this name and its references: every book I read seems to involve trees as characters as important as the humans, and I keep hearing musings about how we are just beginning to understand how trees communicate with one another, and that they are much more sentient than perhaps previously acknowledged (if you're confused here, read The Secret Life of Trees, and/or The Overstory).  Alternatively, book a table at Crown Shy, which takes its name from its location in two ways: located at 70 Pine Street among the looming skyscrapers of the Financial District, the term Crown Shy refers to how the canopy of trees of some species never quite touch, remaining just shy of leaf-to-leaf contact, which hypothetically reduces cross-contamination of pests as well as leaving enough sunlight to filter down so that organisms beneath them can thrive.  The lofty buildings of Manhattan can often appear to exhibit this tendency, their penthouses stretching well into the sky, while obviously remaining parallel, their tops seem almost to be approach one another, leaving just slivers of sky to the masses below.  So that logo, stretched from the length of homepage, over the top of the matchbook and down the whole side of the menu is ingenious, and illustrates the creativity, ingenuity, consideration and precision that has been invested in every element of the restaurant.



Aside from the room itself, that is, that shows its very obvious bones of tis predecessors, a corporate banking firm.  The ceilings are lofty, the gangly chandeliers sparse but intriguing, and the room well lit and calm.  It's a landmarked building, too, so perhaps they've done as much as they could to shake the corporate vibe that preceded it.  They certainly made inroads at softening up the interior, the open kitchen helping out in that respect immensely,
especially when enthusiastic huzzahs erupt from the team (I'm not sure what inspired the intermittent cheers, but they did add a levity to the situation).  Still, it has a sort of awkward layout, as well as a labyrinthian path to the restrooms and a sedate ambiance. This latter attribute isn't necessarily negative, though, and it certainly allows the focus to remain on the food.  But as the menu is formatted for sharing, or so it would seem, sometimes the magic of each individual dish gets a little blurred, whereas some of this food might be better appreciated in a tasting menu format.  But that's only because the food is that good, and I don't want you to miss anything.  The Eleven Mad influence can be sensed throughout, the iconic culinary insinuation where Bocuse D'Or winning chef James Kent cooked before partnering with Jeff Katz of Del Posto in this new FiDi venture.




A bronze-crusted tubular-shaped monkey bread welcomed us, sprinkled with pungent seeds, and its cottony-soft interior steaming hot just waiting to melt salt-sprinkled yogurt butter, unctuous and rich, into its tender crumb.  On the contrary, an icy plate of chilled oysters with shiso and cucumber were as fresh
and bracing as could be.  These were from the first section of the menu, intended as snacky type bites, from which we also tried the red snapper crudo, a precision dice of the most pristinely fresh fish kissed with
citrus underneath a thin tuile pressed out of sesame, crisp and nutty.  Beef tartare scented with rye was richer, but a distinct delicacy is preserved with ivory leaves of crisp endive in
 which to scoop it up.  Ivory cones of jicama are arranged in gorgeous furls, creating a ruffled bouquet planted into a salty puree of green chickpeas studded with some left whole and enlivened with fluttery shaving of pecorino.




From the following section of small plates, we
solicited our server to help in deciding between blistered snap peas and an oddly intriguing sounding concoction of charred carrots and clams, of which he guided us to the former, but assured us it wouldn't be excessive to have both.  Which was simply providential, because while those peas were delicious with their wasabi and lime, the carrots were the best dish of the night.  The roots themselves must have had a Brix

measurement that is off the charts, aggressively roasted even sweeter, and then bathed in a foamy, salty age of  chowder, studded with chewy bits of razor clam and a flurry of lemon thyme. It was surprising, novel, unique, and utterly magical.  More char found its way onto hunks of octopus teamed up with chorizo and those hypebeasts of the season, spring ramps.  The flavor of the dish overall was masterful, its ruddy oil pooling beneath robust and fragrant with the young allium, but my tablemates stole all the octopus before I got to it as I was hypnotized with the carrots, so I only tasted the chorizo, which for it's own sake was excellent.  I would guess by the unanimously clean plates that the octopus was just as worthy, and an exquisitely beautiful plate as well.



We ordered so much food, but the bill did not escalate too dauntingly, as it might easily have; the prices up to that point hovered under the twenty dollar mark.  Larger, entree-esque portions stretch up to $59, but that's for a two-person short rib that could easily serve four or more with a smattering from the prior categories.  A whole branzino was gracefully butterflied atop an herby mire smoothed with avocado, and topped with gossamer slices of radish, red, black and white.    The fish was flaky and moist, super fresh and flavorful.  I know most branzino is farmed these days, but either they've nailed the
i
I desperately wanted three out of the four listed desserts, but we had really topped ourselves out on the savories.  But honestly, a sticky toffee pudding with apple sorbet, a buttermilk panna cotta or most alluring, the pineapple pavlova each had my name anagrammed across the span of them.  There's also a chocolate tart for the chocophiles (more for you) with a syrupy grape reduction, as well as an assortment of ice creams that could justify a visit on their own: roasted banana with caramel and peanut butter or a divine-sounding satsuma orange with toasted marshmallow.  Take that, Taiyaki.









70 Pine Street
tel.  (212) 517-1932