Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Diversion:PDX/ Metrovino

Mom picked the restaurant, in fact, with my sister's interest in mind. She wanted a vibey place... somewhere fun and popular, young and energetic. Luckily, Mom chose Metrovino, with which a brief glance of its menu similarly endeared me. It is Gregory Denton's debut solo spot, his first venture out since the tragic demise of Lucier, a restaurant which was destined to be Portland, Oregon's premier destination dining venture: a high-concept, high-priced luxury restaurant complete with Chihuly glass and renowned architect Rafael Vinoly. For this, I was intending on making a cross-continental flight out just to experience... except for that it closed before I could book a flight. Much of the fault for this, I believe, can be attributed to a certain Oregonian food journalist whose britches are apparently big, but horizons and palate comparably small. At any rate, Denton picked himself up by his bootstraps and launched Metrovino in the Pearl District of restaurantophilic Portland. If there's a scene to rival New York, it very well may be Stumptown.

Fresh off being voted Best Burger by the local newspaper The Willamette Week, Metrovino was enjoying a packed house that balmy Friday night. We had a party of seven, and thus took over a semi-private annex to the main dining room, cordoned off by heavy drapery pulled to each side, thick mahogany tables and large, pendulous lanterns that balanced the sunshine streaming in from floor to ceiling windows. After a notable but not wholly offensive delay, our orders were finally assessed. With our sizeable group, we started with two bottles: one red, one white, but skeptical Mom bypassed my suggestion for the Skouros Moscofilero in favor of a reliable Sauvignon Blanc. For the second bottle of white, however, (after everyone sipped and marveled over my glass) I got my way (I love being right). This is an exceptional bottle and very moderately priced. The extensive wine list is global, and spans the extremes of pricetagging. Also available is their Enomatic machine for by-the-glass options, which is a fantastic way of sampling an array of varietals while preserving the integrity of each.

Food-wise, we began with a charcuterie board, a butcher's block slab of wood literally groaning with an array of classic pates, terrines and salamis, pickled vegetables and some quirky novelties as well. Housemade pickles perked up the palate for the variety of charcuterie: a chunky tuna sausage drizzled with a syrup of Oregon blueberries, and crispy triangles filled with meltingly tender shred of short ribs. Roasted pistachios gave texture to a meaty pork terrine, a nice contrast to a silken pate smooth as fois. There were rillettes and beets and arugula with prosciutto, all too small, however, for more than three bites per item, thus leaving a large group such as ours to some fork-sparring for the most appealing looking morsels. It would make a winsome repast, however, to share with one or two others, paired with an entree or two to follow.

The chef's dexterity with charcuterie and prize-winning burger are telling precursors of the strengths of the rest of the menu. Denton likes his flavors robust and savorous, leading me to believe this place is going to be an absolute goldmine once a bit of autumn chill sets in. On a sparkling 90 degree summer day, however, some of the dishes seemed a bit weighty. An innocent sounding starter of sugar snap peas showcased a handful of oven-softened pods, roasted down to eliminate the toil of mastication, paired with confit mushrooms heavily dolloped with creamy ricotta and shaved flakes of salty pecorino, and doused in a faintly sweet, sumptuous reduction of saba and mint, rife with umami. A broccolini salad was also a stand-out, but again, no bikini-season fare. Charred sprigs topped with a crispy poached egg (how DID he do that?) whose rich yolk burst over the broccoli from the confines of its tender white, crisped golden on the outside. (And yes, that is a large, silver anchovy elegantly draped over the egg.) These are the kinds of vegetable treatments that I crave in the winter when the offerings are more scarce, but at the peak of harvest, some of the seasonal vibrancy gets lost in such hearty treatment. Nonetheless delicious for it, though, and it could definitely convince some vegephobes to convert. A lighter option (though a bit too sweet) was the tomato gazpacho, heartened with bay shrimp and avocado, and playfully bobbing with popcorn, the best bites of which included one of each.

Another pause dawdled along before our entrees arrived, the sunlight now cached and the room taking on a more serene vibe, but retaining the energy of the full house. There would be no burgers for us that night; the house puts out just fifteen of them (exclusivity of a wanted commodity seems to be a notable trend of the moment, where a finite quantity of a certain item brings 'em in, but "sold out" means no luck). And such was the case that evening, but then again, there are much more reliable sources on the nuances of burger perfection than I. But there are lots of options on this diverse menu. A halibut entree threw in some sugar snaps and morels, but then forgot it was early summer and surrendered to a hearty stew of lentils and chorizo, again making it a terrific fish dish... for December. A curry of sea
scallops featured four meaty mollusks, perfectly cooked if not particularly flavorful, in a bright green curry with peas and peanuts, the best bites of which were graced with a morsel of pickled onion (and benefited from a slight dash of additional salt). The best entree of the night may well have been Dad's pork chop (there we go with the hearty
victuals again), so tender and juicy it yielded to just a fork, glazed with maple and spiked with chili which also seasoned the accompanying roasted kale ( it IS July, no?) and an especially corny polenta (in the best possible way). Indigenous roasted hazlenuts crowned the chop for some added crunch, and in fact, Denton uses a variety of nuts in many of his dishes, which add some novel texture to some of his more traditional dishes.

The dessert menu arrived after, again, a tedious wait. At this point, energies were lagging amongst a group of primarily jet-lagged imports, and while there were several desserts that were screaming out to me, I couldn't roust to troops to hold out for the amount of time it would've taken to order and procure them (Farewell, sweet maple panna cotta with fresh berries and hibiscus... I wish I could have known thee...), as fannies and eyelids were becoming heavy (especially the sister's for whom the restaurant was chosen. Hmph. Just kidding, Jupes). Much of the aforenoted criticism might have been dispelled, as well, had there not been so much time to dwell on it between courses. The food suits the room which fits the chef which inspires the ambiance, and was there not so much downtime to consider contextual factors, any and all complaints may have gone unnoticed. That said, each dish for what it was was exceptionally good, and in a few months the incongruity with the weather will be a moot point. And when the typical Oregon cloudcover begins to roll in is when, I believe, Gregory Denton will really start to shine.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Deviating from my typical modus operandus of following the chef, last night I destined my dining to Kingswood. For some inexplicable reason, it is one of those kind of sceney, trendy joint that I actually wanted to go to. I guess part of it has to do with that it is located on the same street where is my very first New York apartment, on West 10th. It also used to house a really excellent restaurant (Jefferson Grill) before its latest incarnation. Jefferson Grill was New American, and though Kingswood purports itself to be Aussie-influenced, I think some of its predecessor's influence survived the fire. Well, its latest incarnation after it burned down and then rebuilt. I never visited prior to its incineration, and with the burning hot summer reaching its climax, it seemed appropriate to do so now.
Walking past the glass front facade, the Kingswood is almost always bustling and lively, and great smells emanate from the hood vents. It's not categorically a chef-driven restaurant per se, but it kept calling me, so I figured it was worth a shot.
Packed house, as usual, and it pretty much just busier as the night progressed. We started with a seasonal special, a rather bountiful salad of asparagus, multi-hued cherry tomatoes and myriad little lettuces. Slightly overdressed, perhaps, but a pretty nice summer salad. Late dinner that it was, we split the starter and headed off to the main courses. Purportedly the "best mussels in the city" by a friend of my friend, we went for those first. Rich in a coconut curry with enough cilantro to carpet a small forest, these were, surprisingly, some really excellent mussels. Not a bad one in the bowl, each crustacean meaty and mild, tender and plump. The broth was spiked with jalapeno to add muscle to the mussels and cut any extraneous sweetness of the coconut. A return-worthy dish. My halibut, on the other hand, was solid, but not exceptionally memorable. Generous amount of fish, lightly sauteed, and bedded with a slightly Asian flavored melange of spinach and snow peas. Tasty, if a bit oily, but good enough. Good enough for a joint with a vibe, with lovely diners and lovelier staff, whom are all perfectly attentive if not particularly doting. The room is a bit raucous; the noise levels can compete with conversation, but it's all pretty much to be expected. Fashionably low-lit (and thus the abysmal photography), bare bulbs, plain votives and rustic wood tables constitute the decor. But in good company, of which I undoubtedly enjoyed, and good spirits (of both varieties), this is established little restaurant with tasty food. A destination for ambiance and experience, if not so much for brag-worthy cuisine. The food is good enough, though, that we stayed even for dessert: a slightly too gelatinized panna cotta with a sidekick of apricot coulis. It was sweet, and cool, but the apricot were strangely bland even as they are coming into their peak season. Two big almond biscotti came along for the ride, but I would've preferred a buttery shortbread or almond tuile... something with a little more pizzazz.
And I guess that's sort of the synopsis of the restaurant, where the energy and verve is more in the crowd and the space than on the plate, but neither seems to suffer much in each other's company, and the food actually seems to benefit. I come away from Kingswood kinda liking the place (perhaps it's a bit of that Aussie charm), and wouldn't even disfavor a repeat visit, were it to present itself.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

FLATIRON CHEFS: July 13th at Madison Square Park

I happened to have been working out in Summit, NJ (of all places) the day of the 13th, and some convoluted travel arrangements had me taking the ferry back to midtown around 4pm-ish. Swampy day that it was, the ferry was actually a refreshing little jaunt, and before launching I spied two girls in Ciao Bella! Gelato t-shirts, one pink, one blue. I coyly inquired if they were giving out free ice cream. One replied "Yeah.. well, in a way: we're at the Celebrate Flatiron Chefs at Madison Square Park tonight. You should come!" To that, I kicked myself for one more event I failed to note. (I mean, I can only wear so many hats, and thus far, this one isn't paying any bills.) However, not fifteen minutes later, my Knight in Shining Armor, my great friend Doug Friedman popped up on my caller i.d., having an extra ticket for the evening's affair. Would I like to come?? WOULD I!?? I mean, I couldn't miss reuniting with my Ciao Bella friends, now could i?
At any rate, rushed home to rinse off and change togs, and sped two long blocks east to the park. Tented and fenced off, I found Doug who whisked me through the gates. Now, compared to Meatopia, the crowd was diminiutive. But then again, the tickets were $160 to $200, compared to $25 to $150, so do the math. But Madison is my favorite park (I still cannot forget those chrome trees), so not only was the cause well worthy, the offerings were all-you-can-ingest. So let the ingesting begin.
First up was Pranna, featuring a green bean and mango summer salad with grilled chicken. Lots of crunchy peanuts and a citrusy curried dressing on the vegetables made the salad perfect for the uber-humidity , with big chunks of tender, umami-rich soy marinated chicken beneath. In fact, almost all the portions were more than ample; some I felt a little guilty about tossing half of, just so I'd be able to try as many different things as possible. Case in point: April Bloomfield's world-famous, world-class lamb burger. I requested mine well-done (one can capacitate these types of personalizations when one is lucky enough to know the chef, and the General Manager from The Ace Hotel where her restaurant,
The Breslin, is housed) which luckily shrank it an iota, but it was still about as big as an average sized take-out burger, though substantially smaller than what she serves in the restaurant. And she deserves to be smiling, 'cause this burger is as good as all the fuss about it. Even cooked to medium, the meat was juicy and flavorful, with a crusty, salty char, crisp red onions and smooth white, feta, all taken that one step higher with a kicky cumin mayo daubed on the side. Another friend in attendance had the tell-tale drips stains blotted on his white t-shirt: those you can wear as a badge of honor.
There were actually far too many burgers in attendance, from the stellar Breslin burger to an embarassing appearance from 230 Fifth. Not that that place is really about the food, but someone should've known better than to try to measure up with April in the house, and Shake Shack actually adjacent. (In fact, coordinator's of the event might note that a little menu diversity might be encouraged: there were a few two many burgers in the house.) Thankfully, my hero, Dan Kluger from ABC bucked the burger trend with a poignant little salad: tiny micro-lettuces and sunflower sprouts, purslane and carrot greens in a creamy vinaigrette, two small but meaty roasted baby carrots, enriched with cool slices of avocado and a smattering of sunflower seeds thrown in for crunch. Honestly, I can't rave any more fanatically about what this guy is doing right now.
Seamus Mullen wasn't present, but Boqueria offered it's typical meaty fare, much of which was reminiscent of that served at Meatopia. They had a promising gazpacho, too, but in the end disappointing: colder, its flavor might have improved, but with the inescapable steaminess, it was far too sweet, too smooth, and just not great. Alain Allegretti actually convinced me (ME!) to sample his tuna tartare. Admittedly, it was surprisingly delicious, a crunchy cucumber slice supporting a tiny crisp galette bursting with lavendar scented tuna. The fish was mild, the concoction was delicious, although the concept of raw fish (especially on such a steamy night) kept me at a single bite. Rickshaw Dumpling Bar had two different dumplings to offer, both tasty. A thickly creamy puree of edamame was in one, soused with an herby yogurt sauce, and another chicken variety, drizzled with a soy saucy sauce. These tasted better than they photograph, and were a nice addition of Asian flavor. Cabrito brought in the Mexican (and the spice!) with a kicky stewed pork flagged with a thin slice of jalapeno as an alert of oncoming heat. Not overly spicy, though, and the flavor of both the meat and the sauce shone through before the afterburn of chili.
No. 7 Sandwich put out a lovely little (not that little) heirloom tomato sub, the bread a lovely chewy wheaten torpedo smeared with crave-worthy pickled ramp mayo and sprinkled with feta. Great summer sub, and a nice diversion from the other burger sandwiches so prolific. Tabla's
roasted corn chat salad would've been a perfect accompaniment to this for an entire vegetarian mini-meal. Juicy kernels of early corn, charred in spots, with Indian flavors punched up with pickled watermelon and dried mango. This was actually one of my favorite tastes, but I've never been disappointed by Floyd. I ruefully missed out on his kulfi chipwich that everyone was raving about, but word has it that they'll be for sale from the sweets cart in front of Tabla in the following days. Wrapping up the savories of note was one I forgot to photograph, and even hesitated to try; it just sounded so heavy and rich for the daunting heat and humidity. But Missy Robbin's somehow made arancini stuffed with sausage and cheese palatably light, simple in flavors but still robust, with a silken texture that seemed too delicate to hold together the chewy grains of rice, but miraculously did. Darling little presentation, too, each egg-sized orb stuffed into its own little brown paper bag. That would've made for some happy lunch sack back in the day.
Bridging the sweets and savories was a perfectly refreshing melon parfait (again from Eleven Mad.), incorporating creamy, foamy, crunchy, sweet, salty, juicy all in one tiny little cup. It somehow tasted virtuous and decadent simultaneously, and I'm not sure how she did that, but I am sure that I ate THREE of these. When something is that good, there is always room. Which left little room, however, for Hill Country's Cowboy Cookie Pie, but literally even famished I think I could've only taken one bite of this super-sweet morsel. Little pie crust cup with chocolate and peanut butter chips, and flakes of coconut glued together with a sugary white frosting. It would probably make an excellent treat at Girl Scout camp, but it kind of made my teeth hurt.
SD26 should have been my birthday destination (the 26 from the day of my birth in June, then a D for me, and I'm still trying to figure out to work the S into the justification), so I was anxious to try their balsamic panna cotta. I had been to the old San Domenico twice, and it never knocked my socks off as it was purported to be capable of, and sadly my panna cotta wasn't an exception to my prior experiences. The custard had a good flavor, but was far too firm as to actually require chewing, and the balsamic too heavy on top without enough strawberry to freshen things up. But at that point, too, I was probably at or (way) above capacity in terms of food intake.
There were a deuce of previews present, as well. Cesare Casella was representing for the opening-in-August EATALY with Mario Batali, with a big spread of prosciutti and salumi in fair Salumeria Rosi-style. Also showing face was Hill Country Chicken outpost, although I never did see if they had fried up any drumsticks that night. But as long as the fireflies turn out en force next year as they did that balmy night in Madison Square Park, it bodes very well for Flatiron Chefs 2011, with nothing left for want, and a few things left to look forward to.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I would wager to guess that right now, Josh Ozersky is a very, very happy man. With his blushing new bride Danit at his side (and a substantially trimmer side that it is), a recent nod in the New York Times, the apparent repute of and to top it off, today's overwhelming success of his annual meatstravaganza, MEATOPIA: BBQ NYC. Not to be confused with The Big Apple Barbecue of last month, nor his prior Meatopias out at Water Taxi Beach, this year's meat orgy was a ticketed affair, with contributing chefs from (mostly) near, but also far, and definitely wide. The weather cooperated swimmingly, the sun shining down its approval with only a few sparse sprinkles that actually felt refreshing amid the summery heat.
Much like the Big Apple BBQ, however, the lines were long- insurmountably long in some cases. I first teamed up with some notable industry people in their rented quadricycle (what do you call a four-wheeled, Flintstone's-esque pedicab
dealymabob?), and spent a little too much time (and pre-food energy) circumventing Governor's Island before focusing on the main event. So by the time any eating took place, some of the outposts were already sucked dry. Luckily, some meat-head bigwigs were easily bumped to the front of the lines, and I got to ride their coattails to snag some prime early vittles before everyone ran out. Daniel Holzman from the relatively new Meatball Shoppe was wood-grilling a mean chicken ball, two to a dish on top of some crunchy cress with cannellini beans. Scrumptiously juicy little nuggets with a lot of good chicken flavor and some additional pepperiness. Next door, Franklin Becker from Abe & Arthur had country style pork ribs (and I thought the meatballs were juicy...) spiked with a chimichurri-esque green tomatillo salsa. Those were a little greasy for my taste, not much a fan of the fatty pork belly genre, but my carnivorous amigos were loving it. And the tomatillos cut a lot of the drip. I also grabbed the absolute LAST dish of that before they too sold out.
Philippe Massoud offered up mini lamb shawarma's: spit roasted chunks of very tender, very mild lamb on a soft, white corn tortilla with a spicy little
mayo-type sauce and julienne cucumber. I remember Meatopias of yore, where his dishes stole the show. A carrot and hummous salad that so superseded the mere sum of those simple ingredients, and now this lamb. And I don't even LIKE lamb. I can, in good conscience, whole-heartedly recommend his restaurant , Ilili, without ever formally having eaten there (why IS that??!?). Everything I've had from his hand strikes genius.
As more and more of the stands ran out of their offerings, the lines for the remaining ones got longer and longer. By about three o'clock, a nearly 200
yard long line stretched out from the tent of Chipotle. CHIPOTLE, as in the ex-McDonald's funded franchise. Which inarguably serves up a tasty burrito in times of need, but in the proximity to the likes of Michael White and Seamus Mullen, it seemed a little surreal. Speaking of surreal, however, some girl, somehow, got her hands on an
entire pig's head, which she benevolently gifted to her boyfriend. He, then,
proceeded to walk about the fairgrounds, pig head mounted on platter, as hungry line-shirkers yanked off chunks. I think I personally gave the poor thing a prefrontal lobotomy. It would've all been very Lord of the Flies, had there been any flies involved. Luckily, there were not.
As the event neared it's finish line, and the only line remaining was that astronomically long one for the aforementioned tex-mex joint, it was time to pack 'em in. I suppose for myself it paled in comparison to Meatopias of yore, hob-nobbing with the hierarchy of New York Foodiedom: exclusivity always has its benefits. But you gotta applaud Ozersky on the sheer success of the affair. The turnout was phenomenal, the food was exceptional, and for his debut event, it really went surprisingly smoothly. It wasn't the sandy escape of Water Taxi Beach, with a sparkling Manhattan skyline as the sun set, and no waiting, no tickets to buy, nor chain restaurant interlopers. But in terms of all things ovine, bovine and porcine, if you got there early enough, it was yours for the grubbing. It lost much of what it was when it was just Josh's Birthday Party, but then again, now it's become a whole 'nother animal.

Monday, July 5, 2010

PERILLA: A Top Chef Success Story

So Harold can cook. Granted, he was doing this before his stint on reality T.V., but at least that prize money went to very good use. Perilla (named after the pungent herb) is a lovely little nook of a restaurant on a somewhat difficult-to-find stretch of Jones Street (NOT Great Jones) between (long and curiously bending) Bleecker and West 4th (that intersects, later, with W. 12th-NOT Little W. 12th- just to add to the confusion). But once inside, everything starts to make sense.
It's a dark, woodsy space with a long bar and the dining room in the back. Nice bar scene, too, with imaginative cocktails featuring seasonal herbs and novel liquors and a handsome crowd.
The menu flaunts the farmer's market's best, so I started off with an interesting salad of roasted brown beech mushrooms and strawberries, greened up with pea tendrils and favas punched with black vinegar and chunks of pecorino. It didn't wholly pull together, but it was a nice experiment with some unusual pairings. It also paled in comparison to a fantastic stewy dish of pork belly and sugar snaps in a wonderfully sassy sauce, salty and rich but brightened with perilla itself. It's a rustic yet playful dish, sort of fresh take on pork and beans, modernized with a lemony foam and the uncommon herb. Asparagus
with a poached egg is classic French, but Dieterle chars and chills the spears, and balances a whole, deep fried, hard-boiled egg atop. When sliced open, it releases a startling bright, thickened yolk over the vegetables, seasoned with lemon and black pepper, and sprinkled with grated parmesan.

Hearty flavors are coaxed out of every ingredient. And spicy duck meatballs would be kicky enough on their own, but a smattering of mild cavatelli pasta, earthy water spinach and mint leaves
balance the dish, again crowned with an egg: this time quail, and soft boiled so that the runny yolk just enriches the spicy gravy. Tending somewhat lighter is the sauteed golden snapper- the golden applying both to the name of the fish and the crisped sear of the filet. It sits upon a bed of nutty, earthy quinoa with shards of slippery wood ear
mushrooms. Tangy roasted grape tomatoes and a sweet and sour eggplant sauce provide a perfect counter to the simply cooked fish and grain.

Desserts keep pace with the savories, and it was tough to choose between such gorgeous options as strawberry pavlova or lemon pudding cake, but the roasted Georgia peach sundae left no room for disappointment. Served in a generous glass coupe, ripe peaches, roasted warm and juicy are just tart enough to benefit from a luxurious butterscotch caramel, and cooled by an ample scoop of brown sugar ice cream. Crunchy pralined pecans (could Georgia peaches be without?) and nutty discs of pecan shortbread propped up by the fruit soften into the ice cream as it melts. Coffee was probably the only really weak point (might I recommend Stumptown, or Intelligentsia?).
If only all reality show winners could reach such heights.

Daniel Humm Has a Thing for Carrots

I had visited Eleven Mad. aeons ago. I think it was probably one of the first "fancy" restaurants I ever occasioned here in New York, and the impression that remained with me even years later was renewed with my most recent visit. The lofty ceilings and airy space had changed little. They picked up a leaf motif, showcasing some of Madison Park's most prominent tree species, but little else was drastically altered. (They will be closed for a period late summer to make some minor renovations, however.) At any rate, as good as I remember it being then, it was as good.. no, better... this time. I can say this pretty definitively, because I have become vastly more critical, the bar is so much higher, than it was so many years ago. And Mr. Humm (right) leapt over it effortlessly.

We started strong. A small Wheat-thin-esque cracker held a silky puree of fois gras napped with an aspic of pomegranate: salty, sweet, crunchy, smooth. Even more divine was the carrot marshmallow (carrot marshmallow?) that was bursting of earthy carrotness and only a mild sweetness and pleasant saltiness. Quite a marshmallow. Along for the ride came flawless, pungent cheddar gougeres. We were off to an impeccable start.
A creamy corn soup, while technically early for local corn, was deliciously fresh (though not pungently corny) , adorned simply with a paper thin slice of mild breakfast radish, a sprig of purslane and a shave of white summer truffle. Perhaps there was a hint of white truffle in the soup as well, or even huitlacoche, but the flavor whistled of early summer. The spring vegetable composition was in keeping with that sentiment, a brilliant array of seasonal leaves, herbs, vegetables and flowers that could well have been framed. A meaty seared scallop nestled beneath shaved strips of rhubarb so thin they looked gelatinous, but crisp and tart and balanced by robust roasted strawberries. These flavors, however, remained a little incohesive, but that is really nit-picking. It was hard to find fault with anything here, and the dishes are so gorgeous here there was a serious battle to snap a photo before destroying the masterpieces with each utensil. Each dish was a little discovery, delicious little surprises tucked into masterful preparations. A perfect example of this was another carrot opus- this time as lollipops: rich carrot pureed with cocoa butter and flecked with crunchy roasted kernels of kasha and spiced with my new favorite seasoning, vadouvan, a French curry blend that is the Queen of All Curries. The pop was meltingly smooth, unctuous with the cocoa butter but tempered by the earthiness of the carrot and kasha, and punched with the umami-rich curry... it all just made you sad to swallow. But then, simply ecstatic that you did.
A light bouillabaisse featured black bass in a heady shellfish stock floating with tiny clams, mussels and cannellini, drizzled over with vibrant chorizo oil. This partnered well with the juicy pork belly and spaetzle with hen-of -the-woods, flecked with nutty whole mustard seeds. Scottish salmon found a classic pairing with Oregon morels, peas and pearl onions, most of which manifested itself in vibrant purees cushioning the fish. The piece de resistance of the main courses had to be the lobster lasagna: big, oceany, meaty chunks of lobster loosely wrapped in impossibly thin sheets of pasta, that held within them even more impossibly thin fronds of verbena, like herb-stained glass windows.

Perhaps I should have just abstained from penning a review at all here; the food is so visually stunning that it could speak for itself. But since this isn't always case, that the gorgeous dishes hold up to their beauty, I need to reiterate that here, they do.
Dessert, too, came in like an early June Valentine: a flirtatious riff on red velvet cake, with a rich cream cheese ice cream hidden by reddened cocoa flakes, red fruit gelato perched atop dehydrated strawberry nuggets, and darling kiss-shaped strawberry meringues, and a small brick of dense, moist cake, all beckoning to inspire a little romance.

As if I hadn't already fallen in love with the place.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Yerba (Non) Buena

Blame it on Kathy. There are Facebook friends to trust, and most not to. I'm still feeling this one out, but so far, she's got one strike against her. I was jonesing Mexican... never much go for it in the wintertime when Brussels sprouts and fragrant stews are to be had, but once the sun breaks out, so can the frijoles. So Yerba Buena popped up on my radar because of her recommendation and the rising mercury of a balmy summer evening.
The room is dark, cacophonous. We were screaming by the time we got our guacamole, just to be heard. And the noise didn't make the guacamole go down any more smoothly. It was good enough, a nicely textured puree with some welcome chunks and bits of tomato, and nice tart kick. Homemade-looking chips and a sprinkle of cotija were workable scoops, and everything seemed okay thus far. Little hamachi taquitos followed, four to a plate, one left uneaten. The ensalada Yerba Buena should have been called the Lettuce Yerba Buena, because in order to be a salad, I believe, there has to be some sort of cohering element. Instead, there were some tough leaves on the plate, a few chunks of avocado and mealy squares of tomato with an almost undetectable residue of an elusive vinaigrette; this is where the guacamole came in handy, though, to at least anoint the foliage a bit in order to render it edible.
The mains continued on in mediocrity. Camarones con Palmito was comprised of fairly bland cachaca marinated shrimp and discs of hearts of palm, supposedly grilled but seemed more to have just jumped out of a can. The rio de janeiro salsa had some definite bite, but overwhelmed everything else (which was actually probably a good thing, since the everything else didn't have a lot to offer on its own). Grilled black cod was cooked properly, but in a strange veer from an otherwise Latin menu, decided to pull a Nobu and slicked it with miso. A gummy corn puree underneath could have foiled a kicky salsa or a chipotle rub, but this pallid miso glaze could neither hide that the fish
could have been a little fresher, nor cut the its oiliness, NOR amp up the bland grits. Even the pomegranate seeds strewn atop tasted mostly of the seed itself, and not much of the ruby bead of fruit. A side of espinacas (ordered separately), then, in its uber-saltiness, served as a necessary condiment to the fish, much like the guac had assisted the salad. Hey, you make it work.
We skipped out on dessert here, too, and wandered over to Braeburn for a lovely roasted peach parfait, thankfully generous in size, because there was some satiating yet to be accomplished. (A full report on Braeburn is imminent: the dessert alone, but also the charming Chef Bistrong, demand an immediate return.)
I reported back to Kathy after the disappointing repast. She replied "Well, you must not have gotten the Pisco Mojito!" So now I know. In order to enjoy the comidas at Yerba Buena, knock back multiple cocktails prior. Maybe then, as functioned the guacamole and the spinach, everything else will go down smoothly.