Thursday, March 3, 2011


I hate it when I can't decide where to go for dinner. This was one of those nights, and so I embraced my motto (follow that chef!) to its fullest, in an almost unprecedented revisit to an old favorite- and a chef who is definitely worth following around. Bill Telepan opened his eponymous restaurant about five years ago, an elegant farm-to-table establishment humbly decorated in subdued hues of soothing green and ivory, small flickering votives and oversize photographic murals of seasonal produce. I was last there an unforgiveable two years ago, but I still cannot forget the elements (nor the taste) of spring pea trio I enjoyed: spring pea ravioli, pea pancakes and a pea puree with tiny pea tendrils to garnish- a tribute to the quintessential harbinger of spring.

Here now, in the lingering persistence of winter, the menu challenges the paucity of produce and celebrates what there is still available. Ordering can be done a la carte, but it is penny-wise to opt for the four course prix-fixe at just $55 (especially when any two selections hover around the mid-forty mark), or five for $65 (wine pairing additional). Speaking of wine, the list (a heavy, metal-bound tome) is broad and diverse, with descriptive flavor profiles, geographical groupings and a special list of seasonal recommedations by sommelier Samuel Clifton. Telepan's wine list has received Wine Spectator's Best Award of Excellence four years running, so there are more than ample pairings for the exquisite dishes on hand, as well as guidance if you need it.

We began with a signature dish, house-smoked trout on buckwheat-potato blini. I'm not a huge fan of the appetizings, but the trout was lush and fresh, and the pancake below flavorful of buckwheat but tender from the spud. I loved my simple winter vegetable salad, conveniently chopped chicories, radicchio, shaved vegetables and apple. Generously portioned, as well, making the blini look pretty scrawny, but I was happy to share, mostly because I was anticipating my next course with gusto: a fallen polenta souffle with white corn hominy, shell beans and mushrooms. I wasn't as thrilled with its outcome as I had hoped. The polenta paired better with the sautee of collards beneath it than it did with the hominy and bean succotash: those made for heavy bedfellows. I wished the souffle was more souffle and less fallen, or that mushrooms featured more prominently in the succotash to juice things up a bit. Better (and vigorously comensating for any dearth of fungus) was the open ravioli: a delicate sheet of tender pasta laden with abundant mushrooms, flavored by nutty parmesan and a soft, farm-fresh egg who's golden yolk impregnated the dish with silky richness. This might be winter's incarnation of that spring pea trifecta.

Entrees were similarly inspired: expertly prepared, gorgeous to behold, and flawlessly flavored. Two plush diver's scallops perch atop a mound of unctuous egg linguine, perfumed with the sweetness of Meyer lemon and a kick of bitterness from broccoli
rabe. Better still was my striped bass: a compact hunk of meaty fish crusted golden on top and strewn with a savory tangle of sauteed wild mushrooms. Tucked underneath lay a nest of tender spinach surrounded by a moat of sunchoke puree, generously flecked with snipped herbs, culminating in quite a succinct little masterpiece on the plate.

Desserts were less groundbreaking, but not disappointing. There was a special contribution from a regular customer called Mildred's Cake: a fruitcake-esque concoction updated by pastry chef Larissa Raphael and paired with a buttermilk ice cream and a dollop of orange marmalade. We opted to see what Larissa could do on her own, though, with one order of caramelized
apple profiteroles, and one lemon cake. The profiteroles themselves were slightly tough, and the apples could have used a bit more fire to soften and caramelize them into dessert worthiness, but a lovely burnt sugar tuile added a playful touch and a melting scoop of vanilla ice cream really placated any shortcomings. The lemon cake arrived a dense little pudding redolent of citrus, crowned with spears of bitter orange zest and a subtle lime-flavored ice cream. The juiciest of pink grapefruits were chunked and dispersed about the periphery, like spritely little bulwarks protecting the cake from your fork. They wouldn't, however, survive for long. Both are delightful desserts, inarguably, but lack any unexpected tweak or depth of flavor that would have catapulted them into a higher realm. Pretty, though. A selection of Cookies & Confections is a shareable melange, featuring a delicate square of coconut cake, a sinfully rich chocolate truffle, and a variety of homey cookies and biscuits. Coffee is exceptional, though, coming from the humble Porto Rico Importers in the West Village.

Our waiter, however, provided my singular issue with the evening. While the service was gracious and attentive, our waiter had a grandiose air of theatrical disaffectedness; I'm not sure he ever once made eye contact with either one of us. He recited the special of the night with a sort of bored pomposity (repeated verbatim to the table next to us), as if he really DID wish he was performing that evening in the role that Harvey Weinstein stole right out from under him. It just didn't fit the warmth and elegance of Telepan, and was actually a little distracting. That takes away from what Telepan, and Bill himself, really is: a master in the execution of farm-to-table dining, elevated for discerning audiences, which retains the grace, charm, and humility of the farmer himself.

72 West 69 Street • New York, NY 10023 • 212.580.4300

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