They don't take reservations. It's a hike to get there (at least from Manhattan), so leaving the city around 6pm still took too long... we arrived to sign in for a two hour wait. Luckily, (at least Pete Wells should appreciate this) they do coordinate to call you as soon as a table's available, so we wandered the sort of dismal, summer-muggy streets for a while, luckily happening on a sort of generic bar that had a good happy hour deal. We whiled away our time nursing a $3 Hoegaarden and serviceable Chardonnay until we received that anticipated text... then rushed off to claim our coveted table.
Battersby is miniscule: I'd estimate, full (which it always seems to be) it can seat maybe 30, tops. We edged into our cramped little table, happy to be in the air conditioning and anxiously awaiting to see what all the fuss is about... with a two-hour appetite development to boot. We were welcomed with two small crostini, thin and crisp and heaped with an agro-dolce eggplant confit, perhaps one of the yummier bites of the evening. A piping hot focaccia arrives in a white-napkined basket alongside a small tub of ethereally light whipped ricotta drizzled in olive oil: these morsels should tide you over after your long wait for a table. Onto the menu, which is updated frequently on their blog/website, but still not up-to-the-minute accurate: you'll get a good idea, but don't set your heart on something you see online, 'cause some of the dishes I'd spotlighted weren't actually available upon arrival. There was, however, that much lauded kale salad, which, I guess, we had to try.
I was excited for it... but not by it. It seemed a little soggy and sweet, certainly not the best kale salad I've ever had (contrary to Bon Appetit and, oh, just about every foodblog): City Bakery's trumps it by a mile and it's right around the corner from me. The fruity dressing was watery, which never works well with salad- especially not one with already-aqueous cucumbers, as well as peanuts that lose their crunch in dampness. Overall, underwhelming.
We tried a pasta dish as well, and it was most definitely starter sized- the zucchini ravioli consisted of three pieces of pasta (actually mezzelune, not ravioli), a couple of slices of tomatoes and a littering of basil leaves and briney Taggiasca olives. The pockets were deliciously plump with their cheesy zucchini filling in a light, buttery sauce, but noticeably a meager serving.
Of entrees, a dourade with braised artichokes looked tempting, but so did the hake with piperade. Our waiter persuaded us that the chicken was a chicken worthy of violating the don't-order-chicken-in-a-nice-restaurant law, so we went for that and the hake (personally preferring the texture of hake to dourade). The chicken was, instead, a textbook definition of the regulation. Perfectly serviceable breast, to be sure, pan-seared golden, juicy and tender with some peppery cress, seasonal peaches and cherries. Chicken on greens. With fruit. Yawn.
The hake fared slightly better, although its somewhat lackluster piperade tasted a bit gummy, as if thickened with cornstarch, and hadn't much kick from the espelette it was supposed to include. Plus, the filet wasn't immaculately cleaned, hidden at first by fried sprigs of parsley, but underneath it had some innocuous-but-unsightly flecks of vein that distracted, too, from its appearance. Three small shards of Mangalica ham were almost flavorless, and somewhat soddened by the broth, adding little texture, either.
There are no side dishes to round out your meals, either, which makes me think the tasting menu is the only way to go at Battersby. The "Spontaneous" menu is available upon request, and perhaps the a la carte options (the First courses, at least) follow too much the tasting menu format in their diminutive size. Otherwise, it is recommended to take them up on their numeric categorizations of the menu, selecting one each of a First, Second and Third instead of the traditional app/entree tactic. It did, however, leave ample room for dessert, of which there were four or so options. We wrangled between a bay leaf panna cotta with blueberries and a white chocolate concoction that had raspberries as well, and opted for the latter. A cute little crock it was, berries bright, but the pudding-ish goo lacked any milky flavor. Instead, it tasted like a low-fat Jello pudding cup, where the sweetness was increased to catastrophic levels to compensate for the lack of cream, giving it a thin, gummy texture with a sledge-hammer whack of saccharine. Like a cheap, caramel-flavored syrup instead of REAL milk caramel. Even the buttery little croutons atop conjured up Cap'n Crunch, and didn't do anything to ameliorate the sweet.... none of these commercial grocery associations would Battersby appreciate. Neither did I. And I was hoping for great things from this little engine. I wished it could've, but it didn't.
Battersby, it seems to me, is not what is has been made out to be.