Wednesday, March 15, 2017


As if we needed additional proof that FiDi is the new MePa, a reasonable-hour table at Augustine is as hard to get as buzzy openings in more trafficked names.  Procuring a 7:30pm for two required a little help from a friend, but even with that connection we weren't seated 'til nearly eight, apologetic as the host was.  At first, it wasn't an issue: the front room is decorated in typical McNally brasserie style, big chandeliers and warm-hued lighting.  And pretty as they are, those flower-motif tiled walls bounce your noise and everyone else's around like a forcibly thrown
 Superball in confined quarters.  Which didn't make the half an hour long wait for our table any more pleasant, but the complimentary champagne we received upon finally being seated certainly did... although it would've been more appreciated had it been offered to sip on as we anxiously hawk-eyed which table might possibly be ours, once our dallying predecessors decided to finally pack up.  Additionally, this was not the only service snafu: lapses are pretty long between courses, and I was on the verge of canceling the coffee that was served well after dessert (which I actually wished they hadn't brought, because it was unpleasant and watery, and most of the tarte with which I had planned to enjoy it was already gone).

That said, the staff is very attractive and restaurant is absolutely lovely.  Each tile panel is etched with a different botanical specimen... I was having fun identifying peonies and poppies, snapdragons and delphinium until our food arrived (which didn't take long since we basically pre-ordered waiting for our table).  The wait staff is charming and efficient- they don ankle-length white aprons, which end a certain formality, and even though the tablecloths are white they are covered in sheets of white butcher paper, mitigating any excessive formality.

After a delightfully dainty gougere stuffed with caviar and ham, we started with appetizers on opposite ends of the spectrum, one which was hard to even really qualify as an appetizer.  The roasted bone marrow features a Jolly Roger arrangement of two enormous split
 bones and surfboard-sized grilled toast upon which to spread it.  Squeeze cloves from the whole head of soft, often-roasted garlic to amplify that savoriness even more, and then finish off daubs of oxtail ragout which accompany it in its own little crock.  How this is not a main course I'm not sure, but perhaps it is simply because of the traditional categorization of marrow.  The price and the caloric impact certainly vault it into main course territory, at $31 and who knows how many gazillion kilocalories.  That said, if that oxtail ragout DOES evolve into a main course, a return visit to Augustine will be timed accordingly.  Alternatively, a simple salad of Boston lettuce looks almost
undressed, but harbors an unexpected complexity, the crispy, silky leaves magically salty and flavorful, and trounced with supremely nutty sunflower seeds, their dark green sprouts and a delicate julienne of mild radish.  If you're lucky enough to visit Augustine with a group, Le Petit Aioli is a ultimate treat, although it is in no way petit.  A tower of lobster, mussels and tiger shrimp is accompanied by colorful crudités and a rich garlic aioli for dipping.

Speaking of dipping, don't miss daubing morsels from the excellently fresh bread basket in the verdant, saline olive oil zipped with potent bits of chili flake (I need to find out what the olive oil is!). This was that elusive kind of wonderful fragrant evo that they serve in restaurants and I can never find retail.  It's extraordinary, as if the bread wasn't good enough on its own.  Onto main courses, the excellence continues.  The menu is rather large, offering seven Entrees plus a simply grilled fish of the day, plus Rotisserie and Grillade options, and Plat du Jour, which ends up being a lot to choose from.     I went for Atlantic cod although I prefer Alaskan,  but this pillowy filet was wonderful, atop a pile of meltingly tender cabbage and leeks perfumed with winter truffle.  Small, halved marbled potatoes were roasted so deeply that their exterior achieved a buttery, crusty chew, adding a hearty decadence to the dish.
  My tablemate had had his heart set on  duck a l'orange for oh, like, a year now, so that one was similarly a no-brainer.  The duck, a breast and leg, was rich and tender, gently sweet with marmalade,  but the best part was a saucy jus pooled beneath that I couldn't keep my spoon out of even though it happened to not be on my plate.  It was studded with tender-crisp turnips, which were slightly bitter and earthy, a perfect foil for the meat.  A small parcel of confited duck meat came wrapped up in pate feuilletee, like an edible added-value gift, as if the duck itself was not fine enough on its own.  My only
 disparagement was with a side of grilled broccolini, which despite its attractive emerald color, tasted repellently of propane.  It was edible, but just barely, and if I wasn't such a vegetable fanatic I would have left it untouched.  It was pretty miserable, and so not in keeping with the rest of the evening.

That was NOT the case with our grand finale, an apple Tarte Tatin that was anything but classic but perhaps the best rendition of this dessert I have ever had.  The apple was sliced into ribbons and tightly furled into a chewy, caramelized crust, so rich and buttery that in comparison the salted caramel ice cream seemed light and refreshing.  The apple was rich and fruity, tender yet slightly chewy: whoever is doing pastry is a master of caramelization, and they have me under their spell.  While all the dishes here were outstanding (aside from that noxious broccolini), this tarte was unforgettable.  Which is a nice finale for this post, since the night I met Augustine's chef, Shane McBride, was similarly unprecedented and indelible, and one of the crucial moments that sparked my passion for the industry.  It's great to see he still has his touch.... and then some.

5 Beeckman Street
tel.  1.212.375.0010

No comments:

Post a Comment