The following are excerpts from my blogpost on York Street. You can find the full review, with pictures, at the ulterior epicure
"With items like sweetbreads, poached sole, and skate wing on the menu and specials like sole roe, it was clear that Sharon Hage is a market-driven chef's chef. I'm not a chef, but I eat like one and my meal at York Street practically assembled itself.
York Street feels like a neighborhood restaurant despite the fact that it's somewhat of a local destination for serious foodies. On the Thursday night that I was there, the tiny restaurant was fairly full for the two hours my friend and I occupied a corner table.
Seating is cozy and quarters are tight--so tight, in fact, at one point, our server awkwardly stood for a good two or three minutes on the other side of two back-to-back diners with our food, unable to reach us. Á la Strictly Ballroom, "he was what we call "blocked" or "boxed-in." Thankfully, he didn't resort to the "inexcusable" behavior that Scott did in the movie.
And I suppose that's a good illustration of how this restaurant's aesthetic. It's extremely casual and homey. Things aren't perfect. But it doesn't have to be. York Street gets by with being quaint and charming. They greet you with warm towels, a shot of sherry, and small dishes of marinated olives and spiced walnuts.
Our server was helpful, but at times a little distracted and overwrought (by what, I don't know). He was helpful in suggesting a half bottle of wine based on the progression of dishes we had ordered. The Vernaccia di San Gimignano was clean and balanced, with a volatile development on the palate ending on a decidedly fruity tart note. Given the wide range of foods and flavors we ordered, it was surprisingly versatile.
Hage's flavors tended to be assertive and bold, which I liked. The "Lobster-y Bisque" is a good example ($12). As my friend aptly noted, was more lobster bisque-y than a lobster-y bisque. The soup was a dairy-less (or, if there was any dairy, there was very little), rich and intensely flavorful shellfish stock garnished with chives and Cheez-It-like crackers (They didn't taste like white Cheddar Cheez-Its, which is what they looked like. My friend agreed, that they looked a little too-perfect to be home-made, although I wouldn't be surprised if there were made in house.).
My only knock against the bisque was that the shreds of lobster meat inside the piping hot soup had slightly rubberized. The presentation was also a bit sloppy--it appeared as if the soup had been sloshed around and then heated so that the soup had baked into the side of the bowl.
I noticed an appreciable amount of acid, whether it be citrus, herbs, or vinegar, laced throughout the dishes we ordered. In some cases, the use enhanced the dish, like the sole roe which was sauced with a tart lemon-caper brown butter that helped cut through the rich, creamy interior of the perfectly pan-fried roe sacks. The roe was very fresh and clean-tasting and I was particularly delighted to have caught this highly seasonal prize.
In other instances, the acid tended to kill, like the lime-marinated shrimp that accompanied my half-order of pink peppercorn-poached Casco Bay sole (normally $30).
They had 86'ed the sole main course, but when I inquired as to whether the chef could accommodate a half-portion of the sweetbreads main course and a half-portion of another dish, our server informed us that they had just enough sole left to make that combination work.
Although the two curled pieces of sole were wonderfully poached, scented lightly with the floral spice of pink peppercorns, the shrimp had been over-marinated and had become tight sour rubber coils. The underlying white corn stew was not sweet enough to counterbalance the overly-sour shrimp. Sweet yellow corn might have worked better.
My friend's Skate "Oscar" was shockingly generous ($29). Her bowl contained two entire skate wings (stacked one on the other) topped with a tangle of spliced logs of white asparagus and peekytoe crab. This could easily have fed two people. Instead of a thick Bearnaise sauce, Hage presented this play on Oscar with a buttery and (black) peppery broth, which complimented the white fish and crab wonderfully. I think there were sauteed leeks in the mix as well as parsley which lent some fragrance. The two or three bites I got were perfect. The asparagus, skate, and crab were soft and moist.
Being the apex of summer, I couldn't resist the "Ripe Tomatoes" ($10), which featured three different presentations of tomatoes: large wedges of fresh tomatoes and grilled cherry tomatoes halves dressed with a roasted tomato vinaigrette. A riff on Insalata Caprese, the tomatoes were crowned with a buttery white nugget of Robiola cheese, which I found just a bit too soft to stand up to the watery tomato. In addition to purple basil, the salad was spiced with clusters of fresh, tart purslane.
On top of all the delicious decisions we made, the best move of the evening was ordering the bacon coleslaw side dish ($5). This crunchy confetti combination of chopped vegetables reminded me of a rough tabbouleh salad, except there was no cracked wheat, a de-emphasis on the parsley, and the addition of celery, carrot and jicama.
Okay, so it wasn't like a tabbouleh at all, but it was good. The slaw dressing was rewardingly tart -- vinegary and bright-- with a pointed kick of heat. The sour and the heat was an inspiring combination. And, the best part--the bacon bits managed to say relatively crispy, despite all the wetness. This was great coleslaw--the kind you want with your sweetbreads.
Hage gets her sweetbreads from the vaunted Four Story Hill Farm in Tyler, Pennsylvania. My half-order (normally $27) was the perfect amount, given all that I had already consumed. The two lovely nuggets had been lightly dredged in flour and pan-fried so that the outside was golden and crispy and the inside was creamy hot.
I loved the cured ham flavor imparted by the prosciutto wrapped around the sweetbreads, but I found the texture of the ham, especially having to cut the leathery ham, to be somewhat distracting. The underlying bed of chanterelle mushrooms were melted and a bit too soft; I like a little texture to my mushrooms. However, the pearls of "big cous cous" had a nice bounce and resistance and the overall flavor of this dish was extremely enjoyable.
Citrus overwhelmed an otherwise brilliant Blueberry Pie. I thought it tasted like orange juice. My friend was sure it was lemon. Here is where our server was less than helpful. When asked, he clumsily dodged our inquiry. I hate that.
Eight dollars is not a small sum to pay for a slice of pie. But this slice was worth every penny. The thin, buttery crust was stuffed full of tiny, sweet Texas blueberries. There was just enough heft and cohesion to the filling to make it easily forkable. It took every ounce of control for us not to leave the table with purple faces.
Peaches are the one thing that, during the brief window of their ripe appearance, I cannot pass up. So while my dinner date inhaled the pie, I busied myself with clearing a beautiful "Peach Buckle" ($8). Served in a shallow baking dish, the piping hot slices of rendered peaches were sealed beneath a crumbly layer of short dough. The whole thing, inside and out, was spiced with cinnamon sugar. The buckle was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream...
York Street, as I mentioned up-post, isn't perfect. Service and style can be a bit rough around the fringes and I've seen more comfortable and heard less noisy dining rooms in my time. But, there is a confident vibe to this somewhat quarky operation that makes a serious food lover take notice. Hage's non-intuitive twists in flavor and food combinations indicate a strong independent streak and suggests familial approach ot cooking; it's like home-cooking meets haute-ish cuisine in a neighborhood restaurant. York Street is the type of place where being too polished isn't necessarily a desired trait. For the true foodie, this restaurant is a treasured find and haunt."