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InnLW12


Sneakeater
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Wednesday night. I was done with work early, a little after 6. I remembered that the InnLW12 -- in the old Rio Mar space on the corner of Little West 12th St. & 9th Ave. -- had opened. It's supposed to be a "gastropub" with Canadian accents (the owners -- who have experience running NYC nightclubs -- being Canadian). It serves poutine! Daniel Boulud is the "culinary consultant"! (Whatever that is.)

I thought that possibly if I went over that early, I'd be able to squeeze myself into a bar seat. When I walked in sometime between 7 and 7:30, I was astounded to find the place no more than a third or maybe half full. This won't last, but . . . sweet.

The place is clearly still starting up. There are plenty of kinks. Considering the prices they charge, though, it seems kind of great.

When you walk in, the first thing that strikes you (if you're a dinosaur like me) are the bones of the old Rio Mar. Although it's been gussied up -- in a tasteful oldfashioned gastropubby way -- it's recognizably the same space, with the cramped downstairs bar area and the staircase up to the dining room.

For now, AFAIK, only the downstairs bar is open, featuring a very ambitious pub menu. Eventually, I understand, there will be a more formal dining room upstairs, with a more formal menu (if I understand correctly). This arrangement worked so well for Sascha that it's easy to see why these guys would want to duplicate it. [sarcasm Indicator]

But, even at this early date, you can't argue with the food here. The chef is a Brit named Andy Bennett, who used to work at Daniel. Daniel himself is the "culinary consultant." I have no idea what that means, beyond that he got to pocket some money for associating himself with this venture. Much of the food I had seemed to have Daniel's fingerprints on it -- but of course you can't know if that's a result of Daniel's consulting, or his influence on a chef who worked under him.

I started off with a "crispy" pig's trotter. This turned out to be sort of pulled pig's trotters sandwiched between two crusty things, over lentils and frisee with a mustard vinagrette. It would be right at home on the menu at db Bistro. It was very good. Extremely cravable (I'm craving it right now).

I was kinda in the mood for a burger, or at least something burger-ish. Here, they have a lambburger, stuffed with herbed goat cheese, topped with onions and harrissa, served on an onion roll. Sided with fried chick-pea paste (like polenta) with more harrissa as a dipping sauce. This -- another very Boulud-ish dish -- was also a complete success (and at $18, almost a bargain).

OK I'm a pig, but I've wanted to try poutine for as long as I've known of it, and have never yet had the chance. So I ordered a completely superfluous serving of it as a side. Poutine, as you undoubtedly know, is a French Canadian dish composed of french fries topped with cheese curds and served in brown gravy. I have no basis for comparison, but I have a feeling this was a rather elegant rendition. It was surplus to requirements in this meal, but I found it very good. I think it will get most play early mornings, when there's plenty of alcohol in the neighborhood to soak up.

It's too early to criticize the way the place runs. Service Wednesday night was sloppy and unsure. The wine program needs development (the wine-by-the-glass selection is ridiculously limited and unimaginative for food of this quality).

But these things will be fixed. For now, you have this place serving very good, tasty, hearty, beautifully prepared food, with appetizers in the mid-teens and mains hovering around $20, with some going up to the high twenties. (I gather the dining room will be more expensive.)

I'd recommend this place highly, but let's be honest: in a few weeks, you won't be able to get anywhere near it.

Telling anecdote:

I'm sitting in front of the (very pretty) bartender. I watch her make drinks. She's laboriously measuring out with a jigger.

ME: I'm relieved to see you using a jigger.

HER: Does it make you trust me more?

ME: Not you. Anyone. I don't believe anyone can properly freepour.

HER: I don't know. I've never used a jigger before. I've always freepoured. Here, they make me.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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Meatpacking District.

(Or, more to the point, the odious Meatpacking District.)

(Actually, now that I think about it, it's always been odious, even before its transformation into Stupid B&T (sorry!) Nightlife Zone Central. It just used to be odious in a different way.)

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Meatpacking District.

(Or, more to the point, the odious Meatpacking District.)

(Actually, now that I think about it, it's always been odious, even before its transformation into Stupid B&T (sorry!) Nightlife Zone Central.  It just used to be odious in a different way.)

Or was that odoriferous? :raz:

My second job ever was in The MPD. When I was seventeen I worked as a valet parking cars at The Olde Homestead. :laugh:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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hmm....do you know if they plan to take reservations for the pub part? (I think it would make more sense for them to reserve that for walk-ins and make the dining room reservable).

as for poutine, I've had it in Hull and Montreal and never understood the attraction...

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Glad you had a nice dinner Sneakeater. Our experience at this place a few weeks ago was not as great - some highs and lows, but mostly we left with a feeling of disappointment. Part of it I know is that we had high expectations ... we're Canadian expats and we live in the neighborhood. We ate in the upstairs dining room which was indeed open and took reservations, and I assume it still is.

It's obviously very early days for this place, so we expected some bumps. Some things worked both service and food-wise ... We liked that they were only taking reservations the day of - allows some sponineity yet doesn't require long periods in line. The upstairs space we loved - if you're Canadian, you know all about the "Group of Seven," a much-discussed group of Canadian landscape artists. The walls of the upstairs dining room are covered with hobbyist-painter renditions in the Group of Seven syle ... The art was, sadly, the only thing that seemed even vaguely Canadian to us though.

Some of the food was good ... yes, they have poutine, but we were unimpressed with it ... It's like they read a recipe but never crossed the 49th parallel to try the dish at its best and most authentic. The Fries were good, but smaller than poutine fries should be. The curds were rather flavorless and appeared to be cut into somewhat uniform cubes rather left in their randonly globular natural state. The gravy had nice flavor but was way too thin - should be thick, not brothy. It wasn't especially authentic, and even accepting that, to my mind for $13(!) it wasn't nearly as tasty as it should have been, and there wasn't very much of it at all on the plate. For what it's worth, I thought Shopsins in the village came as close to authentic poutine as any I've encountered this side of the border. Not spot on, but pretty close.

Other dishes were better - my wife had barley soup which was really wonderful - great flavor, really robust, although served in a soup bowl that wasn't well suited to the particular soup. She liked her pigs trotter a bit less ... the dressing was out of balance she felt - too much mustard knocked out the other flavors.

The other dish we had was the "veal toungue'n'cheek." Cute name ... the toungue was lovely, the cheek was a bit overdone and dried out. Prices were generally higher than we expected ... the pork chop of all things was priced at $36 ... I can't remember the last time I saw a menu with a pork chop priced anywhere in that range.

Some serious issues with regard to the beverage program. We asked for a wine list and were told there wasn't one. Instead, our overwhelmed server tried to tell us that "um ... I think there's a merlot, and a cotes du rhone I think ... and a couple of white ones too!" She had no idea of prices ... we ended up with a bottle of Cuvee Daniel Cotes du Rhone, which was fine, but then were shocked when we saw another server take a wine list to the table that was seated next to us. I can't imagine how our server thought that they didn't have a wine list! Same kid - she was nice but incredibly lacking in both training and experience - had never heard of a Negroni when I ordered one. I understand that there's a learning curve, but you can't charge Pegu prices for drinks (and sell a $36 pork chop) and put your customers in the hands of someone whose last job was at a greek dinner, even if she's friendly and cute. We also heard from that table next to us that their first round of cocktails down in the bar was fantastic, but a second round ordered upstairs disappointed. Finally on beverages, I think it's really a shame that - at least when I was there - there was no sign of any Canadian microbrews ... Sleeman's and Big Rock both get exported to the states and would have been nicer options than Molson and Labatts (plus, to give credit, a few Unibroue options).

As I said, part of our disappontment came from our expectations. This place was billed as being inspired by Canada, but - other than the poutine - the menu left us wondering if anyone in the kitchen had ever been to Canada. There are lots of great regional culinary traditions (and ingredients) to draw upon - oysters and mussels from the East Coast, Quebec is known for roast chicken, tortiere (a mixed meat pie), and foie gras among other things, the prairie provinces might inspire something done with smoked trout or venison, Alberta is all about steaks, BC gives you more oysters, incredible salmon ... and then there's the whole First Nations tradition - bannock and goosberry jam anyone? Of course I'm thinking much more literally than a real Chef would ... I would just love to have had Bennett or Boulud (or both) spend a bit of time up there before claiming to have been inspired by Canada. I'll bet you a loonie that they didn't.

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What's interesting is that, from what you say in your post, the menu at least now on offer in the upstairs dining room sounds exactly the same as the menu in the pub. I wonder if that will change?

I think they might have shot themselves in the foot promoting the place as "Canadian". (Just like Alex Urenas caused himself some trouble, initially, by having his food promoted as "molecular".) Aside from the poutine, and the cocktail with maple syrup in it, it really isn't Canadian at all. It's more Anglo-French (which sounds like it could be Canadian, but obviously isn't).

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Aside from the poutine, and the cocktail with maple syrup in it, it really isn't Canadian at all.  It's more Anglo-French (which sounds like it could be Canadian, but obviously isn't).

Isn't that what they used to call "Continental" dining? You're quite right, though ... some of it felt like really good London gastropub cooking, some of it felt like family meal at Daniel ... none of it felt like Canada (except for the art on the walls). Part of it is that I don't think there's a "Canadian" cuisine ... we're a collection of regional cuisines. We don't have any iconic dishes - no cheeseburger or apple pie - that scream CANADA at you. And despite the leaf on our flag, a cocktail made from maple syrup evokes a weekend in Vermont to me far more than it makes me think of any of the four Canadian provinces in which I've lived at different times of my life.

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ALL I can say is "Best Pork chop EVER" and for $36 it'd better be. Everything else was ok, but this Pork Chop beats Little Owl's which I had 2 day earlier in a heartbeat. So tender so juicy so yummy, I will be back if only for this chop as the service was not good, the place was FREEZING downstairs had to wear my jacket half the dinner, and the wines were not good.

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