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Varietal


docsconz
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I know people who are ardent traditionalists and I know others who are fervent modernists. Happily for me, I am equally comfortable in both camps. Slow Food and El Bulli are by no means mutually exclusive. Varietal is a restaurant that has taken that idea to heart. While the savory cooking of Ed Witt is not classically traditional, it does fall squarely into the new American, sustainable, local when possible, haute bistro style of cooking. The pastry creations of Jordan Kahn, on the other hand are clearly of the creative, vanguard, savory in dessert school. As discordant as this may seem, it helps that both chefs are extremely good at what they do and that they do it in a comfortable, minimalist space that embraces both approaches.

The restaurant was only open four nights when my friend JosephB and I walked in Saturday evening. While still in its infancy it did not make that fact obvious. While we did not suffer anything more problematic than some minor pacing issues, a table next to us who had ordered the tasting menu with wine pairings, did contend with imprecise timing with those pairings as well as some minor confusion with the specific pairs.

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The view from the lounge looking past the bar and back toward the dining room.

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Amuse

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Monkfish Liver: Steamed, Black Bean & Miso Pork Shoulder, Daikon

Nice textural contrast between the monkfish liver and the pork shoulder while blending harmonious flavors.

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Baby Octopus: Olive Oil Poached, Sunchokes, Salsa Verde

Nice presentation and combination.

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Pork: Roasted & Cider-Tobacco Braised Belly, Celery Root Puree, Baby Collards

The Flying Pigs Farm pork was quite tasty in this very comfortable dish. The only flaw was that the skin could have crackled more as it was a bit too soggy. I was torn between ordering this or the Three Corner Field Farm lamb that was on the menu, ultimately being swayed by the fact that I had prepared 3CFF rack of lamb earlier in the week for my son's birthday dinner.

I did not get a photo of Duck: Pan-Roasted Breast & Muscat Braised Leg, Roasted Beets, Golden raisins, Pistachios Though perhaps slighly less rare than Joe or I might have preferred, the duck was nevertheless extremely flavorful.

The wine steward very ably steered us to a very reasonably priced Chinon and chilled it properly for us. The wine stood up well to the variety on our plates.

The funny thing was that we did not get the tasting menu because we weren't really all that hungry to start. Somehow as we got to Jordan Kahn's desserts, I managed to overcome this.

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JosephB and the dining rom. The central lighting fixture is a marvellously designed, beautiful nightmare for the cleaning staff. It is composed of an asymmetrical array of upside down wine glasses with lights in many though not all of the glasses.

The lighting proved to be more difficult for the desserts as the table's candle began to waver. Though the photographic effects are somewhat interesting (to me), they unfortunately do not really do justice to Jordan's spectacular creations. I will discuss the desserts as a body rather than individually.

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sweet potato ice cream. yogurt. yuzu. picholine olive

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folded mango. taro root puree. encapsulated coffee genoise. tamarind. peanut. cambodian aromatics

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wolfberry puree. rigid lime sabayon. broken macaroons. tonka bean cream. soybean. ketjap manis

*inspired by the painting "symphony in red and khaki"

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"white chocolate cubism"

pistachio jaconde. white beer. chrysanthemum creameux. licorice caramel

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whipped absinthe. liquid sable spiral. black sesame. ricotta. sour apple sorbet

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celery root abstract. celery root genoise. wood ice cream. cocoa nib puree. yogurt. fenugreek toffee

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chocolate puree. mushroom caramel. poire william candy. mastic. pear sorbet. crunchy chocolate mousse

We finished with liquid avocado bonbons. black currant that were marvellous.

Prior to Varietal, Jordan had worked at Alinea, Per Se and The French Laundry. Though he has clearly been influenced by Thomas Keller, his style now is much more akin to that of Alinea. The presentations are fluid and languid stretched out over the canvas of a plate in a curvilinear fashion like what music might look like if the sound could be dropped into liquid nitrogen. These plates clearly represent dessert despite their very significant use of classicly savory items like eggplant, celery root,, unsweetened Belgian beer and other items. These "savory" items did not stand out. Rather they provided balance, depth and sophistication to the desserts. Like chocolate in a good mole, the essence of the flavors of the savory items became subsumed into the overall flavor profile of the dish. I very much liked the fact that the desserts were not overly sweet, thereby avoiding palate fatigue.

I enjoyed this marriage of disparate styles, but I have to wonder how well it will go over with most people. Will people who want a more approachable, haute bistro style of meal embrace the vanguard desserts of Jordan Kahn and conversely, will those on the prowl for the most cutting edge, be satisfied with Ed Witt's creative, but ultimately comfortable cuisine? Time will ultimately answer this question, but in the meantime I enjoyed satisfying both my Slow Food side and my vanguard side in the same meal.

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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Thanks so much for the report, John.

Do you remember what the Amuse was?

You're welcome. I am embarrassed to admit that I do not remember the specifics of what the amuse was. At my age I tend to rely on menus for precise descriptions as my ability to remember the spoken word is not as strong as it once was. :wacko::sad: I do remember that I liked it, though.

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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There's a mention of "roasted fuyu persimmon with sheep cheese" in the New York Times "Off the Menu" item on Varietal. Maybe it's something along those lines?

By the way for those who are interested, it's Varietal, 138 West 25th Street, 212.633.1800.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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There's a mention of "roasted fuyu persimmon with sheep cheese" in the New York Times "Off the Menu" item on Varietal. Maybe it's something along those lines?

By the way for those who are interested, it's Varietal, 138 West 25th Street, 212.633.1800.

It wasn't that. That is a menu appetizer, the full menu description of which is "Fuyu Persimmon: Roasted, Black Trumpets, Fresh Sheep Cheese and Sage". That looked intriguing, but the Monfish liver intrigued me more.

Thanks for posting the location and phone number!

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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The presentations are fluid and languid stretched out over the canvas of a plate in a curvilinear fashion like what music might look like if the sound could be dropped into liquid nitrogen. These plates clearly represent dessert despite their very significant use of classicly savory items like eggplant, celery root,, unsweetened Belgian beer and other items.

Indeed these are very Adria-esque platings, perhaps more so than any other I've seen in NY. While I'm perhaps a fervent modernist, I'm still not entirely convinced by this style of plating. Striking and beautiful, yes, but even I feel as if there might be too much going on and not enough aesthetic focus. This is by no means a criticism of Chefs Kahn, Adria(s), Stupak et al, but rather a gut reaction.

Regardless, I'm very, very excited to eat here now and will do so in the next couple weeks.

Now that we've have a Varietal thread, can you divulge approximate prices, Doc?

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Interesting to see you say that, Bryan. I had a stronger and less favorable reaction to some of the platings, and that's something I very seldom get worked up about at all. I did a Google image search for "symphony in red and khaki" and in the interest of decorum, I'll refrain from saying the words that are on my mind and merely state that I have a strong dislike for it. But really, the important thing for me would be not how the desserts are plated (some of the platings strike me as pretentious, though I'm positive that's no-one's intention) but how they taste. If they taste great, terrific, and I'd be sold on them!

One question, though: tobacco used in a dish? That's the equivalent of how many cigarettes? Even if it's a fraction of one, I think I'd steer well clear of that.

OK, a second question: Is the menu online anywhere as of yet?

Thanks for the great report, doc!

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Re: dessert #6

Excuse me. "Wood ice cream," as in wood??

That is what the menu said. This dessert wasmy friend's and not mine. While I did get to taste elements of that dessert, I do not specifically recall registering the "wood"ice cream as such.

While the desserts do employ unique ingredients, they all work and taste great. The ingredients all appear to be there for a reason and are not applied willy-nilly.

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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The presentations are fluid and languid stretched out over the canvas of a plate in a curvilinear fashion like what music might look like if the sound could be dropped into liquid nitrogen. These plates clearly represent dessert despite their very significant use of classicly savory items like eggplant, celery root,, unsweetened Belgian beer and other items.

Indeed these are very Adria-esque platings, perhaps more so than any other I've seen in NY. While I'm perhaps a fervent modernist, I'm still not entirely convinced by this style of plating. Striking and beautiful, yes, but even I feel as if there might be too much going on and not enough aesthetic focus. This is by no means a criticism of Chefs Kahn, Adria(s), Stupak et al, but rather a gut reaction.

Regardless, I'm very, very excited to eat here now and will do so in the next couple weeks.

One thing my photos of the desserts do not effectively transmit because of the low level lighting is the color present on the plates. The platings are intricate, but the overall effect is much greater in person. Whether one "likes" the style has a certain element of subjectivity to it. They are complex creations and have complex presentations. To me though the presentations emphasize fluidity and a visual manifestation of music. To a certain extent I think one's reaction may mirror one's preference for realism vs. abstract expressionism in art.

Now that we've have a Varietal thread, can you divulge approximate prices, Doc?

A six course tasting menu is $85 with an additional $45 for wine pairings. The appetizers run from $12-18 and the mains from $26-39. Desserts are from $10-16(cheese) with a four-course dessert tasting menu available for $35.

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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Interesting to see you say that, Bryan. I had a stronger and less favorable reaction to some of the platings, and that's something I very seldom get worked up about at all. I did a Google image search for "symphony in red and khaki" and in the interest of decorum, I'll refrain from saying the words that are on my mind and merely state that I have a strong dislike for it. But really, the important thing for me would be not how the desserts are plated (some of the platings strike me as pretentious, though I'm positive that's no-one's intention) but how they taste. If they taste great, terrific, and I'd be sold on them!
The painting can be viewed here.

This style of cuisine is challenging on a number of levels and will not appeal to everyone just on aesthetic grounds as well as psychological for those unwilling to accept savory components in dessert. That would be their loss as these desserts are quite delicious. I happen to like the presentations as well. Perhaps someone can post photos at some point with better lighting.

One question, though: tobacco used in a dish? That's the equivalent of how many cigarettes? Even if it's a fraction of one, I think I'd steer well clear of that.
I have had tobacco used culinarily before. Like any other ingredient it has its pros and cons. The aromatics are quite different than with cigarette smoke. I am a rabid anti-smoker, but don't mind the occassional culinary use of tobacco leaf.
OK, a second question: Is the menu online anywhere as of yet?

Thanks for the great report, doc!

The website remains under construction.

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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Great report. Except for harmony between monkfish and pork I concur with most of your thoughts. I have scans of the menu from night one here for those interested, sounds like it was slightly different than doc’s night though.

http://augieland.blogs.com/augie_land/2006...tal_832_fi.html

Edited by augieland (log)
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Well doc, you've certainly got my attention here. I really enjoyed your report, and I love the lighting for the dessert photos. It may not show the plating as clearly as desired, but it's very evocative of that special stage of a meal!

Maybe Varietal should be included in my ever-expanding NY itinerary...?

Si

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Stopped in late to eat at the bar last night.

1. I think this place has an identity crisis. As the name indicates, management seems to intend this restaurant to be mainly a wine place. After I sat down, a bartender gave me three menus: the bar snacks menu, the dinner menu, and extensive wine-by-the-glass list. "I assume you're here for this," he said, pointing to the wine list. "Actually, I'm here for that," I said, pointing to the dinner menu.

But the identity crisis goes even beyond that. It was clear that everybody at the bar was interested, particularly, in the dessert portion of the menu. I wonder, when they hired Jordan Kahn, if the owners of this place realized that the desserts were going to steal the spotlight from the main dishes?

But the identity crisis goes even beyond that. There's a severe disjunction in style between the avant-garde desserts and the normal-food main menu. You really have to shift gears when you get to dessert. This is the same problem that Cru had when Will Goldfarb worked there. What's interesting, though, is that here, the desserts seem to be taking precedence, whereas we all know what happened at Cru. I guess that's because here, Jordan Kahn is being more heavily promoted than the other aspects of the restaurant. (And also because -- and I'm saying this with the best will in the world -- Ed Witt is no Shea Gallante.)

2. The savory-course food (I'm reluctant to use that term, given Jordan Kahn's extensive use of savories in his desserts, but I don't know what else to call it) is good. Not great. Good. Sort of Bouleyesque in its combinations of disparate flavor elements (including a lot of use of fruits) -- but not as mushy. One thing I have to give the kitchen credit for is that the level of execution was very high.

3. I don't want to overemphasize this in a restaurant that's been open a week, but service was a problem. That was a surprise, because usually, sitting at the bar, good service is a given (after all, it's so easy). Even though there were something like three bartenders, it took me a long time to get anyone's attention, both initially and whenever I wanted something over the course of my stay. There were long waits between courses. Especially for dessert: I must have had to wait half an hour for that. (They comped me a glass and a half of dessert wine while I waited.) This was especially a problem for me because I stopped in late on my way home from work, and didn't want to make a late late night of it. I was so tired and desperate to get home to bed by the time my dessert came that I was indisposed to give it the concentrated attention that such a highly conceptualized composition required. My criticism of the dessert should be taken with that in mind.

4. For dessert, I had the wolfberry puree with rigid lime sabayon, broken macaroons, soybean, tonka bean foam, and some kind of katsup. As you'd expect, this was not comfort food. It requires concentration, which at that point I just wasn't ready to give it. (Kind of like trying to listen to Elliot Carter last thing before bed after a long day.) So my criticism that it was too preciously clever but insufficiently pleasing on a sensual level should be taken with a grain of salt. My similar disgruntled response to the chocolate bonbons filled with liquified avacado, dusted with cassis powder -- tastes good, but is this really necessary? -- should be taken in the same spirit.

5. There are more things I want to try here. And the tasting menu (whose components pretty much were not available a la carte) looked very good. I hope the next time I eat here, service is better and I'm in a better mood.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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Now, for the Frank Bruni section of my review.

For whatever it's worth, I didn't like the bar area. It's very white and sterile. (They used some miracle substance for the bar top, which apparently is very unabsorptive and easy to clean.) It's sort of reminiscent of the spaceport terminal in the movie 2001 (if I'm remembering right) -- some sort of '60s view of what the future was going to look like. The area seemed cramped (it's very narrow). And the stools were a bit too narrow for my fat ass. (To give my fellows credit, I was the only person at the bar with that problem.)

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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To address some of Sneakeater's issues:

I believe I mentioned in my report that the pacing was suboptimal. I can appreciate your take on it as well as it was late and we were tired during our dessert extravaganza. As such we could not appreciate them as fully as they deserved to be appreciated. Nevertheless the conception and production were outstanding and the flavors and level of sweetness right up my alley. There were not any flaws in the restaurant that I saw that could not be completely attributed to having been open for only four days.

The disparate styles are a concern not because they are not good - they are excellent- but simply because they are disparate. Hopefully there is enough of an audience open and appreciative of both styles that the restaurant thrives. My fear is that most people gravitate toward one style or the other and for those people it may be an incomplete and therefore unsatisfying restaurant. It is a bold move that I hope works out in the end.

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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The disparate styles are a concern not because they are not good - they are excellent- but simply because they are disparate.

In case I wasn't clear, that's what I meant, too. (Although I might withhold an "excellent," as opposed to a "very good," from the savory courses.)

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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The presentations are fluid and languid stretched out over the canvas of a plate in a curvilinear fashion like what music might look like if the sound could be dropped into liquid nitrogen. These plates clearly represent dessert despite their very significant use of classicly savory items like eggplant, celery root,, unsweetened Belgian beer and other items.

Indeed these are very Adria-esque platings, perhaps more so than any other I've seen in NY. While I'm perhaps a fervent modernist, I'm still not entirely convinced by this style of plating. Striking and beautiful, yes, but even I feel as if there might be too much going on and not enough aesthetic focus. This is by no means a criticism of Chefs Kahn, Adria(s), Stupak et al, but rather a gut reaction.

Regardless, I'm very, very excited to eat here now and will do so in the next couple weeks.

Now that we've have a Varietal thread, can you divulge approximate prices, Doc?

actually these platings are not at all like anything from adria

they are more like grant which is direct line from the second book of michel bras

totally different school of aesthetics

most of the adria platings have 1/4 the amount of components

looks beautiful

a rose by any other name still looks good

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The presentations are fluid and languid stretched out over the canvas of a plate in a curvilinear fashion like what music might look like if the sound could be dropped into liquid nitrogen. These plates clearly represent dessert despite their very significant use of classicly savory items like eggplant, celery root,, unsweetened Belgian beer and other items.

Indeed these are very Adria-esque platings, perhaps more so than any other I've seen in NY. While I'm perhaps a fervent modernist, I'm still not entirely convinced by this style of plating. Striking and beautiful, yes, but even I feel as if there might be too much going on and not enough aesthetic focus. This is by no means a criticism of Chefs Kahn, Adria(s), Stupak et al, but rather a gut reaction.

Regardless, I'm very, very excited to eat here now and will do so in the next couple weeks.

Now that we've have a Varietal thread, can you divulge approximate prices, Doc?

actually these platings are not at all like anything from adria

they are more like grant which is direct line from the second book of michel bras

totally different school of aesthetics

most of the adria platings have 1/4 the amount of components

looks beautiful

a rose by any other name still looks good

El Bulli 2005 Desserts.

You are correct that Albert Adria's desserts are in general a bit more spare than the desserts presented by Chef Kahn, however, the aesthetic influence as well as the influence of Grant Achatz and Michel Bras are clear. Of course the desserts are not the same, they are very much originals of Chef Kahn, who has developed whose own style. However, I don't agree with your assessment that they "are not at all like adria." I think that can be seen in the link I presented above.

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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The presentations are fluid and languid stretched out over the canvas of a plate in a curvilinear fashion like what music might look like if the sound could be dropped into liquid nitrogen. These plates clearly represent dessert despite their very significant use of classicly savory items like eggplant, celery root,, unsweetened Belgian beer and other items.

Indeed these are very Adria-esque platings, perhaps more so than any other I've seen in NY. While I'm perhaps a fervent modernist, I'm still not entirely convinced by this style of plating. Striking and beautiful, yes, but even I feel as if there might be too much going on and not enough aesthetic focus. This is by no means a criticism of Chefs Kahn, Adria(s), Stupak et al, but rather a gut reaction.

Regardless, I'm very, very excited to eat here now and will do so in the next couple weeks.

Now that we've have a Varietal thread, can you divulge approximate prices, Doc?

actually these platings are not at all like anything from adria

they are more like grant which is direct line from the second book of michel bras

totally different school of aesthetics

most of the adria platings have 1/4 the amount of components

looks beautiful

a rose by any other name still looks good

I'm certainly not an expert, but having studied the El Bulli photos extensively (both sweet and savory) that was the first aesthetic that came to mind. To say they're completely disparate (a popular word in this thread it seems) is perhaps too reductionist.

But with that said, I do also see the Bras influences. Based on what I've seen of Bras' work, he, more than any other, conveys movement and energy on the plate. I think this is what Kahn is doing, though it seems he's taking this idea even further.

So in general, I see similarities in the general aesthetic between the work of Adria, Kahn, Achatz, Stupak, etc. This plating style, however, is in my mind severely departed from Keller's which is incredibly focused and most often symetrical. Personally I'm most attracted to the middle ground between the two camps struck by Chefs Talbot and Kamozawa, but that's only b/c I <3 their work.

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Thanks Harlan. These photos give an idea of the painstaking level of detail and workmanship in this work. This may be a reason for the pacing issues mentioned. The plating takes time, but it is ultimately more than worth it. I imagine that Chef Kahn is at this point doing all the plating himself, though I could be wrong about that.

The sable spiral is what Chef Kahn demonstrated at the International Chefs Congress in September when he shared the stage with Paul Liebrandt.

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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Stopped in late to eat at the bar last night.

1.  I think this place has an identity crisis.  As the name indicates, management seems to intend this restaurant to be mainly a wine place.  After I sat down, a bartender gave me three menus:  the bar snacks menu, the dinner menu, and extensive wine-by-the-glass list.  "I assume you're here for this," he said, pointing to the wine list.  "Actually, I'm here for that," I said, pointing to the dinner menu.

But the identity crisis goes even beyond that.  It was clear that everybody at the bar was interested, particularly, in the dessert portion of the menu.  I wonder, when they hired Jordan Kahn, if the owners of this place realized that the desserts were going to steal the spotlight from the main dishes?

But the identity crisis goes even beyond that.  There's a severe disjunction in style between the avant-garde desserts and the normal-food main menu.  You really have to shift gears when you get to dessert.  This is the same problem that Cru had when Will Goldfarb worked there.  What's interesting, though, is that here, the desserts seem to be taking precedence, whereas we all know what happened at Cru.  I guess that's because here, Jordan Kahn is being more heavily promoted than the other aspects of the restaurant.  (And also because -- and I'm saying this with the best will in the world -- Ed Witt is no Shea Gallante.)

2.  The savory-course food (I'm reluctant to use that term, given Jordan Kahn's extensive use of savories in his desserts, but I don't know what else to call it) is good.  Not great.  Good.  Sort of Bouleyesque in its combinations of disparate flavor elements (including a lot of use of fruits) -- but not as mushy.  One thing I have to give the kitchen credit for is that the level of execution was very high.

3.  I don't want to overemphasize this in a restaurant that's been open a week, but service was a problem.  That was a surprise, because usually, sitting at the bar, good service is a given (after all, it's so easy).  Even though there were something like three bartenders, it took me a long time to get anyone's attention, both initially and whenever I wanted something over the course of my stay.  There were long waits between courses.  Especially for dessert:  I must have had to wait half an hour for that.  (They comped me a glass and a half of dessert wine while I waited.)  This was especially a problem for me because I stopped in late on my way home from work, and didn't want to make a late late night of it.  I was so tired and desperate to get home to bed by the time my dessert came that I was indisposed to give it the concentrated attention that such a highly conceptualized composition required.  My criticism of the dessert should be taken with that in mind.

4.  For dessert, I had the wolfberry puree with rigid lime sabayon, broken macaroons, soybean, tonka bean foam, and some kind of katsup.  As you'd expect, this was not comfort food.  It requires concentration, which at that point I just wasn't ready to give it.  (Kind of like trying to listen to Elliot Carter last thing before bed after a long day.)  So my criticism that it was too preciously clever but insufficiently pleasing on a sensual level should be taken with a grain of salt.  My similar disgruntled response to the chocolate bonbons filled with liquified avacado, dusted with cassis powder -- tastes good, but is this really necessary? -- should be taken in the same spirit.

5.  There are more things I want to try here.  And the tasting menu (whose components pretty much were not available a la carte) looked very good.  I hope the next time I eat here, service is better and I'm in a better mood.

sneakeater,

i just wanted to first say thank you for the kind words and also for coming by the restaurant to see us. it's always a great personal pleasure of mine to "feed" egulleteers. i also wanted to apologize for the duration of time you waited for your dessert. this is by no means an excuse, and should not happen under any circumstances, however, that particular night our POS (that's the name, i'm not saying piece of shit) computer system went down, and many tickets and orders were lost all night long. i again am so sorry that you were on the receiving end of this dilemma, and it is a major detail that has been corrected, and i can assure you will not happen again. i would love for you to come back and see us, and have desserts the way in which they were intended. also, just to clarify... the sauce on the wolfberry dish is ketjap manis, which is southeast asian condiment made from soy sauce, licorice, star anise, and molasses. thanks and sorry again.

j.

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Stopped in late to eat at the bar last night.

1.  I think this place has an identity crisis.  As the name indicates, management seems to intend this restaurant to be mainly a wine place.  After I sat down, a bartender gave me three menus:  the bar snacks menu, the dinner menu, and extensive wine-by-the-glass list.  "I assume you're here for this," he said, pointing to the wine list.  "Actually, I'm here for that," I said, pointing to the dinner menu.

But the identity crisis goes even beyond that.  It was clear that everybody at the bar was interested, particularly, in the dessert portion of the menu.  I wonder, when they hired Jordan Kahn, if the owners of this place realized that the desserts were going to steal the spotlight from the main dishes?

But the identity crisis goes even beyond that.  There's a severe disjunction in style between the avant-garde desserts and the normal-food main menu.  You really have to shift gears when you get to dessert.  This is the same problem that Cru had when Will Goldfarb worked there.  What's interesting, though, is that here, the desserts seem to be taking precedence, whereas we all know what happened at Cru.  I guess that's because here, Jordan Kahn is being more heavily promoted than the other aspects of the restaurant.  (And also because -- and I'm saying this with the best will in the world -- Ed Witt is no Shea Gallante.)

2.  The savory-course food (I'm reluctant to use that term, given Jordan Kahn's extensive use of savories in his desserts, but I don't know what else to call it) is good.  Not great.  Good.  Sort of Bouleyesque in its combinations of disparate flavor elements (including a lot of use of fruits) -- but not as mushy.  One thing I have to give the kitchen credit for is that the level of execution was very high.

3.  I don't want to overemphasize this in a restaurant that's been open a week, but service was a problem.  That was a surprise, because usually, sitting at the bar, good service is a given (after all, it's so easy).  Even though there were something like three bartenders, it took me a long time to get anyone's attention, both initially and whenever I wanted something over the course of my stay.  There were long waits between courses.  Especially for dessert:  I must have had to wait half an hour for that.  (They comped me a glass and a half of dessert wine while I waited.)  This was especially a problem for me because I stopped in late on my way home from work, and didn't want to make a late late night of it.  I was so tired and desperate to get home to bed by the time my dessert came that I was indisposed to give it the concentrated attention that such a highly conceptualized composition required.  My criticism of the dessert should be taken with that in mind.

4.  For dessert, I had the wolfberry puree with rigid lime sabayon, broken macaroons, soybean, tonka bean foam, and some kind of katsup.  As you'd expect, this was not comfort food.  It requires concentration, which at that point I just wasn't ready to give it.  (Kind of like trying to listen to Elliot Carter last thing before bed after a long day.)  So my criticism that it was too preciously clever but insufficiently pleasing on a sensual level should be taken with a grain of salt.  My similar disgruntled response to the chocolate bonbons filled with liquified avacado, dusted with cassis powder -- tastes good, but is this really necessary? -- should be taken in the same spirit.

5.  There are more things I want to try here.  And the tasting menu (whose components pretty much were not available a la carte) looked very good.  I hope the next time I eat here, service is better and I'm in a better mood.

sneakeater,

i just wanted to first say thank you for the kind words and also for coming by the restaurant to see us. it's always a great personal pleasure of mine to "feed" egulleteers. i also wanted to apologize for the duration of time you waited for your dessert. this is by no means an excuse, and should not happen under any circumstances, however, that particular night our POS (that's the name, i'm not saying piece of shit) computer system went down, and many tickets and orders were lost all night long. i again am so sorry that you were on the receiving end of this dilemma, and it is a major detail that has been corrected, and i can assure you will not happen again. i would love for you to come back and see us, and have desserts the way in which they were intended. also, just to clarify... the sauce on the wolfberry dish is ketjap manis, which is southeast asian condiment made from soy sauce, licorice, star anise, and molasses. thanks and sorry again.

j.

These are the kinds of things that can happen anytime, but brand new restaurants seem to be more prone to them and so should get cut some slack. The important elements for a new restaurant are in place - good food and good attitudes.

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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