“These high wild hills and rough uneven ways
Draw out our miles and make them wearisome;
But yet your fair discourse hath been as sugar,
Making the hard way sweet and delectable.”
– from King Richard II, William Shakespeare
The first question is whether to admit to a complete lapse in judgment….
…and admit that we succumbed, in passing, to trying K! Pizzacone
, 325 5th Avenue. We did. We’re sorry. It won’t happen again. There’s so much wrong with this, in execution more than conception, that it warrants no more thought. [Closed]
Aiming for something casual last eve in my old haunts of the East Village, I started off with a cocktail at friend Ashley Smith’s Blue Owl, 196 2nd Ave. Sleek and chic, it’s the kind of place that attracts a mix of neighborhood folk and cocktail aficionados from around the city looking for a chill place to hang for a bit before or after dining. There are nibbles available that I didn’t avail myself of – cheeses, coldcuts, interesting sounding sandwiches. Worth a stop in. [Closed]
My destination after w(h)etting the whistle was The Brindle Room, 277 East 10th St., of which I’d heard quite a few good things. In particular, the idea of a duck confit poutine figured highly into my calculations for the evening. Unfortunately, they no longer serve it at dinner, but only for brunch, and though my waitress made a brave attempt at securing some from the kitchen for me, she was unsuccessful. Bah humbug I say!
First off, “brindle”, something which is patchy or streaky in color, sort of the tabby cat motif… mottled, even tortoiseshell… perhaps a reference to the decor, which fits, and perhaps a loose reference to the freewheeling style of the menu or chef Jeremy Spector’s career path. My poutine dreams shot down (do I have time to run over and try some this morning before heading out to Brooklyn for lunch with friends?), I started off with the steak tartare. Now, perhaps I should have been forewarned by the fact that it was under the “Spreads” section of the menu (the others being “Small” and “Large”) – this was much more of that genre than a tartare would normally be. It was fresh, the flavors vibrant with mustard and pickles and herbs and seasonings, but the steak had clearly been chopped well in advance and was at the point of breaking down into a sort of mushy texture. And served with potato chips. Interesting and reasonably good, and perhaps colored by the previous day’s amazing tartare at Locanda Verde, but not a winner.
On the other hand, there was absolutely nothing wrong with this dish – salt roasted beets with pickled red onions, confited lemon, and Stilton cheese. Absolutely delicious, the flavors work together brilliantly, and the whole dish was a delightful balance of both flavor and texture.
Nor was there a fault in the roasted cauliflower, beautifully caramelized and served in an umami-rich parmigiano broth (okay, they said parmesan on the menu… it’s the East Village and they’re not Italian) with shavings of more cheese and lots of crispy chips of oven toasted garlic. I think I’ve only had one dish of roasted cauliflower in my life that was better – Matt Weingarten’s slow roasted cauliflower with marjoram walnut pesto and macerated sour cherries at Porcupine, no longer open, which, interestingly, was also run by Ashley Smith, mentioned above….
On the other hand, there was nothing right about the brandade
, semi-correctly described on the menu as “whipped potato, olive oil” – the dish was wrong on every level. The texture was off, with chunks of undercooked potato mixed into the mushy whip, likewise bits and pieces of the fish (brandade being salt-cod), including bones, it was weeping copious amounts of olive oil, which was the only flavor really discernible, and the whole mess was unseasoned – if there was salt or pepper in there it would be a surprise to each that the other was present. Two to three nibbles of the stuff on the over-toasted, rock hard bread chips was three to four nibbles too many. I left the rest untouched, the waitress asked, I murmured something about not really liking it, she took it off the bill.
And the final dish, mixed thoughts. A crispy pork belly and warm spinach salad – the salad was nice and fresh, perhaps a touch overdressed, though a really killer dressing, so I didn’t mind so much, a perfectly poached egg atop, and deliciously flavorful pork belly. The texture, though, was off on this dish as well (texture seems to be the one consistent letdown on this menu – the flavors, with the exception of the brandade, work quite well) – the pork belly was in no way “crispy”, which wasn’t really a negative, but would have added a dimension to the dish. And there were celery sticks in the salad – big, crunchy, raw celery sticks – okay, there’s the textural component, but, umm, no. Get them out of there. Really.
Overall, good flavors and interesting ideas. A touch off in execution here and there. It probably doesn’t help that on a Saturday evening the place was dead. When I arrived at 10:15pm there were two tables, one of two and one of four, and both were paying their checks. No one else even looked in over the next hour and a half. The staff, while friendly, were clearly bored – text messaging on phones by restaurant employees, while in sight of customers, should be banned. If not by law, at least by any thoughtful restaurant owner. I think the place has great potential with a bit of tuning.