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Chez Spencer Report

J-toe | Feb 23, 2004 04:42 PM

Having heard many good things about Chez Spencer,and having been intriqued by the setting, I decided to celebrate a late Valentines dinner there with my wife. I liked the space a lot. Truly a hidden oasis in an unlikely place. Unfortunately, that's about where my pleasure ended.
I liked the menu...many luxurious ingredients and reasonable sensibilities. I opted for the tasting menu with wine pairing, as the appetizer and entree that tempted me the most both appeared there. However, as a tasting menu I was a bit puzzled, though, that all the seafood items on the regular menu were included, but no meat dishes. I got the impression that this menu served simply to sell the items that the kitchen needed to move, not to present a well balance representation of seasonal specialties. I was further troubled when, informed of my selection, the server asked me how I wanted my steak prepared. I looked again at the menu to make sure I hadn't misread, and told the server that I didn't see any steak on the tasting menu. "oh", she said, "They must have changed it". Oh well, mistakes happen.
Then came my first course, the "Boullabaisse Soup with Saffron Aioli," paired with a Pinot Blanc from I don't remember where. The soup looked like a thick cream of tomato soup, bright orange, with none of the "rusty goodness" I have come to expect in a fine Boullabaise or Soupe de Poisson. An untoasted crouton sat in the middle, striped with a plain aioli that was sprinkled with raw saffron. Needles to say, no saffron flavor infused itself into the aioli. The soup was not bad, but nothing remarkable. The Pinot blanc was completely lost amidst the fishy, tomatoey flavor of the soup.
The next course was Seered Scallops with black truffles, hearts of palm and sauce verte. The scallops were fresh, but had an unpleasant grittiness to them. The truffles were also gritty and absolutely tasteless. (Is this possible?) The hearts of Palm added nothing to the dish and the sauce verte was more like one of those mostly tasteless green oils one sees decorating the plate, but added no flavor to the dish.
Then came the main course, Wood Roasted Lobster with pork belly, black trumpet mushrooms and a sauce that I have never heard of, but the Server told me was "a Really great sauce made with chocolate". Two rather substantial and fatty (although i guess this is the nature of the beast) pieces of pork belly were paired with a half tail and one claw of a tiny lobster, a huge pile of black trumpets, and a sauce that tasted to me like a weak demi-glace. After only a few bites of everything, the lobster was gone and I had a big chunk and three-quarters of the pork belly and most of the trumpets remaining, which i picked at until it was time for the plates to be cleared.
Then came the Cheese course...A three small bite wedge of Brie with three large toasted slices of walnut bread, a chunk of poached pear and a pile of candied walnuts. The cheese was gone in a second, and again I picked at the accompaniments for a little while to kill the time.
For dessert I asked to replace the offered Meyer Lemon Sorbet with a Banana Tarte Tatin, which, after some reluctance by the server, I was allowed to do. Big mistake. This dessert was a disaster. It looked fine, but my first bite was my last. The bananas were underripe baby bananas and were completely starchy and fibrous, with none of the sweet succulence a banana lover like me would expect. The puff pastry crust was literally impossible to cut through with my fork, and since no knife was provided, i gave up. I sat there looking at this dissaster until the server arrived to see how everything was. I kindly explained that I did not care for the dessert and described a little bit the problems I was having. She said she was very sorry that I did not enjoy it, but then left it there for me to look at some more...which I did. Then someone else came by to clear the plates (a food runner, I presume), noticed that I had taken only one bite and asked if I didn't like it. I again explained the problems I was having and he, too, appologized and cleared the plate. No other dessert was offered and my bill was not altered.
Oh yeah, my wife ordered the wood roasted antelope, was asked if she wanted it rare or medium rare (she chose the latter) and it arrived EXTREMELY rare and still cold in the center, not from sitting, but from not having been cooked at all. She dutifully tried it, found it too tough to chew and asked if it could possibly be cooked a little more. The server replied that antelope needs to be rare or it is chewy (HUH?) but took it back to the kitchen for a blast from the oven. It came back palatable but far from good. Cost for two...$127.00 with one glass of wine.

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