Thanks to a glowing review from Barb S, I decided to take a gal pal to Campton place today. Photos of everything are posted at www.chezpei.com.
As chi chi girls' day out lunches go, Campton Place's Dine About Town option could not be beat. For $22, this lunch left us so full and so impressed we were speechless and all smiles as we walked back out the front door.
Decorative glass pieces like this sat atop each table. Each piece is a little different. I assume these are for candles in the evening, but maybe they're just pretty and meant to match the lily lamps overhead. The Dine About Town menu included two choices for each of three courses. This meant that between the two of us, we were able to try all six items on the menu. We, naturally, implemented the mid-course plate switch to double our pleasure.
The amuse bouche today was crab consomme with bits of chicken and scallion. This amuse fulfilled its purpose: made me hungry for more food. It was like a really rich, hot soup, chock full of crab flavor. We were also served a bread plate with some French bread and an olive loaf. The Plugra butter that came with smelled incredible, as Plugra always does.
Yes, we're whores for French Fries. This wasn't part of the DAT menu, but we got it anyway. We weren't able to finish this foot tall cornet of fries, but they were some of the best, hottest, crispiest fries I've had in a long time. Plus, they came with an adorable miniature container of ketchup.
Butternut Squash Soup with Toasted Almonds and Goat Cheese: by the time the soup reached our table, I had forgotten the description of it on the menu. One bite, however, made it abundantly apparent that a rich but subtle goat cheese was part of its preparation. The soup was bright yellow and much thinner than the usual butternut squash soup. It was very refined, from the drops of olive oil to the dollop of cream in the middle.
Spinach and Frisee Salad with Blood Orange and Candied Pecans: those were some good blood oranges. I was happy to see the kitchen had switched out persimmons, which appeared on the DAT website but really aren't in season anymore. The blood oranges are just coming into season, and these were juicy and sweet. The thing Jo liked most about this salad was its use of just enough dressing to give the salad flavor without drenching the vegetables in sauce.
A closeup of that beautiful orange. It almost looks like tuna sashimi, doesn't it? This is also a pause to speak to the service at Campton Place. All in all, the wait staff ensured us a charming experience. Our coats were whisked away as soon as we entered, and we were seated promptly depite having no reservations. Our server was happy to answer our pesky little questions (What kind of butter is that? What is this in my plate? Can you open this impossibly tight jar of honey?), and bantered with us enough to make us feel comfortable but not so much that we felt like he was hovering over us.
Campton place is a first-rate establishment, meaning our napkins were re-folded when we got up to use the restroom, servers pulled out the chairs for us when we sat down, table scrapers were used between courses, flatware was changed diligently, and everything was served on large silver platters whisked back and forth by an apt staff. The room was simply but beautifully decorated with flower arrangements, and smelled faintly like a combination of cala lilies and food.
Still, things were a little strange. For example, the earnestness with which servers followed us back to our chairs was a little unnerving. As I walked back from the restroom, a server appeared out of nowhere, said "Hi! Welcome back!", followed closely behind me, and pulled out the chair for me. Maybe I'm just not used to classy service, but I really felt like he was herding me back to my table. And even though all the servers were more than polite, it seemed like they were constantly rushing too and fro between the kitchen and the tables rather than casually gliding along and surveying the room. The result of their rushing, I thought, was that our water glasses were often empty for long periods of time. It was also a little hard to grab anyone's attention because before I could raise an eyebrow they had whisked past me. Still, those area minor quibbles for otherwise stellar service. The little flaws show up a lot more when everything else is perfect. On with the food--this pause in commentary corresponds with the long pause between courses that we were given in order to chat and digest.
Glazed Chicken with Ragout of Wild Mushrooms, Brussel Sprouts, Bacon, and Pearl Onions: two things about this dish stood out. First of all, look at the size of the plate in comparison to Jo's torso. It was like a serving platter! It's always fun to be served food in a giant vessel. Second, the sauce for this chicken was out of this world: buttery, not overy creamy, and exceedingly flavorful. Jo said it was like supergood chicken stock. We suspect it contained the crab consomme we had been served earlier, as well as some shredded dried scallops. A nice little surprise were cubes of celery root, which looked like potatoes but tasted much more interesting. The chicken itself was tender and juicy, and had soaked up plenty of the sauce's flavors.
Striped Bass with Warm Chicory Potato Salad and White Anchovy Vinaigrette. Nicely done, but I'm really picky about my striped bass. This could have been cooked a little less, and the salad tasted a little charred. One of my pet peeves is food that's been so badly charred it tastes like butane, and this came dangerously close. The potatoes were nothing terribly exciting. The best part about this dish was the sauce, which was great with some bread. I was also impressed by the masterful sprinkling of pepper to the left of the bass. A long pause followed the removal of the main courses. This gave us time to relax, drink some water, have some French fries, and contemplate the imminent arrival of dessert.
One dessert option was a cheese plate. I thought the cheeses would be on the DAT website so I didn't write down what they were. I'll just decribe them from front to back. The first is a cow's milk cheese that was very much like bleu cheese. We both liked it a lot, but the flavor significantly improved after we asked for a bit of honey to go with. The second cheese was the most interesting. The gray line through the middle is ash, which separates cheese made from morning milk from cheese made from afternoon milk. WTF?! I basically stared at the cheese server in wonder when he said this. He gave me the "Yes, I'm for real" look. The third cheese is a soft goat cheese. It went incredibly well with the dried figs. The figs were amazing, a little juicy and sugary rather than completely dry. The almonds weren't especially good. Just for comparison's sake, we liked our cheese selections from Cav better. Then again, that platter cost much more, and we might have just been all cheesed out by this afternoon.
Chocolate Hazlenut Mousse Cake with Mille Feuille and Passion Fruit: This tasted like a Ferrer Rocher chocolate in cake form. That is to say, it was nice but didn't impress after the greatness of the rest of the meal. I think I preferred the variety and uniqueness of the cheese platter to this run of the mill dessert. Then again, I don't like tangy sauces with my chocolate so that might have biased me. The layers of this cake included chocolate cake, wafer, mousse, and hard top. Well-executed, but not particularly inspired.
We were defeated by the fries and cheese platter. We left a little of both, and left the restaurant exceeding pleased with ourselves. A trip to the spotless, well-appointed ladies' room left us ready to tackle Union Square, with enough money in our wallets to feel minimally guilty.
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