After much anticipation we got ourselves to Johnny V at the Astor this past Saturday night. I've been waiting eagerly for this for months now after hearing that Johnny Vincenz was reopening a restaurant in the Astor after about a 5 yr hiatus (he has a place on Las Olas but I haven't made my way up there). His last place at the Astor was one of my favorite local restaurants.
A menu is now posted on the Astor Hotel website - go to http://www.hotelastor.com/restaurant.... and scroll down, there's a PDF. It has already been tweaked slightly since it was posted, as there were some items on the online menu that we didnt' see at the restaurant, and vice versa. Their official "grand opening" is next week, but they've been doing a soft opening for about five weeks already.
Pato Frito - shredded duck confit w/ a black bean sauce, served w/ perfectly crisp and salty tostones (smushed and fried plantains). The duck and sauce were delicious, but a tiny bit heavy esp. for a starter. Confit is heavy as it is, the black bean sauce is too, this dish could use a little something to lighten it up.
Goat Cheese Pie - a salad with a hockey puck of goat cheese crusted with nuts, served over a bed of julienned beets, and topped with a fig & balsamic sorbet. I always like the combination of goat cheese and beets, and this didn't disappoint. I'm always puzzled why we are never able to get the nice baby beets you often see elsewhere in the country, here they make up for that absence by cutting the beets down to small strips and serving the cheese over a bed of them. You better really like beets because there's a ton of them (I do). The fig & balsamic sorbet sounded a little suspicious to me but it actually worked perfectly, adding its flavors to the dressing as it melted.
Caesar Salad w/ smoked shrimp - the smoked shrimp are delicious and are a typical Johnny V element (I remember he used to do them in mashed potatoes, which worked surprisingly well). Didn't quite work for me in a caesar though, and what was advertised as a "lobster caesar dressing" had no hint of lobster to it.
Pork Tres Maneras (three ways) - a grilled tenderloin, BBQ shoulder, and braised pork belly. The real standout here was the pork shoulder, shredded slow-cooked pork with just an eye-popping mix of spices. Not spicy, but incredibly flavorful - I think there's some cinnamon in the mix. Served w/ malanga fries and a grilled baby corn (neither really added much).
Cheese Plate - the cheese selection here is mindboggling. They have a whole separate cheese menu and there have to be at least 50 selections from all around the world. We had a Humboldt Fog goat cheese from Cypress Grove, a Sweet Grass Dairy cows-milk cheese, an English farmhouse cheddar, a Spanish tetilla, and a "Stilton" with ginger and mango (entirely unlike any Stilton I've ever had, not even blue-veined, but tasty nonetheless).
The accompaniments to the cheese plate were generally peculiar and off-putting, however (particularly for an after-meal cheese course) - pickled grapes (interesting but overwhelming and not complimentary to a cheese), marinated olives (maybe nice if you're doing cheese as a starter, but I wasn't), toasts which seemed to have been hit with some herbs or garlic, a hazelnut spread... I was also somewhat surprised that all of the firmer cheeses we had were served in thin slices rather than in wedges.
Servings are for the most part pretty generous and we had no room for dessert despite splitting a main (although the pork three ways was itself not a ton of food and could have done with some more sides other than a few malanga fries and a stalk of baby corn).
There are many other menu items that sound intriguing - alligator fritters, a "tongue in cheek" appetizer w/ braised veal cheek and smoked tongue, a smoked tomato soup with three little grilled cheese sandwiches (each a different cheese), a "green eggs and ham" salad w/herbed truffled egg salad and serrano ham, a grouper with a citrus dulce de leche sauce (!), a smoked and grilled ribeye w/ yorkshire pudding... also an extensive list of yummy-sounding veggie sides incl. wild mushroom polenta, yuca tater tots, callaloo stew, truffle fries, aged cheddar mac & cheese...
They also are taking their wine very seriously too, with an encyclopedic wine list that I started to glaze over as I was plowing through it. They have a sommelier who prowls the tables and is very eager to please, offering to either match menu selections to wines or to help plan a meal around a particular wine selection. We got a very nice Argentine malbec blend, the Achaval Ferrer Quimera, which he decanted and brought us out nice glasses for. The wine list was really quite impressive not only for its size but for the quality of the selections.
Service was eager and friendly but - unsurprisingly for a place that's only been open a month - still working some kinks out. When we sat, we got the cheese menu and the wine list but no food menus, and waited about 10 minutes before we got them. Our waiter was a little overintrusive in jumping in to ask how things were (including at least once before we'd had an opportunity to even try anything), but then disappeared for another 15 minutes after we asked for our check. On the plus side, all dishes came out at the right times, water and wine were promptly refilled, extra plates brought for dishes we were splitting, etc.
The cheese thing in particular seems like it needs some work. Maybe it's just that they're really pushing for cheese to become an appetizer (which would explain the presentation of the cheese menu before you even get the regular menu, and the accompaniments on the more savory side of the culinary map), but it sure seems to me that the folks most likely to be intrigued by their impressive selection are going to be used to having it at the end of the meal. Just give me those cheeses, some good honey and some nice plain bread and I'll be quite happy, thank you. Keep the olives and garlic toast away.
Despite a touted makeover of the restaurant by a designer (who coincidentally happens to be the chef's girlfriend!) I didn't notice much different about the place than when I was there 5 years ago, other than some tufted banquettes along the back wall and a very impressive glass wine case that goes floor to ceiling and forms a wall between the restaurant and bar (impressive in that it's about a 20-ft ceiling). I've always thought this was a beautiful space anyway, with old terrazo floors, a glass ceiling over the restaurant space and a curved wall looking out on the tiny pool and wall-fountain towards the front.
There are a lot more things I want to try and I'm looking forward to going back.
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