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Maestro report (long)

bacchante | Sep 23, 2004 03:28 PM

We ate last week at Maestro. Given some of the recent discussion about disclosure on the site talk board, I will say that we have eaten there a couple of times a year since very shortly after the restaurant opened. The maitre d’, sommelier, and the wait staff recognize us by now, and there is a degree of familiarity in our interactions. However, I do not believe we are treated differently than first-time customers. I judge this by observing other tables and reports from others to whom we have recommended the restaurant. Those who have read my previous posts on Maestro know I am a big fan.

We had not been since the chowhound dinner last winter. We went during their first week open after being closed for a few weeks in the traditional Italian style. Fabio Trabocchi was not in the kitchen that evening, nor was Emanuele Fissore present in the dining room. According to Sommelier Vincent Feraud, Fissore was still in Italy. I did not inquire about Trabocchi.

The food was as wonderful as always. As it was mid-week (we can’t manage the 5 full courses on weekends), we had the three courses, mixing between “tradizione” and “evoluzione” menus. This was not as over-the-top as the chowhound dinner last winter, but then, we made the selections. And each dish was perfect.

The first amuse that arrived immediately after being seated was a cheese custard in an empty eggshell, with a parmesan chip. Nice. The second amuse arrived after we placed our order and was a single marinated raw scallop in the shell on top of a shot of gazpacho. This also was very good, although I was a bit surprised as I thought they would be well into their fall menu by mid-September.

For antipasti, I had a seared diver scallop with black truffles on potato “risotto,” and my husband had rabbit loin and rack. My scallop was luscious and perfect. The sauce on his rabbit was divine.

For primi, I had pasta stuffed with duck confit with sunchoke puree. The three small tortellini translated into 6 perfect bites for me. He had a “lasagna,” which was two layers of pasta with seared skate.

For secondi, I had another duck dish, seared duck breast, and he had lamb tenderloin. I hesitated about ordering two duck dishes, but one (I forget which) came with a square of fois gras, which was too tempting to pass up. Both the lamb and the duck were perfectly cooked with very good reduction sauces.

Not being much of a sweets person (or probably sweet person either), I had a cheese course selection of 3 cheeses, which I chose myself to balance aged/fresh, sheep/cow, degree of ripeness, etc. There were plenty to choose from to do this.

Then, since we were celebrating a birthday, they brought a small cake, although I would have been fine without it. Then the usual complimentary petits fours before our cafe.

We noticed a number of new faces in the kitchen and in the dining room and noted that a few familiar faces in the kitchen were gone. I’m not sure whether it was the new staff factor, whether they weren’t back in stride yet after being closed for a few weeks, or whether it was the absence of both Fissore and Trabocchi, but, aside from the perfect food, things were a bit…odd.

When we arrived, we were shown to a table to the side of the kitchen. My husband quietly said that he had requested kitchen view, and she pointed out that we could see the kitchen from that table. He asked whether we could have one of the two tables right in front, both of which were empty (the other was not occupied during the two and a half hours we were there). Of course, they accommodated the request, but it seemed to attract the attention of the entire kitchen and dining room staff unnecessarily.

One of the things we had always remarked on was the silence in the kitchen, due to the use of headsets, but also because of care in how everything is handled. That evening, there were a number of slips. We heard staff talking and a few calls of “chef!” Several things were dropped on the floor with rather loud crashes. I noticed a piece of something on the kitchen floor that stayed for quite a while without being picked up and discarded, too. Now I know that a restaurant kitchen floor frequently is a trash heap by the end of service, but NOT when it is an open kitchen. I was once in Charlie Trotter’s kitchen at the end of the evening, and it was very clean. Yes, it was only one (rather large) piece, but I was surprised. Perhaps this is why they wanted to seat us a bit further from the kitchen where we couldn’t see and hear as well.

Finally, I noticed that the service in the dining room was a little bit off. I’m not sure how to describe it, but an example is that sometimes the food would arrive at the table before the waiter was there to place it and describe it. Or, there appeared to be a fair amount of motioning among the wait staff when it was time to serve. We had never noticed this in the past.

None of these things adversely affected our enjoyment of our meal or the evening, nor is my level of enthusiasm for the restaurant lowered. I only mention them because I have become used to perfection when I dine at Maestro.

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