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Respecting my meal, rather than loving it: Spring

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Respecting my meal, rather than loving it: Spring

Mike G | May 16, 2003 12:35 PM

Wanting to do something in the ballpark of my anniversary dinner last year, without necessarily trying to outdo it-- since it was the 20-course tasting at Trio, which is surely sui generis-- I consulted with a mysterious black-clothed gentleman known for his discerning fine dining tastes. I told G Wiv that I was thinking of Spring or Kevin, but would consider other possibilities on the new restaurant scene.

His suggestions: Spring, or Kevin.

Okay, he suggested more than just those two, but he agreed that those were top contenders, and so Spring it was. (By the way, I used Open Table, second time I've used it, very helpful for finding available seatings without a million phone calls.)

When I sat at the bar and got my first look at the menu, I have to admit I was less sure of the choice. I like Asian influences fine, I like minimalism fine, but this menu seemed so Asian-minimalist, so many white fishes in thin, subtle broths, that I felt sure I would react to it like I did to Crofton on Wells, which was a temptation to send out for a jar of puttanesca or Grey Poupon or Arthur Bryant's barbecue sauce or something, ANYTHING, to Kick It Up a Notch. Trio, to name one, delivered subtle flavors, but distilled to essences that exploded in your mouth. That kind of minimalism I love. The kind where you have to hold the broth in your mouth for a minute to hunt out the faint hint of ginger, that's just too wussy for me.

I will cut to the punchline and say that even when my wife and I ordered the things on the menu that seemed to have the strongest flavor profiles, we spent the evening at the event horizon of wussiness, always on the edge of seeing subtle flavors disappear entirely down the black hole of invisibility. When it was good it was very very good, but there were more than a few times that I had to remind myself to taste the stuff which was in my mouth, since it wasn't doing much to call attention to itself. Considering how full the room was of restaurant show guys on expense accounts talking loudly, I can't help but wonder how many of them were bitterly regretting that they hadn't just gone to Smith & Wollensky and ordered the 128-oz. sirloin and the baked potato the size of John Malkovich's head instead of a petite square of Hawaiian Ono (my advice: never eat a fish that broke up the Beatles) in a tapwater infusion.

So anyway, didn't take extensive notes but here's what I remember:

Appetizers:

Scallop on potato "raviolis" in a white truffle sauce-- sauce was excellent, a subtle flavor that was on the right side of subtlety. Scallop was all by itself on top, practically holding up a sign that said "Yes, you just paid $8 and got one scallop! For two people!" As for the raviolis... by what possible logic are three fried potato slices "raviolis"? Why not "cassoulets" or "samovars," that would have made as much sense.

When you add to the pretension and minimalism of the dish itself the time spent by the waiter minutely moving every single item of cutlery and glassware on our tiny table, in a note-perfect imitation of my late father's obsessive-compulsive disorder (he would spend hours absent-mindedly straightening all the pens and ashtrays on the kitchen table), this dish, though quite good, was hands-down the comic highlight of the evening.

Foie gras mousse-- with raisin toast and a glob of pickled beet jelly. Not bad, although the beet jelly was so sweet that it bordered on Welch's. But the combination, unlike a similar one at Trio a year ago, worked. The main hitch with this dish was the inevitable trendy square dish it was served in, which guaranteed that a good quarter of the mousse could not be retrieved by any of the available cutlery.

Green salad-- though the menu included "salads" which I would have considered to be as misnamed as the raviolis if I didn't know about Thai beef salad, we ordered simple green salads. They came in a supposed balsamic dressing which was mild enough that your grandmother would have pronounced it delicious at the Walnut Room.

Main courses:

Black Bass in lobster sauce-- Having had more South American steaks in the last few weeks than I really care to admit, I took a chance and ordered White Fish in Thin Broth. It was an event horizon dish, extremely subtle, but if you thought about it, it was good. Around it were-- I think we have a trend!-- ramps, along with some supposed parmesan gnocchi which, overpowered (a very relative term in this case) by the lobster sauce, could have been Kraft Mini-Marshmallows for all I could tell.

Ribeye-- My wife, the rare woman who will order red meat in a chic restaurant full of women off of Sex and the City (maybe SHE was wishing she was eating the 128-oz. sirloin), got slices of ribeye atop some kind of little ball-bearing pasta in a beef broth. The ribeye went fast but she said she wasn't that crazy about the pasta part, so I tried it and I thought it was really good, a sort of subtle heartiness that was exactly what I needed at that point. So after I ate mine, I finished her dish for her.

Dessert:

It took her two seconds to settle on the chocolate ganache with chocolate gelato on blood orange slices, which would be chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream to us Amurricans. It was good, but nothing unusual. Normally I would order something quite different, like the rhubarb dessert, but I was tempted by the other chocolate choice, a "dome" of chocolate caramel mousse in a ginger broth.

It was the best choice I made all night, the one Wow! and easily the most inspired dish of the evening, even though it took some doing to figure out how to eat it right. (They should have given me Trio-style instructions.) The best way was to use the fork to break off a piece of the dome, then use the soup spoon to get a spoonful of the ginger broth and eat it with the mousse. The light sweet gingery flavor and the more robust mousse came together perfectly at that point in a mix of textures and flavors and temperatures that was, indeed, Trio-like.

Wine:

I wish I could leave it on that happy note but unfortunately I have to talk about the wine. We ordered three wines by the glass, two after asking for recommendations, and I wouldn't say that any of them was particularly exceptional. I asked for a red wine recommendation and was immediately steered to the most expensive glass on the red list ($14), a merlot which I found much too harsh and tannic, presumably opened too young or just not what it was cracked up to be generally, or possibly-- very possibly-- open too long, it really could have been from the night before or even earlier. I really should have sent it back, it would have been good to see how they handled that; in any case, I took most of the meal to finish it (which didn't serve them well, either, I would normally have had a second glass in that time).

My wife ordered an Alsatian pinot gris which was quite a bit more likable, and I asked for another suggestion (why, I don't know) for a dessert wine which ended up with a pretty good sparkling red. But neither was a knockout; both were a little thin by the presumed standards of this kind of dining; I compare them to the paired wines we enjoyed at Trio, where several were among the very best we'd ever tasted of a type, and there's no comparison.

So: there we are. A very nice meal in many ways, some genuine expertise at work in the kitchen, if the style of food appeals to you it's well worth trying-- and yet I can't get through a review without praising it with faint damns. Spring was like one of those movies you see around Oscar time, very well made and grownup and intelligent, and once will probably do me for life.

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