We had a family dinner at the Tasting Room on E.1st this past Friday, just a few days after Grimes' cranky review in the Times. It was superb from start to finish. (Full disclousure: the owners are friends of a friend.)
Since the menu is fairly small, we were able to try almost every dish between the five of us. We had smaller "tasting" portions of the following to start:
Duck foie gras - velvety, rich, and very subtle, with a tangy rhubarb compote for contrast. My father, a life-long hater of liver in any form, actually ate and enjoyed a fair amount of it.
Grilled asparagus - simply prepared with a mushroom and onion accompaniment; very crisp and fresh.
Diver scallops - fork tender and sweet, served with large red and white hominy.
Sauteed monkfish - wow. Served with navy beans, Japanese turnips, and a blood orange viniagrette.
We also ordered three larger "sharing" portions for the table. The squab was my favorite. It had a nice gaminess (not overpowering), and was set atop onion confit and cherries in a foie gras sauce. Very rich and very, very good. Duck legs were wonderful as well - ultracrisp, well-seasoned skin and tender, flavorful meat, served with greens and dumplings. The braised and pan-fried rabbit was our third choice, but by the time it arrived we were too stuffed to eat more than a few bites. Nevertheless, we still manaaged to try the desserts. The cheesecake is the best I've had in a restaurant, period, and the chocolate tart is likewise quite a treat, with a rich cocoa flavor.
While the food can stand on its own, the service really makes the experience something special. Our waiter was cordial and had a real knowledge of both the food and the wine list (no mean feat - it's got around 350 bottles), while Renee, the host/co-owner, is a delight. She and her staff obviously care so much about what they are serving, and their passion really comes through. Grimes complained mightily in his review about the service, basically calling it unctuous and obtrusive. I, on the other hand, found it outstanding. Perhaps he thought it was forced, which is too bad. Unless I'm a really bad judge of character, these are people who are 100% sincere and believe totally in what they are doing. IMHO, that's something for which to be thankful.
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