Since Daniel Humm left Campton Place, I have been looking for a replacement where creativity, intelligence, skill --and perhaps a bit of irreverence-- might be providing some top notch food. I had heard that Winterland chef Vernon Morales had cooked both at El Buli in Spain and Restaurant Daniel in New York City, so I thought this might be the place I was looking for. When I made the reservation, I was pretty certain I wasn’t going to get pot roast and boiled potatoes and I looked forward to an adventure.
Winterland has a hostess stand at the entrance with a waiting lounge off to the right. Behind the stand there is an ample bar where you can order food either from a bar menu or the full menu. To the right, there is an adjoining dining room with enough tables to seat, forty diners. The décor is upscale with grays and blacks giving the room a hip look. The white table cloths, good stemware and silverware tip things towards the luxurious. The mostly young staff is dressed in black and has an excellent grasp of the food and wine.
Since we were the first people to show up at the restaurant that day, we were promptly seated. I answered the obligatory question about water (i.e. "tap, still, or sparkling?") and was presented with a tres chic 750ml glass cylinder of Voss sparkling water sporting a large gray cap that happened to match the gray on the walls. (Let’s pause for a moment here and imagine what you parents, out on a date, would have thought, if a waiter had asked that question? It would probably have seemed as strange as "What color air would you like?" Now people not only pay for water, they have choices.)
After determining that my dinner companion was not prepared to explore the tasting menu (six abbreviated courses from the standard menu, plus various amuses and desserts -- $90 plus an optional wine paring for $40 more), we ordered a crudo, a pair of "Starters" and two Entrees. We also asked the staff to provide wine pairings for this smaller dinner and they happily complied.
An Amuse of goat cheese sorbet with beet foam and black sesame seeds started the meal. The beet foam was actually quite creamy and smooth. The serving was small and was gone in about two half-bites. It reminded me of a deconstructed goat cheese and beet salad. I wondered if Michael Bauer would have approved.
My crudo choice was the Octopus Carpaccio. Twenty-five or so slices of paper thin octopus were laid like fish scales on the plate. They were sprinkled with mild Spanish smoked paprika, and some olive oil. Arranged around the edge were perfect dice of luscious sweet mango topped with crunchy and salty sea beans. This was served with a crisp fino sherry. It was a winner: beautiful, and interesting with a variety of tastes and textures that merged into a great dish; a perfect launch into the meal.
I convinced my companion to try the "Poached Organic Egg." This dish is a reconstructed take on the classic French dish: frisee salad with lardons and poached egg. It featured a poached egg deftly decorated with paper-thin slices of asparagus sitting alongside a small scoop of bacon ice cream. An asparagus broth/foam covered the bottom of the dish and small chunks of bacon. Slivers of parmegiano reggiano completed the dish. I have always joked that bacon is the perfect food which will improve any dish you add it to -- even ice cream -- and now I know I was correct! This is a dish everyone should try. It was served with a glass of floral and spicy Viognier.
Our other starter was an "Asparagus & Morel Stir-Fry," a dish of perfectly fresh ingredients of the late spring. A very generous selection of morels had been sautéed in butter along with some peeled asparagus spears. The dish was covered with a lemongrass and mushroom emulsion and garnished with chive blossoms. It was like eating mushroom and forest floor essence focused with butter decadence. The wine pairing was an earthy glass of Cariagne.
My companion’s entrée was a "Petaluma Poussin Roasted with Spring Garlic" served with asparagus, potato puree, and orange jus. It was coupled with a Pinot Noir.
My entrée was the "Bellwether Farms Spring Lamb." It was quite a production. A long plate presented three cuts of lamb, a chop, shoulder and loin atop three small heaps of crushed fava beans seasoned with lemon. There were also three perfect quinelles of vegetable marmalades (zucchini, tomato, and eggplant) and a jasmine & meyer lemon sauce. Both the shoulder and the loin were incredibly tender; I suspect they were done sou-vide. This was is another dish I would recommend to anyone. It was served with a robust Sicilian red wine.
Frankly we were stuffed and opted to skip dessert, but we were presented with a complementary petite fours tray containing macaroons, mini crème brulees, and jellied fruit sugar squares which we couldn’t entirely resist.
I really enjoyed the meal and will be visiting again to try the tasting menu. Winterland is what I was searching for. It is currently the best place in the city to have, as my dining companion put it, an "interesting" meal.
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