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Restaurants & Bars 4

Canteen Review

Jeff | Jan 6, 2006 05:48 PM

Well, we almost cancelled our last-minute pre-theater Canteen reservation at the last minute, because my wife was delayed leaving work, had to pick up our son at the babysitter, get him home and introduce him to the new babysitter for the night and get back downtown. (God bless her.) But I figured I'd go, order a bottle of wine and hope she arrived in time to help drink it. (She deserved it more than me.) On the plus side, when I explained the situation to the host/waiter, he didn't bat an eye and showed me to my table. He was fairly knowledgeable about the menu and the wine choices.

Ordered a bottle of the 2003 Mas de Gourgonnier Les Baux de Provence, which was quite nice, although it was about 3X retail. Glassware is the Reidel stemless, which goes well with the somewhat simple, austere environment. While the markups seem a bit high, the vast majority of the wines are at the same pricepoint (whether glasses or bottles), so you're not really forced to decide based on price. (Most bottles were in the mid-$30s.) My only gripe was that we we had to pour our own wine. (Also, I was a bit surprised that the waiter didn't suggest/offer to pour a glass for my wife when he opened the bottle and poured mine.)

As the minutes ticked by with no sign of my better two-thirds, I decided to order for both of us and hope she showed up in time. Menu had 4 first courses, 4 entrees and 4 desserts. I ordered the cabbage soup with ham hocks, a poached egg and crouton for myself, and the raw root vegetable salad with pomegranite vinaigrette and walnuts for my wife. Other choices were a warm pheasant salad and sea scallop ceviche with lemon chips. The kitchen did a nice job of holding the dishes as long as it could. As it turned out, they served them only a couple of minutes before my wife arrived. The soup was served in a deep bowl with a lid, which was removed upon presentation. I don't usually like broth soups, but this was wonderful. The broth was a faint pink, full of bona-fide chunks of ham (not tiny dice) with a nice smoky flavor. The egg was perfectly poached and was like finding the prize in the cracker jacks. If you wanted soup for breakfast, this would be it. I had a tiny bite of the salad (which fortunately wasn't overdressed, although one poster has suggested being aware of that possibility). It was okay, although it basically seemed like a fancy coleslaw to me.

For mains, we had shortribs with roasted potatoes and shittakes or cepes, and pork belly with chestnut puree. Again, was only able to snag a small bite of the shortribs, but it was very tasty. Then again, with all due respect to chefs, rocket scientists and brain surgeons, I don't find it terriby difficult to make tasty short ribs. The pork belly was reportedly first cooked at low heat in (pork?) fat, then pan-broiled to order. It was fairly meaty, but could have used a minute or two less under the broiler. On the other hand, the crunchiness was a nice contrast to the perfectly smooth chestnut puree. Also, the smokiness of the bacon was a good foil for the puree, which was incredibly sweet, in fact just a bit too sweet. I wasn't impressed with the chiffonade of romaine accompanying the dish; it struck me as a cheap afterthought. Other choices last night were swordfish and an artichoke and sweet onion tart.

For dessert we shared the vanilla souffle. Perfect size for two and a nice, fairly light way to end the meal, except for the liquid at the bottom of the dish that I kept spooning up. The waiter explained that to ensure proper rising, they coat the bottom and sides with "layers of butter and sugar." Um, garcon, a dish of the melted butter and sugar please. Options included a chocolate crepe with a tangerine sauce, and two others that escape me.

Canteen's an interesting place, and we'll definitely go back, especially since we're in the neighborhood regularly for the theater. The food is well-executed, flavorful and fairly reasonably priced. The restaurant feels a bit more like theater than a lot of places in the City, given it's small size, three discrete seatings and limited staff. Because of the three seatings, and the fact that there's only two servers, timing was a bit off. For instance, although the waiter said he'd bring our coffee with the souffle, because everyone was getting dessert at about the same moment, the coffee was delayed. Then, while we were paying, the two servers were running around getting ready for the next set of diners, sort of like a plane being unloaded and cleaned up for boarding passengers. There was also a cook constantly coming in the front door with an arm full of ingredients, but you never see him go out the front door--it's like a one-way loop. One downside is that it's really best suited for pairs, because the booths are small and the only other seating is at a counter.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: the rolls--sort of a parker-house/dinner roll type thing--were wonderful.

Total with tip was about $150.

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