My first visit to Comme Ça is reviewed here:
When I went to Comme Ça two weeks ago, the room was full, and the atmosphere was buzzing, but it was nothing like last night. Last night was a madhouse. To put it in the words overheard from another patron as he walked out, it was “a zoo.” They had the full-on Osteria Mozza-on-a-Saturday-at-8:00 going – and it was Tuesday! The bar was stacked two-deep when I arrived, as was the hostess stand. The long corridor leading to the kitchen had waiting diners standing along its length. Waitresses with their candlelit trays constantly move past in the front area, meaning there really is no place to stand at where one will not have to move from in a minute or two. Many were wandering from cheese bar to liquor bar, looking for a place to land as they waited. It seemed some poor fools actually thought they could dine without reservations; after wandering about for a half-hour or so, they gave up the ghost and departed. The people at the bar, meanwhile, were permanently camped out, not dining there or even particularly drinking, just flagging out their territory, chatting away in the din, and making it virtually impossible to get a drink over the wall of bodies.
When a break appeared in the bar – one of the wall of drinkers had to use the bathroom – we used the opportunity to get drinks. One friend got a bourbon on the rocks. Well, on the rock. I really like how they put the liquor over one large piece of ice. Very nice. The bartender remembered me and what I drank last time (champagne), but I had him make the cocktail he recommended first last time, a Dobb’s Cocktail. It was much like a Manhattan, my favorite cocktail, and very well made. I really like the use of classic champagne coupes as cocktail glasses, too.
We were seated and, after the confusion about our server was settled – I had requested to have the same excellent server as I’d had two weeks previous, and we were not put in her section as confirmed several times – we began going over the menu. The food took a long time to come this time, much longer than on my last visit. The first item to arrive were the pommes frites. They were still excellent, but this time, they had much less salt on them – a great improvement. They vanished quickly. Two friends split the mushroom risotto, which led to my whiskey-fueled chastisement. (“Why are you ordering Italian food in a French restaurant?!”) It was decent but nothing to write home about. I chose the glazed sweetbreads, which were tender and soft, fried and served in a slightly sweet sauce with pearl onions on wilted romaine. There were five good-sized pieces to the dish, which I thought was very generous. Another diner has the French onion soup, but he sent it back as the crouton was burnt, flavoring the entire soup with a charred taste.
By the time we ordered, the braised veal shank special was already sold out, so one diner was forced to settle for the lamb shank instead. It was huge, an enormous club of rich meat sitting atop flageolet beans cooked to the perfect consistency. It was lacking a bit in flavor, though, which made me glad it was not my dish. The duck confit was fantastic, wonderfully rich and succulent, perfectly cooked. Again, this was not my dish, but it is likely to be so on a future visit. The accompanying red cabbage was spiked with a nice hit of vinegar, just enough to give it a subtle tartness. I had a combination of two appetizers for my main course, the French onion soup (nothing burnt on mine) and the steak tartare. The soup was fantastic, rich and dark and sweet, a textbook example. The steak tartare came premixed with the egg, mustard, and capers, along with toast rounds. The texture was good, though I felt the flavor of the meat was a bit drowned out by the condiments. (One of my friends really loved it, though.)
Two diners were not so lucky. I was quite surprised to see that the portion size of the boeuf bourgignon I’d ordered just two weeks prior had shrunk by more than half. It is understandable to have some downsizing in portions, and the full blade steak I had a fortnight ago was almost a chore to finish, but to see it reduced to nearly a third of what it was – at the same price, no less – seemed a bit surprising. It was about half the size of the duck confit leg. Moreover, the diner who had it said it was overcooked. (When I had it two weeks ago, it was medium.) Still, his entrée was not the smallest. No, that award goes to the goat cheese ravioli. Six silver dollar-sized ravioli were arranged in the center of a large plate covered in a green coulis, surrounded by cherry tomato halves. C’est tout. My sweetbreads appetizer at seven dollars less was larger. This might have been passable as one of a series of courses in a tasting menu at an haute cuisine restaurant, but as a main course at a brasserie? It was insulting. We had two unhappy diners. The wine list also proved a bit of a problem. We kept running into reasonably priced reds that were out of stock. Between this and the veal, it seems as if the restaurant has not been able to keep up with unexpected demand.
The dessert of the crème brûlée was fantastic – studded throughout with vanilla beans, a crackly sugar crust, not too sweet. It may be the best version I’ve ever had, but then most crème brûlées I’ve had have not been very good. Our server teased me when I asked about the other options, reminding me of my previous complaint that “you can get the other ones at Boule.”
Our service was fantastic. I requested our previous server from my last dinner, and she was even better than before. Some of our party were undecided on wine, causing her to go back and forth for wines to try and to get the sommelier, and she did it all with patience and very good humor. She is one of the best servers I’ve encountered in the city, in fact, and I’m very glad we have been seated with her on our visits. Whenever I return, I will request to be seated with her.
The patio chairs are still there, but the back section now has some real wooden chairs with a faux bamboo back. They look so much better, much more appropriate; here’s hoping they start to spread through the remainder of the restaurant soon. The metal bucket stools were all collected and stacked up, hidden behind a chalkboard by the side of the cheese bar. Clearly they were not a hit.
I explained to folks at the table that Comme Ça had just been open less than three weeks, so growing pains were still to be expected with the wine list, the food, the service, and so forth. For such a young restaurant, though, I really enjoy it, and I think that, in a few months, Comme Ça will be a really remarkable place. (The salting issues, for example, were no problem at all last night.) Now it’s more of a question of waiting for the crowds to thin out. Hopefully the expanded hours, supposedly set to start later this month, should help that out.
Right now, I'd say book ahead and expect a crowd, or else wait for the kinks to be worked out and the crowds to thin and go in the new year. Still, for all its flaws, Comme Ça, for as young a restaurant as it is, has already become one of my favorite places in town.
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