This place is small. Some would describe it as "cozy". I prefer small. Except for the banquette, the chairs are hard plastic, though not torturous. The tables are barely large enough to contain several dishes. The patrons are republican. The cooking is ambitious. The service is, mostly, polished.
Appetizers included an umcommonly delicious and salmony gravalox on a do-it-yourself plate with red onion, herbs, avocado!!, and black bread. The butternut squash-blue cheese souffle, on the other hand, though intriguing in theory, was a nondescript portion of mush in execution. But then again, I'm not a souffle fan, so maybe I'm biased.
The wines by the glass were reasonable and quite good (forgot the names).
It seems that the menu is ever-changing (is it daily, weekly?) but I'm told there's three things that are signature dishes and stay put: the pear salad (which we didn't try), the chocolate souffle dessert (one per meal is enough, thank you), and the 25 minute pre-order date pudding. The latter is an oven-warm thick disc the color of mud pie and the weight of a brownie with a generous heaping of whipped cream on the side. It was heavy and blah - two things you don't necessarily want in a dessert. Regular coffee, by the way, was outstanding.
What this restaurant seems to really excels at, based on my one visit, is entrees. Although we didn't order it, the meat loaf with a towering mound of mashed potatoes looked fabulous. Our paella was smokey and rich as hell, with lots of chorizo and pearl onions, as well as scallops, shrimp, crab, and lobster, with perfectly cooked saffron rice. A mini feast, to be sure. Our other main was a fontina?, spinach and porcini stuffed chicken alongside a wild rice pilaf: Hearty and scrumptious.
Address: 81 Street between 2-3 Ave. Pre-tax/tip tab for two: $160. By the way, we didn't dine on V-day.