So after much ado on this post and others, we went. Party of 4, 7pm. Upon arrival, greeted nicely, sat promptly. It was the Year of the Pig.
COCKTAILS: we generally do not ride trends in drinks, opting for the standard martini, Ketel rocks, Champagne, etc. to begin. However here, due to all the flap, I had the Cracklin' rimmed Anejo cocktail (I asked to be upgraded to Don Julio), and my wife had the Rye lemonade. My drink was as it has been told, smokey, savory, woody and just the right amount of acid-sugar balance from the agave and citrus juice...with just the slightest hint of spiciness from the Arbol chili garnish that was floating in the glass. Very tastey effort. The lemonade, I found too acidic. While the peach bitters added a beautiful floral quality, I felt it lacked balance. Mint garnish was the right touch, adding an herbal component, and some complexity.
FOOD: All around, mediocre. Not great. I opened with the Bucatini and chicken livers. While the livers were cooked to absolute perfection, nicely browned out and just slightly rosey pink in the center, the bucatini was UNDER cooked. Some pieces to the point of being hard and unchewable in spots, which would have been sent back had I been alone with my wife, and not with another couple. Bitter disappointment. Too bad, the dish itself had all the right things going for it, correct amount of condimento to pasta ratio, flavors were bold and balanced (black olives and pancetta against the livers). The pasta itself ruined the dish. Conversly, my wife had the gnocchi. Superb. Light as air. Beautifully executed main item. My only question was where were the black truffles that the menu alluded were a part of the dish??? There were tiny specks of black...clearly truffle peeling. ZERO truffle flavor to be had, anywhere in the dish. Another dissapointment. Sad.
I had duck. Horrible. Just do not do it to yourself or the duck. The breast is pan seared, and then 'blocked' or cut into a rectanglular shape, shearing off any of the ends, sides, etc. that could provide any crispy edges. And rare. RARE-rare. (I asked for Mid-rare). The fat, which was advertised by our server as being crisp, and rendered...not even close. Making matters that much worse, it was cut into relativly thick, straight slices resulting in, you guessed it, shoe leather duck. My wife had Tasmanian trout. It was cooked properly enough. Little to say here, the dish was clean in flavor. But not too much going on otherwise. Its enough that the fish was cooked properly, a rare (pun intended) happening no matter where you are.
SERVICE: I had heard about it being slow. I was unprepared to wait thirty minutes on entrees. I guess I had been warned. Twice I had to ask for utencils. That is to say, the food came out, was placed in front of me, without anything to eat it with. Moreover, I had to argue twice (read: ME: "No, that is NOT mine"...HIM: "YES THIS IS WHAT YOU ORDERED") with the food runner about which dish I had ordered!!! He insisted that I had ordered what he put in front of me both with the Primi and Secondi, ARGUED with me about it at the table, and then picked it up, the first time with the Gnocchi (which my wife ordered) and took it over to the waitress and verfied with her that I had NOT in fact ordered it, and that my wife had!!! It was laughable, but so rude. He brought it back, and apologized, but then did it again with the entree!!! Did the waitress write down the wrong seating assignment on the ticket? Who knows. But it was aweful to have to argue over what I had ordered, twice. Were they really busy??? No.
WINE: The list is high rent. We had a Barbaresco from the '01 vintage ($66), which was really quite good. Tortonian or Helvetian? As nebbiolo so often does, it treated us well. Floral, with hints of red flowers and violets, graham carckers and tar, some earth and pale red fruit in the mid palate, smacking sweet/soft tannin, feminine but nothing mind-altering. I felt the pricing was high, again for the lack of tiers...not much to choose from in the 30-50 range, in Reds. Unfortunate, as was the service. The first bottle was never even presented to me, not even to confirm that it was in fact what I had ordered. It was opend behind the bar, and decanted, as I had asked it be, but nevertheless, a bad move. Really unhappy about that. Four glasses were put down, and the wine proceeded to be poured around the table, without even having been tasted, by anyone. Really poor move. Thankfully, I know what Babaresco tastes/smells like...not that there was a hint of clandestine motives to bilk us out of the wine we ordered and give us something else/lesser...still, not cool. No matter what, I want to see that bottle opened and poured off in front of me. Fortunately, the wine was good. I wanted to tempt fate....I ordered a second bottle. By the grace of all things holy, someone, this time, either by mistake or having recognised the blunder, brought 'round the second bottle, presented it, and even went down the right road, by bringing a new glass over for me to taste it before pouring it off for everyone at the table. One down, one up. And so it went...
DESSERT: Panna Cotta (saffron), Chocolate cake (affogato), and Olive Oil cake (lavender ice cream, and pears with thyme). Panna cotta won outright. Nice...made WELL. Where so many gelatin desserts can be grainy or too firm. Flavors were focused and the schmear of bitter chocolate ganache on the plate was nice support. Choco. cake was good, not great, playing bitter coffee against sweet molton choc. cake. Nothing groundbreaking here.
In closing, I can only say that there are some severe issues. We spent 400.00 for four. Pasta cookery issues. I mean c'mon!! The service I thought, obviously, was atrocious. My problem is I find myself secretly loving this place. Our server's personality beat everything that went wrong. Emily, and I am going to spot her out here, b/c she deserves it, was not only knowledgeable, but food heavy as well. She showed off, much to the dismay of my wife, her savvy at my request. She gave us a momentary tutorial on the sunchoke, its orgins, flavor profile and why we should order the soup on the menu. We bantered, (I being a former chef d'cuisine turned cork-dork), about the ancient sunchoke, and although we disagreed about it being related at all to the sunflower (which in fact it is) she was trying. Some blunders? Sure. Recomending the duck, unforgivable. But we will come back, sometime, and hopefully, Emily will be there...minus one very lame duck.
Hopefully the year of the Pig will find Porchetta getting its act together.