Located on a stretch of Highland with little foot traffic, surrounded by commercial buildings, and ironically oriented with its back to the street, Susan Feinger's STREET feels sort of hidden - despite being in eyeshot of Mozza. Entering off Highland, one sees a charcoal gray building - nothing to look at aside from the neon sign - and enters into an riot of black, red, and orange. The room feels sexy and modern but also a little fun, a sort of cross between the ambiance of Border Grill and Rivera.
The service was eager to please when we went, although the kitchen was having trouble keeping up with demand. For a good twenty minutes, people being seated were asked to hold off from ordering while the kitchen caught up, and our table was the last to get the cumin-dusted millet marshmallow puffs as they had run out - at 8:00 P.M. (That's a shame as they were pretty tasty.) The backserver was as enthusiastic as our server, which shows that the staff is really invested. At one point, we were brought a dish we didn't order and sent it back; the next day, we noticed we had been charged for it. (We were feeling pretty good from a lot of drinks when the check came, so we didn't really pore over it at the table.) I e-mailed the restaurant just to let them know of the error so they can be aware going forward - they are just getting started, after all - and they made quick amends to take care of it. Very classy.
As for the food, no, if you're a devotée of gritty, authentic ethnic food, Street may not wow you. (However, as ethnic food maven Jonathan Gold is friendly with the Border Grill chefs, I suspect he will be surprisingly generous in his review.) Portions are not big, though the prices can be. Our server told us the $35 Globe Trot really only works for a party of two as it delivers an appetizer, noodle dish, salad, entrée, and dessert. We got the impression from her that the more one pays, the more the dishes have to get split - though she may have not explained it right.
The dishes we ordered:
- The paani puri had an authentic Indian taste, and it was a shame the silver dollar-sized stuffed pastries went so fast.
- The Cuban potato cake was a bit more complex in flavor than the (also excellent) Porto's version - stuffed with something more like picadillo - and came with a poblano cream sauce. But it was a bit small even for the three of us to split.
- The shrimp noodles were basically a shrimp chow mein that could be had in Chinatown for half the price (and twice the portion), but the addition of pork belly was a nice touch.
- That pork belly appeared again in the Vietnamese corn - essentially fresh corn and pork belly, very tasty.
- The Thai bites may have been the hit of the night, with onions, peanuts, dried shrimp, and other condiments to be added on a collard green leaf smeared with tamarind.
- The New Jerusalem salad rivaled the Thai bites for compliments. Olive bread coated in cumin is tossed with cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, and cubed Jerusalem artichokes, making something both rich (from the cumin and olives) and refreshing.
- I did not pick the Korean short ribs, and they were perhaps the least successful dish. The short rib slices had what seemed like a spicy miso sauce on them, and the Asian pear salad accompanying it tasted of just sliced pears - underwhelming.
- The Turkish doughnuts were really quite good - like fried balls of creamy bread pudding in texture, soaked in syrup and served with sour cream. They weren't too sweet, especially with the sour cream - a very nice way to end the meal.
We also got through a good chunk of the cocktail list. The "signature" Canton Ginger Kick was, I thought, the least successful of the drinks we had. There was pretty much no discernable ginger flavor from the Canton, so it pretty much tasted like lemonade and vodka. The Ode to Audrey also was a letdown - the cognac and sugar just seemed to turn champagne into ale. They do make a proper mint julep, and the Sazerac Manhattan was a little sweeter rendition of the classic. They didn't have the ingredients for the Singapore Sling that was listed, so I was given a Godfather - bourbon and amaretto. Not my thing. They have a good cocktail program, which is headed up by a bartender from The Association, but it's not yet on the level of Rivera, Comme Ça, or Osteria Mozza.
I know the concept of high-end, fancy, expensive street food has been controversial here and on other sites. I think the food largely works at Street, but I would like to see portion size increase by 20% or prices drop by 20%. If one is familiar with Border Grill's reinvention of earthy Mexican dishes into their more polished renditions, one knows exactly what to expect. And it works: One of my friends hates a lot of South Asian and Southeast Asian food and is not a cuisine explorer, but she loved everything put in front of her at Street. The restaurant is a pretty fun way to pass an evening. My own concern is that the focus of the menu is actually pretty limited: There is a Swedish salad, Moldavian meatballs, and the Cuban potato cake. Otherwise, the food is pretty much all from Asia; it's Asian Border Grill. Or a much classier, better-traveled RockSugar. There's nothing from sub-Saharan Africa, little from Europe, almost nothing from Latin America. North America gets a nods on the lunch menu only. I'd like to see Street go down a few more culinary streets as the menu progresses.
The first impression that hit me at BOTTEGA LOUIE was "White." Whiteness just glares out from every oversized white wall with no decoration. It's like a tribute to drywall. Actually, that was my second impression: My first impression was of two men vigorously polishing the brass rails outside the door. In addition to the massive expanses of blank drywall, there is shiny polished brass everywhere. Even the toilets are shiny brass. Bottega Louie will likely single-handedly insure America's brass polish industry won't feel the pinch of the recession.
The store looks classy in a Disneyesque way, with the marble floors and Empire-style maître d' station. There are pastries piled up at the front door, but the deli case was empty that morning. The grocery selections are high-end and pricey, but I wonder if there really is a market for $6.50 packs of blueberries when Ralph's is a five-minute walk away. The bar/café area is just in the door, with a group of small stone-topped tables clustered around. The restaurant is in a larger room beyond, with tables covered in butcher paper. The flatware is real silver.
The food is... nice. I went for breakfast and ordered the ham and Gruyère fritatta and roasted potatoes. I am not a big fan of eggs, but the excellent fritattas at BLD have had me reconsidering this position. Bottega Louie's fritatta was plain eggs with chunks of ham and cheese - not the most exciting or innovative dish, frankly. The potatoes were small red fingerlings with some onions and peppers - a fancy version of O'Brien potatoes. A segment of baguette comes wrapped in paper, like a Christmas firecracker, along with butter and jam. (A diner beside me puzzled why the bread was not warmed.) Nothing was bad, but nothing was terribly inspired, either. Frankly, it all struck me as the sort of food one gets in a nice hotel. (Pete's Café is the sort of stuff one would get at a Sheraton; Bottega Louie serves food fit for a Westin.) The food is perfectly nice, but it lacks the sort of excitement and passion one finds at a good restaurant. The strong, dark coffee tasted as if they used the same beans for espresso in their drip machine. For a high-end place that Bottega Louie aspires to be, though, I expect god quality cubed sugar (like La Perruche) instead of lots of packets.
The service was good. The servers were friendly and efficient, not even letting a used sugar packet sit on the table. My coffee cup did not sit empty, although when the server cleared it without asking me, she returned and apologized. (I was finished, so it was not a problem.) I could do without the silly pepper service, though. Those giant mills - :"Tell me when to stop!" - are very Red Lobster circa 1989.
I had to stop at the pâtisserie and try their offerings, too. The almond croissant also had that taste of commercial bakery croissants; again, it was good but not sublime. The Earl Grey and vanilla madeleines tasted good, but they seemed to be turning a bit stale. The canelés, though, were spot on. I especially enjoyed the orange flavor. (They didn't have the macarons ready at that hour of the morning.)
One on hand, Bottega Louie is not the most exciting restaurant, even in Downtown. On the other hand, it is so nice to have a nice bakery and open, bright eatery in that part of Downtown, especially one that is opens as early and late as Bottega Louie is. It is a very welcome addition for people in and around Downtown, but it is not really what I would call a destination. Still, I'm sure I'll be back some morning soon.