I just had to see what this was all about and compare it to my experience at Chikalicious...so Danna, our dining partners SueAnne and Doug as well as SA's sister AnnaLynn walked a few blocks from their apartment on Mott after eating some pizza from Lombardi's (take out) to see what all the fuss was about.
We walked into the very narrow and long space and found ourselves at the tail end of a major dessert rush (10:15ish). Apparently the whole bar got jammed up just prior to our arrival, so we would have to wait. And wait and wait we did. At least a half an hour for them to accomodate our party of 5 together.
But I'm glad we got to wait. Our pizza was still digesting, we had a chance to talk a little more with one another, we got front row seats to the plating action behind the bar and were even given some lovely snacks because of our patience and their good nature. This included candied macadamia nuts -- very similar to what you might find in a particular dessert at Craftbar; some blueberry flavored cotton candy, made right in front of us on one of those kiddie/home versions (thus it took a little while to warm up and the finished product was minimal) as well as some litchi sorbet. By all accounts this was all fun and good and greatly appreciated. The Mikli-esque glasses- wearing chef was very kind and hospitable as were the others in attendance (a chef, a sous chef, a waitress, a host and another manager of sorts).
The menu changes daily and should probably be changed in design to better reflect their ordering suggestions.
I would recommend to Chef Goldfarb that they take a look at the Rickshaw Dumpling Bar menu which better illustrates the suggested way of ordering (dumpling->salad->soup). In the case of R4D, the columns are vertical but they ask you to read and order from it horizontally.
In either case, they have liquid desserts that cost $9, some of which have unclear descriptions like the drink called "Energy" which is litchi sorbet and tea air. Hmmm. With this particular dish, they pair it with either a riesling or and indian style yerba mate tea.
Then there is the tasting menu of desserts, each for $12.
Here's what we had:
Apple in various states
(sorbet tatin, tartare, 'cidre', fata papillote)
This dish was served backwards to Doug, and we only realized this later. Though I think the error is actually in the menu. The sorbet was served as the last item on the right, and I think that's how it should be.
It was good and had a sharp, winesap bite to it. Mulled cider sorbet might have been a better name. The tartare dish was the best of the night. It was evenly diced pieces of apple that were almost jellied to make them like the texture of tuna tartare. On top of it was sprinkled something called ouso blend, which was a tarragon microgreen and possibly something else. Neither our waitress nor the host knew exactly what it was and didn't get the clearest answer from whoever they asked. But it made the dish. The tartare alone was good, but with the spicyish green it made it perfect. Hard to describe. Get this if you can. The cidre was a sweet, warm cider that was very clear in color. Nice. Not sure if I tried the fata papillote.
Sue Anne and me
Voyage to India
(coco, mango 17480 (cat), parfait, 'kulfi')
What is all this? The coco was a chocolate ring - looked a lot like a crispy creme donut, that tasted similar to a pudding-like fudgsicle and had a crispy wafer cracker bottom. The mango 17480 looked like tapioca pearls but apparently this is 100% mango but an emulsifier of some kind was used to create its shape. The texture was fun the taste was subtle. The parfait was bizarre to me. It looked like a pile of white confectioners sugar in a white, eggshaped dish. And my first taste was like a mix of confectioners sugar and talc. But the secret was that just below the layer of powder was another white substance that had a somewhat invisible gooey texture to it. Together with the powdery substance, this actually was quite good...but confusing. The Kulfi was a rice pudding-like dish served in a way too tiny portion on a white miso soup spoon. This was my second favorite dish as far as taste goes. I just wish there was more of it.
Danna and AnnaLynn
Plat du jour
(nolitela, caramel ice cream, brioche, cloud)
Again with the names. Nolitela I suppose is a combo of NoLita, which is the location of this place and Nutella, which this dish was inspired by. Pretty good. Deeper/darker in flavor than the original. This was served in its own bottle. Caramel ice cream was good. The brioche was supposedly excellent. Danna refused to share and AnnaLynn had finished hers. Cloud. Yes, cloud. Another name for frozen lemon meringue. Spare me.
Doug had the suggested pairing of caffeine free red spiced tea called rooibos chai. I had the recommended nooshin, which was a mango, hibiscus and calendula tea.
We were given hourglass/sand timers and told not to pour the tea until it was finished. Okay. When we did and had our tea, we were both a bit surprised at how tepid the tea was. Perhaps, like wine or beer, it is best served close to room temp. to truly appreciate its flavor...but I like my tea hot. The nooshin was tasty and had mango, hibiscus and I suppose calendula flavor but almost too much so. It tasted like a phoney tea. Doug felt the same way about his. I'll save the $7 next time and just get water like Danna and Annalynn did.
Sue Anne got the wine recommendation which was a 2003 banyuls, mas blanc rimage for $9. Very sweet and rich and I guess it paired okay with the dessert. I see why they went for it...but wasn't 100% convinced.
Overall, I like the concept and the chef. I truly hope it succeeds. But major things need to take place for that to happen. Here's what I'd change:
* change the menu format. Make it more understandable. Don't try to be Thomas Keller with your clever menu names.
* change the placemats. Though, as Annalyn said, they do look like chocolate swirls, the sinewy, rubber placemats are cool, but they collect other people's uneaten food. Both mine and Annalyn's had a considerable amount of other people's dessert stuck in the swirls of plastic. They will be a nightmare to clean.
* change the rather boring photo spread that lines the wall and doubles as a cabinet facade.
* change the way you offer your wines. Some are served by the quart, others by 3 oz serving and another by the glass. Consistency is needed.
* Consider having less people behind the counter. 5 people seems like way too much staff to have on hand at this place. Perhaps all of the partners wanted to be on board its maiden week/journey.
* Consider less tea (and cheaper tea) to encourage turnover. People were hanging out for a LONG time. At $20 a check, this will ruin you.
And to end on a positive note, because I do like the place, here's what I'd suggest to keep doing:
* keep enjoying it. It looked like the chef was having fun despite getting slammed. He was very pleasant.
* keep coming up with fun desserts each night...but listen to people's favorites...these can eventually make your place a success if they become house favorites.
* keep the dated menus. I like that.
* Keep the setup. Obviously you don't have much of a say on this because it is so long and narrow. But this truly works for your concept.
* keep treating your guests as friends. Nice job.
Photos will be put on my blog later tonight...
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