This week, with having BBQ'ed all weekend all over the tri-state area, we decided to go out to dinner together with some friends instead of messing up our recently spring-cleaned homes.
Initial impression was that it was much smaller than I expected it to be. We even walked past it at first. But once you get inside and see the space (as well as the beautiful space upstairs), it is of comfortable size. Actually, it's the size of restaurant (and style for that matter) that I would love to own for myself. I imagine working there is enjoyable just for the atmosphere. Great job AvroKo.
We sat at the round table right smack in the middle of the main dining room and soon enough, the place was filled to the brim, with the exception of the upstairs which was completely neglected of potential patrons.
Without much difficulty, we decided on the following:
Four each of Blue Point, Malbec and Kumomoto
All were very good, the Malbecs being a bit more salty than the others. Very fresh and tasty. They were served with your typical horseradish and cocktail sauce as well as with a champagne mignonette, ginger mignonette and a citrus salsa of some kind. The latter being the weakest of the bunch. I really liked the ginger one.
These were made with whole wheat tortillas and made the dish look overly cooked, however one bite in and you knew otherwise. The blood orange dipping sauce was a needed accompaniment. The duck wasn't dry, but the sauce definitely livened it up. It would even go well with, oddly enough, mozzarella sticks - although that was the farthest thing from my mind at the time. These came four to a serving.
French Onion Soup Dumplings
I guess this will soon become (if it hasn't already) a signature dish or rather a dish that makes you think of the restaurant. Other examples, for me anyway, are the bone marrow at Blue Ribbon, the oysters and pearls at Per Se, the soup dumplings (variation on a theme here) at Joe's Shanghai, the olive oil gelato at Otto, the pork belly at WD~50 and others. The dish itself is served in an escargot crock that holds six of these tiny dumplings. Inside the dark colored (colored by the onions and broth no doubt) dumplings are piping hot onions and a trace amount of broth. I think I'd like this better if they were bigger, but alas, they were very good.
Kobe Beef Sliders
Critics might bemoan..."$5 for the smallest burger I've ever seen" but those at our table couldn't get enough of these. I believe at one point I said something along the lines of "eating 20 of these would be perfectly acceptable". Truly delicious. It is unlike any regular beef burger and the pickle slice hidden inside added a nice little kick to it as well. The brioche buns were okay, if not a bit harder than they should have been, but overall the sliders were excellent. These are a must get. And don't be ashamed to order more...but do yourself a favor and put in a double order of them at the get go.
Herb Dusted Frites
The red chile mayo that came with the fries was excellent and went well with the burger too. The fries themselves were average at best. Not worth ordering. For a bigger and better portion of similar frites, get the sage dusted frites at Eleven Madison Park.
Doug wanted to try this, so he ordered one and quickly finished it off, seeming to enjoy it immensely. Having made lobster rolls (enough to feed an army) last week for a party, I'd eaten my fare share of lobster rolls for the week and chose to pass on this.
Lobster, Chorizo & Artichoke Paella Cakes
These came three to an order, and knowing that Danna would love this, split mine with her. Doug had one for himself and Danna and SueAnn shared the other. Indeed these were very good and even came with a perfectly steamed mussel on top of each cake. I liked it, and know that Danna will probably want to order this next week when we return with our other friends Sonia and Brian, but I would try something different simply because of the serving/portion size.
Lamb Shank Soft Tacos
w/refried white beans, manchego & tomato relish
This might have been the richest/heaviest dish of the evening and was the dish that really started to fill our stomachs. Up until the entrees we were still kind of hungry. Wondering when we'd get a feeling of fullness. This started it. I really liked the presentation of this dish. Four soft tacos folded like napkins surrounded a pile of dark and rich pulled lamb shank. A second dish with the refried white beans (excellent), manchego, tomato relish as well as another citrusy salsa (just okay) was added to the table. Making the tacos was somewhat "fun" and the results were delicious. I will certainly order this again.
Wasabi Pea Crusted Wild Salmon
with Asian pesto & Soba noodle-beet salad
The two portions of lightly cooked salmon created a nice base for the flavorful wasabi peas and Asian pesto. I think the salmon, had it been cooked slightly longer, could have been better, but the flavors were a bit more than subtle and pleasant. Not something to rush back to and a slightly awkward dish to share but would be a good reserve item and worth trying at least once. Our waitress had offered the chance to order a third piece of salmon (but strangely not a fourth) to let us all try it.
Ancho Caramel Glazed Pork Tenderloin
with barbequed black beans & vidalia crisps
My interest in pork has long been lacking, and I think it has to do with preparations I was given by my parents during my childhood. It was always rough/overcooked and flavorless and served with unappetizing side dishes. But I am starting to become more acceptant of pork in my meals, especially if it is only a part of my meal, and was again encouraged to try more pork dishes after this last one. The glaze was thick , as were the black beans, and the vidalia crisps could have been doubled in quantity as they were so good. The texture of the pork was reminiscent of my days of youth, but the accompaning flavors made it passable. I'm still not a fan of pork tenderloin to the point of ordering it as a main entree, but I'm getting there. Decent dish and an (unfortunate) alternative to the Braised Short Rib Ravioli that was 86'ed this night.
I had two orders of the Pulled Punch - a concoction of rums and orange juices. Pretty good but didn't hold a match to the cocktail I had at WD~50.
I tried two other drinks that my wife ordered. The first was a champagne mojito of sorts (I can't remember the name) and the second was The Social Tea - a tea-based cocktail that I think was recently featured in TimOut New York. This was a touch bitter and nobody was able to finish theirs (Doug ordered one as well). Skip this cocktail. In fact, I would recommend going to WD~50 for drinks before going here and then just have the non-alcoholic drink on their menu which looked excellent...or perhaps some wine.
Service was good. Our waitress, however, was easily readable. She asked us if we'd been there before, and then upon a "no" answer, steered us toward some of the less loved dishes (by Chowhounds and other critics) on the menu (peking duck quesadilla, a seafood dish of which I can't remember, and some others) . She was clearly following the chef's instructions to get rid of certain items. Fortunately we knew better and didn't get caught in an obvious trap. Even the others in our party noticed that she was a bit obvious in her intentions.
The hostess was, despite in somewhat of a dither (the place was all of a sudden swamped), very kind, genteel almost, and helpful. Prior to our seating, I asked if I could be credited for the OpenTable reservation as the restaurant's system had been down and wasn't able to make a reservation using the service any time last week. She said she would look into it and as we were leaving, said that someone will be in touch with me about it. It will be interesting to see what happens.
The space is beautiful. All of the positive comments about the design are well established. The upstairs "Cherry Blossom" room is possibly one of the most beautiful rooms I've ever been in - at least in a restaurant. I love it. My wife does too and has already expressed an interest in having her birthday in there. Note: They only rent the upstairs space for private parties Mon-Wed.
A great night. I look forward to going back there next week with other friends, who will hopefully be interested in other dishes. I left full but not stuffed with unmemorable drinks and no dessert.
Slightly pricey but altogether reasonable for what you get. The bill with a "special 10% discount" I have to keep nameless, but before tip, came to $179.
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