used to go to lunch at Judson Grill quite a bit. Complex dishes with multiple layers of intermixing flavor is a recipe for disaster in the hands of a subpar chef or staff, but with Bill Telepan at the helm, that sort of dish was nothing short of brilliant. The path to the washroom went by the kitchen and each time I passed I could see him supervising, watching every employee and inspecting every dish that came out of the kitchen. I was sad when the restaurant closed several years ago and excited to go to Telepan today. I'd been looking forward to it for years.
Lunch, served Wed through Fri, with brunch on week-ends, is a $28 three course prix fixe. The first course, smoked trout on a blini, was quite good, well presented, the blini made from scratch. So I eagerly awaited the second course. King salmon with pinenut crust, which is one of the stars of the dinner menu, and I expected great things. What came was a slab of pan-fried salmon on top of some potatoes, with a floret or two of cauliflower. Now if this dish had been well executed it would have been merely bland and boring, the sort of thing that might get a Top Chef contestant a quick trip home. But as it was served to me it was the sort of horror which would get the guy who cooked it on Survivor (where they are used to non-gourmet chow) voted off the island. Salmon dry and overcooked, ditto the potatoes and the wan sprigs of cauliflower, the crust was a dust that looked like sawdust and had as much flavor. As I ate it I couldn't help thinking of the bowl of noodles I could be eating at Supertaste down in Chinatown. Dessert, a peanut and mousse terrine like a gourmet Snickers bar, was a step up.
Now if the salmon had been prepared as intended, it wouldn't have been a bad lunch. For your average restaurant or average chef it would have been not bad at all. But none of the courses showed any sign of greatness, and it is greatness that I would expect from Bill Telepan.
I stopped by Murray's Sturgeon on Broadway and 90th before taking the subway home. I bought a filet of creamed herring so the day wasn't a total loss.
NOTE: This is based on one lunch on one day and I am hoping you will tell me it's an anomaly, just one bad day for an otherwise great restaurant. I really hope so!!!
Another possibility is that I just didn't get it. The NY Times' Frank Bruni loved the blinis and the salmon. Here's what Bruni said about the salmon: "a juicy fillet that tasted of salmon, not of the obliquely salmon-esque richness so prevalent these days. Its pinkness was thrust into relief by a bed of crushed blue potatoes, its lusciousness by nothing showier than a crust of breadcrumbs, lemon juice and lemon zest" So maybe I'm wrong. It's happened to me before. (I'm trying to remember when and I can't... but no matter) But in this case I hope I am.
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