After seeing a few Facebook posts in the past two nights from the Travail crew regarding no line, no wait, open tables at the new joint, I thought I'd check it out. I couldn't believe that they wouldn't be on fire already, given the anticipation during their hiatus.
As I turned down Broadway at ~8:30, I saw Pig Ate My Pizza completely packed, including folks waiting for tables. I assumed Travail would be the same, or worse. Much to my surprise, I walked in to a less than half full establishment. I guess it must be a combination of a few things. I think some people don't know they're back yet. The rest (like me) probably assume they're crazy busy already.
Here's the setup for those of you that aren't familiar (I wasn't). The first thing you notice is how huge the space is. High ceilings, lots of windows, and a huge amount of kitchen space. The collective kitchen/bar/prep areas take up probably half of the space. There had to be 20 chefs going last night. It's really an amazing show, just in that respect.
Half the building is Travail, which only serves their tasting menu. The current menu is 10 courses (plus a bunch of other amuses and fun) for $110/couple, $55 single. This price goes down to $90/45 on Tuesday/Wednesday, which is crazy. There are tables, along with a bar on the kitchen, similar to the old style.
The other half of the building is the Rookery. Food is a la carte, with ~20 dishes ranging from $2-10. Seating included the more traditional high top bar (where I ended up) and more tables. The bar is fun too; it curves back and forth the whole way, so if you come with another person, you will actually be facing them. A nice touch. Overall, there are twice as many seats as the old place.
To the food and the rest of the vibe. The guys haven't missed a beat on either front. It's a party atmosphere at all times, and you can't not have a good time while you're there. It's absolutely infectious. Even as they were cleaning up at the end of the night, they're blasting music and the crew is dancing and singing along.
The food is right on too. Here is what I had last night:
-Pate: Pork pate (two slices), grilled bread (two pieces), whipped bone marrow, gremolata. Goodness, what a start. Charcuterie whiz Geoff Hausmann is back with the Travail crew, and I think this might be his creation. The pate is great on it's own, but when you use whipped bone marrow along side...forget it. Ridiculously good.
-Tofu: Tofu, soy pearls, mushrooms, broth poured tableside. I don't remember all the details on this one, and there were a bunch. Either way, I've never had tofu before, so I figured there was no better time. I knew the boys made the tofu in house, and I spent a few minutes after my meal talking with James about it. For my first introduction, I really enjoyed it. I can't compare it to anything else, obviously, but I would recommend it.
-Egg: Soft scrambled egg, mushroom, chives, served inside an egg shell. Simple, but delicious.
-Gnocchi: A single ~2" piece (definitely bigger than normal) of gnocchi, seared, topped with shaved parm, and mushroom (this seemed to be a trend for the night, which was fine).
-Agnolotti: Four pieces, stuffed with cheese (I think...didn't hear the type), topped with vanilla butter and fried capers.
-Beef tongue: Slider style, topped with a beet chip, queso fresco, avocado, cilantro, with a few tortilla chips on the side. Rich, tender as can be...just delicious.
-Oxtail: Not sure how to describe this one...it was seared patty, mixed with brunoise carrots. An Asian broth is poured tableside. The whole dish works well together. A little more simple than the rest, flavorwise, but still good.
-Duck rillette: This one was fun. The rillettes are stuffed into a waffle cone, mixed along with arugula and a sauce that I didn't hear. I thought the sweetness of the waffle cone wouldn't work, but it was just fine. I'm a sucker for rillettes, so I would probably get this everytime.
-Lamb: Shoulder, potato, chimichurri. I love all these things, and I loved this dish. Not much fuss involved here, just everything done right.
-Churro: Dessert time. A nice, piping hot churro served alongside a small cup of ancho hot chocolate. I'm not normally a hot chocolate fan, but this worked. It actually left a nice heat in the back of the throat by the end.
-Zeppole: Two fried pastries; doughnut holes, basically. Both had a ricotta filling (not very noticeable), and were sitting on a vanilla sabayon. I could have eaten about 50 of these things. Nice ending to the night.
I didn't get into the cocktail side of the Rookery, but the menu sets up perfectly for a few drinks and some small bites. If you decide to go for a few things only, my recommendations would be the pate, beef tongue, either pasta dish, and lamb from the savory side. Both desserts were great too.
As I was leaving, I told the guys that I can't wait to come back to do the Travail side, but I'm worried that it will be crazy packed. Given what I saw last night, maybe not. I can't believe that they aren't. For what they are (still) producing, 10 courses for $55 is the a steal of epic proportions. You can order the entire Rookery menu for $75...not sure how that stacks up to ordering it individually, but it would get you about 20 courses. I walked out last night at $58 for 11 courses and two beers. Worth every penny. Get there. Quickly.