My friend John and I checked out the new Winterland restaurant last night, with a chef who has worked with the founder of El Bulli, the famous "chicken foam" enfant terrible of European chef.
The decor near the bar was similar to an airport waiting lounge, circa 1973, with lots of orange and big round lamps. Not very crowded for a Thursday night and it stayed that way, but then they did just open 2 weeks ago. It remains to be seen if they can fight the somewhat cursed location.
We sat down after John had his obligatory cosmopolitan and they brought an amuse bouche of beet gelee, with some sort of butter (?) on top. Really unusual, and very refreshing, taking the taste out of the usual texture, which is what El Bulli is famous for. We each ordered the jerusalem artichoke soup, with pears, duck confit, and a quail egg. The soup was excellent, save a little too much pepper. The confit was very intense. They poured the soup into the rest of the ingredients, similar to the way they do it when they serve you matzo ball soup at the Second Avenue Deli in New York. We recalled one of the famous waitresses there who seems almost too perfect to be real, as she's about 90 years old, 4 feet 8 inches tall, with a huge lacquered bouffant, heavy New York accent and a warm yet bossy manner who will always recite "You'll be the richer, I'll be the pourer" when she pours in the soup. She is the literal embodiment of the Borscht Belt. But I digress.
Anyway, the service was casual, a little scattered, but not terrible. A few times we had questions that they couldn't answer right away, but they were apologetic about it.
Next, we shared one of the notorious dishes we'd heard about, Organic egg with bacon ice cream in a pea emulsion, topped with a bit of bacon. This was actually quite good, the ice cream not too sweet and redolent of bacon. John said it tasted more bacony than the actual bacon which I didn't quite agree with, but still it was an interesting mix of textures and flavors. I could eat it for breakfast.
Next we had our entrees. John had the Pork Belly with pickled daikon, date marmalade and star anise jus and I had the Cod with potato puree and cockles. The pork belly was intense, and John thought it was too much and too rich as an entree, but that depends on one's tastes. I'd never had that dish and I tried it and thought it was a bit much for my taste, though pretty good. It had a crispy skin on top, a layer of fat, and then something I'd compare to carnitas on the bottom. An interesting mix of textures, but very rich. Didn't taste much of the marmalade, but maybe John did. You pig lovers will oink.
My cod was excellent, surprisingly simple, very moist, and the potatoes were very creamy. The cockles were good too, though we thought they tasted just like clams. Our server agreed.
For dessert we shared a warm chocolate cake with green tea ice cream, caramel gelee, cocoa powder and some sort of architectual candy sculpture. Quite good, and the tea flavor was pretty intense.
I'd recommend trying it out, especially after they get some of the kinks out.
BTW I'm always looking for new friends to try out restaurants, from ethnic hole-in-the-walls to something a little swankier.