Wednesday, January 21, 2015

DIVERSION/PDX: THE RINGSIDE

The Ringside, like those metaphorical laurels upon which some rest, is illustrating the old adage, I'm afraid.  All the historic pomp and landmarkedness is up and running full bore, but if the food quality is living up to its reputation, it was entirely lost on me.  Granted, I'm not a big meat eater/steakhouse girl, but there were those at my table who were, and none were thrilled.

The restaurant itself is warm and festive, traditional old school steakhouse swank with glowy globe lighting and exposed brick, heavy, dark wooden tables, and even tuxedoed waiters with a handlebar moustaches.   Or at least ours was, waxed and dapper, and as such pretty much constituted the high point of the evening: a theatrical and witty and thoroughly competent gent, but unfortunately the waiter's aptitude cannot compensate for such pricey, lackluster food.

It was ample, however, this food.  Big, typical steakhouse portions meant everyone we saw on their way out was toting cardboard boxes of leftovers, and unless you share, this really can't be avoided.   The size of portions is great for a large party as was ours, so the beet salad I ordered made its way around the table, some appreciating it more than myself.  Pretty unimaginative display of sliced roots atop a tumble of greens, requisite wad of goat cheese (admirably sourced from local Portland Creamery), an excess of candied walnuts and a zesty vinaigrette, but absolutely serviceable.  Well
 aware of the impending bounty, we took just one order of their iconic onion rings, which was more than enough.  They were double-crisp: the deep golden crust, of course, but also the onions within were  too raw.  None of the fry oil's heat seemed to penetrate the impressive breading enough to render the onions tender and fragrant- they remained, instead, insultingly bitey.  I've had better onion rings, on myriad occasion, elsewhere, despite their cult-like following.  A potato and leek soup stepped up a bit in their wake, warm and soothing, although unfortunately daubed with truffle oil (undoubtedly 2.4 dithiapentane flavored
 oil, not real truffles) instead of just relying on the decadent mound of fresh Dungeness heaped amidst, which was more than a luxurious enough condiment.  Another soup might've been more successful as a condiment instead; it was so rich it was almost unfinishable, even in its rather diminutively sized crock.  A thick cap of gruyere shrouded the copper pot, oozing down its sides and permeating the thick, sodden crouton with enough grease to set off multiple cardiac red flags.  While a couple of spoonfulls made for a tasty splurge, more than that might elicit concern for actually even making it to the main course.  On a positive note, the food came out in quite a timely manner.  There was not too much of a lapse between ordering and our first courses (delays came later), giving just enough time to further peruse the Brobdingnagian wine list, which provided a less delightful Cabernet but an absolutely swoon-worthy red from Pingus.  Not a surprise, as Wine Spectator has noted The Ringside every year since 2011 for it's comprehensive wine list.





Speaking of Brobdingnagian, entree sizes are commensurately enormous.  Easily splittable, and those that are intended for a deuce could be quadrupled.  All the meat is grain fed- not a single grass-fed option on the docket, which inspired a few look seaward.  I even downsized to an app for an entree, both for that I wasn't getting the feeling I'd really even want the leftovers, but also to allow for stealth sampling of other people's entrees.  So my scallops-that-were-technically-appetizers were, as such, a normal restaurant's entree size.  Their prep sounded attractive on the menu, teamed up with some of my favorite ingredients: leeks and mushrooms, squash with orange.  But the tourniquets of fatty bacon around them turned rubbery and
greasy, imparting some decent smoky flavor to the scallops but almost totally bereft of any meaty bits.  But the mushrooms beneath were delicious, tinged with bacon and onion flavor to enhance the chewy earthiness.  The orange was more sugary than bright: some acid would've helped the dish immensely.   But it added a gentle sweetness to create a pretty luxurious plate, probably one of the stronger of the night.  Another seafood option fared more poorly, almost indistinguishable as a piece of fish rather than some bulbous mass showered in matchstick fries.  Quite unfortunately, too, our fetching waiter accidentally broke a wine glass right next to it while refilling, and thus the entire entree was whisked away, refired and re-served after most the rest of us were already finished.  A
 simple, forgiveable human error, but the entrees had taken their own sweet time in arriving, and this further delay just showcased that all the more blatantly.


But onto the steaks, the reason most visit The Ringside.  They were all cooked exactly as requested, from the pricey porterhouse for two, to a petite filet.  The porterhouse, at a whopping $128, does provide a cross-continental delight of NY strip and filet, although the combo of which was far too marbled for my tastes, the orderers reveled in the fatty cuts... although cashed in far from finishing it.  Center cut filet mignon was a more manageable 6 or 12 oz. but even a 6 oz. cut ordered by a more delicate eater left some bites for me to sample, along with it's filling baked potato alongside that appropriately topped could've been a small meal in itself.    Much of the meat is touted as "Natural" , but that's such an ambiguous designation that it's basically meaningless.  But the Lava Lake Natural Lamb actually backs up it's natural-ness: in addition to being local-ish from nearby Idaho, it's also grass-fed! Which was never disclosed at the restaurant, but confirmed post-prandially.  Quite obviously, I don't share steakhouse-people's priorities.  At any rate, this lamb was succulent and mild, and paired with brussels sprouts I might've actually ordered had I known it's pedigree... but we got sides of brussels, anyways, so I fulfilled my quota there.  They were okay- too sweet, really, with a
syrupy maple glaze.  A house favorite, the roasted cauliflower gratin was slaughtered in gratin, although some of the peripheral florets were just tinged with cheese and achieved a delicious roastiness.  Mushrooms were classic, a little oily but simple and flavorful enough, and probably the best side of the night.  The spinach (offered sauteed or baked- we chose
the former) was underseasoned and underwhelming, $10.25 for probably about a dollar's worth of wilted leaves.

Strangely enough, easily the most delicious and memorable dish (besides the Pingus) was dessert.  Because of the wine glass debacle, they offered us a dessert on the house, which none of us really had room before- but one bite of which made a strong argument against
that axiom.  Key Lime pie, not local, not necessarily seasonal, but just magically wonderful featured a pale, tangy custard of ur-liminess beneath a whimsically sastruga of marshmallowy Swiss meringue.  It was an absolutely flawless rendition of the classic: precisely what I had expected from The Ringside at every turn.  Unfortunately, it only presented this evidence of quality here, at the finale.  But a fitting finale it was, and lent an air of hope for the future.   True, I might've  just have been better off at Ringside Fish House, but the steakhouse is currently closed and under renovation, so to reopen as The Ringside Grill.  Hopefully the menu will get spiffed up along with its new name.










(503)223-1513





Tuesday, January 20, 2015

DIVERSION/PDX: DAVENPORT

Davenport is a newish addition to Portland's red-hot restaurant scene, and it lives up to that feverish temperature.  It's a pretty tiny spot, situated in SE, with just nine tables, none large enough for more than a party of six.  A handful of seats are available at the bar, but that's the maximum the  one or two servers on the floor could possibly handle, as well as the two frenzied cooks manning the kitchen.  All tables were filled on our visit, keeping those servers jetting to and fro the entire evening.



While not  specifically advertised as such, Davenport's menu is just one medium-length list of mostly small plates, intended to be ordered and shared as such.  Only after which having ordered were we advised that they would come out as they were ready, even though we quite obviously ordered in a starter/entree format.  This was a little awkward, then, as for our party of three my beets arrived solo, although they were generous enough to generous enough to capacitate the sharing format we were sort of forced into.  Everyone loved them, however, as much as I did, the golden variety a novel diversion from the
 standard crimsons, and straying from the ubiquitous beet-and-chevre tedium with a magically good (and mysterious) walnut vin royale... which no one seems to know exactly what this is, except for delicious.  Its creaminess soothed the sweet roots together, tufted with celebratory bunches of mache (always a treat in and of themselves).    Midway through the beets another appetizer (as we would have it) arrived: a wide
 steaming bowl of delectably thick fennel soup, hearty in texture yet light and pure in flavor, crowned with a generous mound of snowy Dungeness crabmeat, the proudest example Oregon could possibly offer.


Having cleaned those up, licked-plate style, we tided ourselves over the brief hiatus before our next dish with slices from the half-loaf of Little T (sic), the menu giving no indication that the $3 menu offering was bread from that bakery, but they are worthy dollars spent:  not only for rounding-things-out's sake, but for the chewy slices of ciabatta themselves, served with a grassy olive oil.  Next out were marvelously tender leeks, littered with shreds of salty black trumpet mushrooms.  Not much to look at, perhaps, as the alliums succumbed to the long braise to achieve a somewhat pallid pallor, but a silken texture and mild richness compounded their inherent umami with that of the mushrooms in a salty braise the resulted in flavors far exceeding its humble description.




Soon thereafter, two of our intended-entrees arrived, although the scallops were (priced accordingly) an appetizer portion.  The two bronzed beauties made up for in flavor what perhaps they sacrificed in quantity: a warm slaw retained just a touch of cabbagy crunch, its earthy vegetality enriched by a chunky salbitxada, a Catalan pesto-type condiment pairing roasted almonds and tomatoes with just a touch of peppery heat- this is a dip to keep an eye out for, and chef Gibson masterfully combines these elements for an extraordinary plate.  Brought to table simultaneously was a heftier dish of pork tenderloin, paired with al dente pocha beans and crisp, bitey arugula.  Contrasted to the rest of our orders, this dish was noticeably less complex, but nonetheless delicious.  The tenderloin stole the
 spotlight with its ur-porkiness, the beans and greens forming a mellow framework to showcase the savory grilled meat.  Most conspicuously absent, however, was the third plate we ordered, and while our server had tried forcibly to impart our order family-style, we had blatantly shifted plates to their designated recipients, leaving Tablemate #3 most glaringly without.  For a long time.  I mean, a really, REALLY long time- such that our waitress (lied and) kept saying the pork paprikash would arrive shortly.....  but didn't.  Almost a full HOUR later did it finally alight, and while perhaps its falling-off-the-bone tenderness might explain if not justify its delay, we got no further apology from the kitchen.  It was borderline appalling had the pork not been so good, reminding us that alas, it's only time, and we had nowhere else to be but there.  Eating THIS.  And so appreciative of it.  Two meaty hunks nuzzled into a velveteen puree of celeriac, a couple more
 flounces of mache for color.  Worth the wait, or at least some measure of it, but still... some sort of explanation or compensation really was in order.  It was strikingly tedious and weird.  Instead, our server seemed to turn a bit chillier (perhaps even she was at a loss for words), and the kitchen just continued to plod away with the incessant barrage of incoming orders.  Helmed by two lone cooks, Chef Gibson and a sous-/saucier/salad/grill/prep, etc., they were nose-to-the-grindstone the whole evening, as was our server flitting about table to table.  We never ascertained any reason.




It didn't, however dissuade us from staying for dessert.  But there is only one provided each evening, this time a cardamom panna cotta dusted with pistachios, which would've showed better paired with a strong coffee... except Davenport doesn't have any.  Apparently, Pix Patisserie next door handles most of the dessert crowd (and brews a fine joe), so Davenport doesn't bother.  Only after having requested the $10 sweet (which was a bit of a gauge, I felt) did she impart any of this.  With that knowledge, definitely close out your tab and follow the herds to Pix after dinner, both for a greater selection and lively scene.  Which in no way detracts from Davenport as a whole- I still recommend it.  I'd just make sure to put my paprikash order in immediately upon arrival.





 2215 E Burnside St., Portland, OR 97214

Tuesday - Saturday: 4pm - close
503.236.8747




Thursday, January 8, 2015

MARGAUX

I dont' think we ordered well at Margaux, but at the same time, I think it is (or has become, in its short lifespan) more of a generic hotel restaurant than the fooderati initially hyped it up to be.  The main dining, despite how stately it appears on their website, is a little grandma-chic, but even that we were only able to experience after briefly attempting to sit in a prettier, annexed garden room in back, that although it is enclosed, was as empty and drafty as a December basement.  They said they could amp up the heat if we were too cold, but in the end with just the two of us sitting there, it seemed more prudent to shift camp to the main dining room instead of wasting the energy to heat up an entire empty space just for us.    Inside it was warmer temperature-wise, but the service was perfunctory at best.  A lot could've been assuaged with a slightly more welcoming and thoughtful waitstaff.

The menu consists of a good number of dishes, unfortunately for me, on this instance, a lot of of them included components that weren't particularly to my liking: for example, striped bass had caviar (I know, I know.. but  I don't), and I'm sure a lot of its $36 price tag had to do with that.  I  didn't want to order it sans caviar, and have to ask/assume a discount, so since the other fish on offer was char (another un-favorite), I went with mussels ... which honestly I don't love, either, but these were certainly nothing to write home about.  They read better than they tasted, but the thick slice of baguette in the base of the bowl soaked up most of the delicious garlic-fennel broth rather than leaving it spoonable, which would've been a nice remedy for the chill we had recently escaped.  I probably would've been better of with the chicken with Turkish Urfa Biber, in retrospect, but gut-reaction to chicken is usually as the cautious default... I
 thought mussels had more potential.  Alas.  All the other entree options are meaty or starchy: again, I didn't order well, as the grass-fed short rib braise might have proved more satisfying?  Tough to know, though, because nothing I experienced nor have read really elicits a return. Such was another entree, a risotto bolognese that was just too... everything.  It might've made a good passed app. converted into an arancini-like tidbit, but the
 impact of dense veal, rice and cheese was just deadening after a few bites.  Luckily, a side of brussels sprouts contributed a modicum of green, even if it was somewhat muted after profound roasting.  Not a huge portion, but at only $7 a necessary investment given our order.


The tables surrounding were marginally filled: there wasn't much energy in the room from other diners, and particularly none from our server.  The waitstaff on the whole is utilitarian, fulfilling their duties and not much else.  An errant busboy was the only one from whom I elicited a single smile.  Even the decor seemed a little glum; the wall abutting our table was covered with drab, chipped tiles, but whether they were part of the original foundation and thus sort of nostalgic, or just neglectfully overlooked, no one seemed to know nor care to find out.  The most appealing part of the restaurant is it charmingly mismatched porcelain and decorate votive holders- it's just a pity it wasn't touting better food.  I did
 enjoy the quince tart we took for dessert, but that might've just been in comparison to the mediocrity of the rest of our meal.  The fruit was perfectly dense and sweet, and lthough the crust a little tough underneath, it softened up nicely with the generous scoop of vanilla gelato.  Plus, the plate on which it was served was so charming.... too bad some of its charm doesn't rub off on the rest of the restaurant.
















LITTLE BEET TABLE

Gluten-free?  Who cares.  Franklin Becker's newest opener, Little Beet Table is just plain good, regardless of its dietetic contingencies.  Truthfully, we didn't order a whole lot that would've been hampered by a gluten-restriction, but I'll leave that review to someone who cares about it.  With only 1% of the American population afflicted with the disorder, it is quite The Thing as of late.  So Becker is very savvy to capitalize on the hoopla,  and even if not personally affected by the sensitivity, he was
 adamant about creating a restaurant that celebrates healthful eating.  In fact, there seems not to be gluten-free designation anywhere on the website or menu, which makes me wonder whether that ship was abandoned, or whether he just didn't want to make it the sole focus.  At any rate, it is not why one should go to Little Beet Table (or grab lunch at its baby sister, The Little Beet, a fast casual spot in midtown with the same focus).  Becker's a fantastic chef, and this is what make both Beets winners.




 Despite the curiosity as to what the Union Square Greenmarket could muster up in late December to comprise the Farmer's Market original, we opted for choices from the Vegetables and Sides (not sure what the differentiation is)  section as starters.  Grilled beets featured a slight excess of pumpkin-seed almond granola, but with just a gentle Taylor Swift-caliber shake of that off, the dish came together seamlessly, greek yogurt tangily countering the deep-winter sweetness of the bi-colored beetroot, and the remaining granola
contributing a pleasant nuttiness.  True to its categorization, however, roasted sweet potatoes would've served better as accompaniments, for on their own, they are little one-dimensional-  although their smoked sea salt compounds the oven's char to a very delicious dimension.    Even lighter than the
 vegetables was a special appetizer of the evening, delicate sea scallops just kissed with sizzling hot oil so as to firm them up ever so gently, just shy of fully raw or cooked, and enlivened by bright nubs of citrus.  They melted as readily on the tongue as the grapefruit bits burst in juiciness.







The cheekily titled LBT (BLT or LGBT? Ha. I know; Little Beet Table) Burger is the only dish that hints at a gluten concession, and even it specifies being served on "free" bread, which is either to say that that is presumably the brand name of gluten-free bread they're using, or else a special deal of buy-burger-get-bun-free... or ELSE the menu IS, in fact, so gluten-free that they won't even write the word gluten on the menu.  At any rate, I digress.  We didn't order that, anyways, but I did order up the local sea bass cooked a la plancha, seasoned with fennel and
 served with a scallion pebre, which turns out to be a delectable Chilean condiment of hashed up coriander and
 onion, much like a chimichurri but looser and chunkier here, the chopped scallion tender and pungent.   It's a solid example of Becker's cookery, simple and pure, but expertly executed, each ingredient flavorful in its own right.  That left it to pair well with  any and all of the side
 dishes, of which we chose a chile and lemon flecked mushroom saute, and brussels sprouts with their own dash of chili and sea salt, both simple but flawless.... and ample.  I love a generous side dish.  A salmon entree also played well with these, its own accoutrement of avocado caponata just enough to serve as a condiment, although a savorily-sweet compliment to the buttery fleshed fish.





Dessert was the only indication that I can hope to attribute its weaknesses to lack of gluten, although pot-roasted apples could've been properly cooked with no regard to its leaden topping.   This may be a hallmark of haroseth, a Jewish term that describes the apple-walnut mixture on the menu, but the sandy, pasty crust lay in a slab atop, only salvaged by the rich drizzle of caramel and quick-melting lash of Battenkill cream atop, that encouraged the components to cooperate a little better with each other.   But in terms of cooperation, everything else at The Beet falls in line, gluten-free or full.  It's not a venue that elicits excitement so much as satisfaction, but in terms of the latter, Little Beet Table offers up a worthy seat.






333 PARK AVENUE SOUTH


tel.  212-466-3330










Wednesday, January 7, 2015

BATARD



Montrachet, which became Corton, is now Batard, Drew Nierporent's latest iteration of the iconic Tribecan space, retaining the signature plaque and recapturing the spirit of that first predecessor.  The curved vine embossing on the walls remain from Corton, though the modernist stark white has been softened with warm golden hues.  The banquettes, too, endure, recovered in deep majogany leather.  Still, I can glimpse through the rectangular portal window that now offers glimpses of  Marcus Glocker instead of Paul Liebrandt, working with the same intense frenzy, however: a distinct contrast with the sophisticated, glamorous lull of the dining room.


   Nierporent always attracts a notable crowd, and there were three celebrity sightings on my visit to Batard.   And the majority of the rest of the crowd was spiffed up for the occasion, contributing to the festive atmosphere.
(No celebs in this picture.)

While not quite as pricey as were its predecessors, it is still most definitely an occasion-worthy destination: upscale, modernized French with a few nostalgic kick-backs, such as their signature Old Dirty Batard cocktail, an updated Manhattan redolent of orange and smooth, spicy bourbon.  The menu can play out in a few directions- its strengths are not relegated to any particular subset.   As solid as a vegetarian-friendly salad of beets "Linzer" were with crunchy, oil-slicked spears of romaine and even crunchier hazelnuts,
so to was a much richer, unconventional tete de cochon, which arrived less tete than croquette, a
 porky, crisp-crusted fritter paired with a slice of the more traditional headcheese terrine.  A braised artichoke embodied the perfect contrast of simplicity and decadence: the earthy choke and humble barley swimming in warm, buttery eiswein sabayon.   A poached egg atop seemed a
 delicate additional until its punctured yolk unleashed its thick, golden richness into the chewy grains below.  






Sweet potato agnolotti, on the other hand, were almost too rich- deceptively delicate in their appearance with their flutter of mild, stemmy sprouts and diminutive size.  They are, however, a dish better shared, for tiny as the innocuous seeming little parcels are, their densely sweet filling and bed of frothy, cheesy mousseline enchant at two mouthfuls but begin to overwhelm after much more than that.  I
 could hardly imagine them in an entree portion, whereas the "chicken noodle" was a more manageable assemblage, despite its unexpected appearance.  More reconstructed than deconstructed as is the current trend, tender lasagne-style noodles wrapped

around confit chicken, creating little mini cannelloni-type tubes, floating in a nourishing golden stock swimming with tender leaves of braised escarole.      Chatham cod had me at "hello",  plated so attractively as four immaculate medallions, dense yet flaky, paired with mild fennel-inflected pasta spun into a dense log, and  rich, fluttery maitake mushrooms with contributed to the rich jus added a table.  Many sauces are bequeathed tableside with true francophilic panache,
 adding both a sensory boost with their intriguing aromas and an air of nostaligic ceremony.  As
such a roulade of veal "tramezzini", shockingly rosy, were furled into thin, pliant crusts like neonate Wellingtons, paired with nutty trumpet mushrooms and tiny crisped orbs of impeccable sweetbreads, an ensemble flavorful enough even without their intense sauce diable, although I wouldn't have allowed a drop of that stuff to go unconsumed.







Dessert paled in comparison, although admittedly the prior courses set a high bar.  There is no indication of a pastry chef, perhaps leaving Glocker to shoulder this responsibility.  Juggling the two might be an overreach of even his laudable talent, although as an Austrian, you would think pastry might run in his blood.  But in the end, delegating a menu like this to a single chef seems like an orchestra with but one page turner.  Thus, an arborio rice pudding was uninspired- a simple, sweet porridge dusted with preserved raspberries that imparted more color than flavor.  Caramelized milk bread achieved a golden sugared crust, but the interior was simply a fluffy egg bread, which when moistened with the
 blueberries and brown butter ice cream accompanying gave it something, it would've been preferable to have the amalgamation included in its creation- tableside completion of a dish has its discernable limits, and in this case the results do not gain advantage from any diy treatment.

But these only imparted a somewhat anticlimactic end to an otherwise superlative meal.  Certainly, enthusiastic exclamation points would've been preferable, but they at least served as solid punctuation to a very well-told story- a story that Nierporent has been able to adapt and transition with the passage of time, much to his credit... and to the benefit of those who visit him.






   239 W. Broadway
New York, NY 10013 
Phone Number: 212-219-2777