WithoutBacon's Recent Reviews

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The NoMadThe NoMad
American (New) / French / Spanish / Mediterranean / Cocktail Bars
    • 4.0

The NoMad

A year ago, I wrote that The NoMad was New York’s “restaurant of the moment.”  Since then, the restaurant has garnered a Michelin star, and spent a lot of time on Eater’s list of the top 38 restaurants in Manhattan.  (By the way, does anyone know why they list the top “38″?  Why not 35? or 40?)  The restaurant started off with a bang and has really maintained its momentum since.  Around the corner, Eleven Madison Park (my reviews here and here), with the same chef-owner, Daniel Humm, is doing some pretty neat things.  My not-so-secret hope for The NoMad was that it would be a place to get food at EMP’s quality, without having to pay EMP prices, and it looks like The NoMad might hit that sweet spot.

Place setting.

Place setting.

To be clear, this is not a place where you’re going to get the “close-to-four-hour ode to the romance and history of New York,” but for $50 instead of $200.  But it is a place where the dishes are simple but inventive, interesting enough to set them apart but not so much that they look like an “overdecorated cake.”  And the place continues to be quite vegetarian friendly.

I love the bread at this place!

I love the bread at this place!

I continue to be in love with the bread at this place.  The first time I ate here, I had some sort of potato bread; the second time (on the rooftop) it was a tomato bread; this time, it was rosemary-Pecorino.  The bread is sort of a microcosm of the restaurant: interesting, not something you’ll see every day, and done really well with great attention to detail.  I still cannot get over how the bread tray has an indentation so that the blade of the knife lies flush on the tray!

More bread!

More bread!

For the first time, I had The NoMad’s famous radishes

Radishes!

Radishes!

I have never been a fan of radishes and got these only grudgingly.  Boy was I glad I was talked into it!  If you can imagine radishes as a candy, this is what they would taste like.  A thin coating of butter, and a just a pinch of salt from the side.  The radishes were fantastic on their own and frankly would have held up quite nicely even without the butter–I’m sure it’s as much aesthetic (they look like white-chocolate covered strawberries!) as it is about taste.  In any case, this is definitely something you want to try at least once.

Pea chiffonade.

Pea chiffonade.

My first course was the “snow pea chiffonade,” with pecorino and mint.  As you’ll see from the menu, the dish is supposed to come with pancetta.  I had it without, which I think made it a bit underwhelming.  But, honestly, the peas actually held their own surprisingly well.  (One disappointment was that several of the first courses had meat–pancetta here, ham in the spring garlic veloute–and the one that didn’t was the poached egg, which I had last year.)

Mmmm... wine...

Mmmm… wine…

Some people asked about the wine I order at restaurants.  This time we got a bottle of Olga Raffault “Les Picasses” 2007 for the table.  It retails in the range of $25ish at your local wine store; I don’t now remember the price but I think NoMad had it for around $50.  All in all, not a terrible markup — and it was a great wine.  As you may know, French wines are typically classified by geography (Bordeaux, Champagne) rather than varietal (Chardonnay, Merlot).  This particular wine is predominantly Cabernet Franc, from the Loire valley.  The chateau says this can be aged up to 15 years, but it was drinking quite well after just 6, and had great complexityeven without any decanting.  (jar?)  You can get this wine right here in New York for $22, so I’m considering picking up a few bottles.

Morels, but not the way EMP did them.

Morels, but not the way EMP did them.

Anyway, back to the food.  For my main course, I had morels, which I am convinced are the new trend ingredient (see here and here and here).  I recently had morels at EMP, but The NoMad’s preparation was quite different.  The morels were sauteed and served with nettles, which like — as greens go, I find them more interesting than spinach or kale.  The usual preparation comes with lardo, which again I left off.  Some mushrooms and potato gave the nettles some depth.  This is a great example of a vegetarian dish that isn’t puny.  It presents quite nicely as a main course, even without the meat.  (Again, the only straight-vegetarian option was the asparagus, which I had last year.)

A little too dense.

A little too dense.

Finally, dessert.  We ordered and shared three desserts for the table.  First up (above) is the Kouign Amann.  My first introduction to the Kouign-Amann was at the Park Hyatt-Vendome in Paris, where it’s part of the pretty badass breakfast spread.  So maybe it’s that I had Paris on my mind, but for some reason the Kouign Amann at NoMad didn’t quite do it for me.  I know it’s supposed to be more dense than a croissant, but even still, I thought it was a bit too dense.  The various rhubarbs (sorbet, etc.) were quite good, though.

Milk and honey....

Milk and honey….

The “Milk and Honey” is NoMad’s signature dessert.  Food Republic deconstructs the dish, but the name really says it all.  The dessert presents milk and honey in several different forms, with different tastes and textures.  I thought of this as something like Momofuku Milk Bar’s “cereal milk” — but whereas my friend once described that as “slightly more rich than eating a stick of butter,” the Milk and Honey here doesn’t overwhelm.  It pops just enough, in color, flavor, and texture, to make an impression, but doesn’t hit you over the head.

Yum!

Yum!

We also got the “chocolate,” which was a way to combine different forms of chocolate and malt.  One interesting thing about high-end restaurants (particularly at dessert) is to see how they can be original with pretty standard ingredients.  Chocolate is one of those things — lots of places have “chocolate” as a dessert but present it in really inventive ways.  This was one of them.

Look closely...

Look closely…

So what do I make of my return to The NoMad, a year later?  It is still probably my favorite restaurant in New York.  It’s accessible (in more ways than one — not crazy expensive, you’re not tied to a tasting menu, you can dress casually), and the food is top notch.  And generally speaking, they are happy to accommodate vegetarians.  The one reason I drop the rating a half-star is because there weren’t many items on the menu that were vegetarian “as-is” — both of my dishes had to be adjusted.  But maybe that was a fluke: as you saw in my first review, there were several vegetarian choices, and the menu that’s currently online features a “corn” first course and “summer squash” and “eggplant” main courses, all of which are vegetarian.  (That’s in addition to the snow pea, which I had, and tagliatelle, both of which can be made vegetarian.)  And I particularly liked that the poached egg remains on the menu — perhaps in time it will become a NoMad classic in its own right.

The NoMad

In short, I had another great experience at The NoMad.  A slight demerit because there were slightly fewer vegetarian choices, but nothing major.  I still feel like this restaurant’s best days are head of it.  Four stars.

The NoMad’s menu is below. (Return to the body of the post.)

Menu.

Menu.

Menu Pt. 2

Menu Pt. 2

                                       Dessert menu: (Return.)

Dessert Menu.

Dessert Menu.

 

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  • Pea chiffonade. 50114
  • I love the bread at this place! 50121
  • Milk and honey.... 50115
  • Menu. 50123
  • Yum! 50116
  • Menu Pt. 2 50124
  • Radishes! 50117
posted 

Palm Court

The Palm Court.

If you’re looking for the best afternoon tea in New York, the Plaza Hotel’s offering is probably high on your list.  But is the Plaza Hotel’s afternoon tea vegetarian-friendly?  I was there a few weeks ago and found it to be a great experience, and they were quite willing to substitute vegetarian options.

Palm Court

Place setting.

If you haven’t been to tea at the Plaza, here’s what you need to know:  this is an old-school afternoon tea: scones, little sandwiches, very formal, the whole nine yards.  That said, they are at least a little whimsical; because of the story of Eloise, there’s an “Eloise tea” on the menu that includes more kid-friendly sandwiches (grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly) and offers lemonade instead of the usual teas.  Don’t worry: if you are feeling young at heart, like my wife was, you can get an adult-sized serving of the food that goes with the Eloise tea, along with a cup of grown-up tea.

Palm Court

Tea!

I ordered the “Golden Monkey Picked” tea from the list of reserve black teas.  It was really interesting — a smooth black tea that was flavorful without the bitterness that is often an undertone in black teas.  I don’t know a lot of about being a “tea connoisseur,” but according to the wikipedia page, this is a highly regarded tea.  Among other things it is hand-picked, which sounds quite tedious.  If nothing else, the name “Golden Monkey” is pretty neat.

Palm Court

Food selection for children’s tea.

The tower for the Eloise tea was nice: it looked just like the adult tea, so if you have older kids, they can really feel like they’re participating in a “real” afternoon tea.  The desserts on the top shelf were pretty similar to the adults’ tower (my daughter got jello, which I didn’t, and her strawberry had a pink frosting on it rather than dark chocolate).  The middle shelf featured scones like everyone else’s tower.  But the bottom shelf was different: strawberry sandwiches instead of cucumber, and grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches instead of some of the other finger foods the adults get.  The sandwiches all had the crusts cut off, so they looked “classy” just like other other sandwiches!

Palm Court

Vegetarian tower,

My tower was quite good, with one sort of serious glitch: although they said they would substitute vegetarian options for me where necessary, they forgot.  This was a little disappointing — for a place that is as expensive and well-regarded as the Palm Court, I would have expected that they’d get this right.  It wasn’t a huge problem, though; they very quickly brought out a new plate (the desserts and scones on the top two plates are obviously vegetarian, so this only affected the bottom plate).

Palm Court

Sandwiches, etc.

The sandwiches were both classic and unusual.  There were cucumber sandwiches, which are par for the course at an afternoon tea.  There were no egg salad sandwhiches, which I didn’t really miss.  What you see near the middle of the plate is a little tart-like thing with egg that was made with black truffle; it was quite good and probably my favorite.  There was also some toast with pesto.  The pesto was surprisingly flavorful for such a small dollop.

 

Sweets.

Sweets.

The sweets were nice, though nothing particularly mind-blowing: a little fruit tart, a little cannolo, cupcake, cookie, etc.  There were also some other things I ate before taking the picture: a macaron, a dark chocolate-dipped strawberry, cream puff, and maybe a few other odds and ends.  Add to the mix the usual scones (one plain, one currant) and you have quite a lot of food for your money.

Palm Court

Veuve Cliquot Rose!

All in all, the Palm Court had a great afternoon tea.  It is classic, formal, luxurious, and quite expensive.  And it is really expensive.  Lady Mendel’s serves a five-course afternoon tea for $40, more than a third less than what the Plaza charges.  The Pierre serves a tea comparable to the Plaza’s, with champagne, for approximately what the Plaza charges without.  So this is definitely a special occasion-splurge kind of place.  But for what it is, it’s a great experience, and the vegetarian options are really good — you’re not forcing yourself to choke down multiple cucumber sandwiches because that’s all they had.  In every way except price, this is an exceptional tea service.

 

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posted 

Bouley

Entrance, decorated for Christmas.

Sometimes, I go to a restaurant, mean to write a review, and, months later, never get around to it.  Usually, I just move on.  This time, though, even though the visit is almost a year old, I want to share with you my visit to Bouley last December.  As frequent readers know, I visited Bouley for lunch while on jury duty last summer.  The experience was, I wrote, nearly pitch-perfect.  So about a week and a half before Christmas, I went back for dinner.  The second time was even better.  The food was great, the service was fantastic, and the overall experience was impeccable.  

The dinner menu is actually quite similar to the lunch menu, except that the tasting menu is a bit longer and will set you back quite a bit more than just $55.  But you will get a lot of the same options, which is actually a good thing, in my view — it makes the lunch menu a (relatively) affordable way to sample the cuisine without having to pay “full freight.”

The famous bread cart.

The famous bread cart.

Dinner started with Bouley’s famous bread cart.  I don’t have a picture of the bread, but it wasn’t super-thinly sliced.  Let me be clear — I don’t mean this as a “criticism.”  I just thought it was odd that the “bread guy” seemed to deviate from his usual routine.  I had the pistachio hazelnut bread, which was pretty good, and I also liked the anise currant.  

Perhaps I should clarify here that I ordered the tasting menu, vegetarian, but I didn’t really make specific selections (other than dessert, for which my friend and I each got one of the options).  Instead, I just asked that the kitchen make a “chef’s choice” for me for the dinner.   The amuse was a tomato coulis:

Bouley

Tomato coulis.

I had the tomato coulis last time as well — with homemade ricotta and black truffle.  Unlike last time, the coulis was made with a raspberry vinaigrette.  That made it sweeter than before, and the truffle was mild, so it didn’t overpower.  I really like Bouley’s ability to take familiar dishes and put a unique spin on them, and this was another example — not just the familiar taste of tomato, but the tomato coulis itself.

Bouley

Mushrooms.

For my first course, I had the foraged mushrooms, which were served with coconut foam and micro watercress.  Normally, this would be served with tuna; mine came without.  It was absolutely spectacular, and the shaved black truffle took it over the top.  The mixture of mushrooms (I somehow doubt that they were personally “foraged” by the kitchen, but hey) was served with liquefied asparagus last time; this time the mushrooms took center stage, with the truffle in a supporting role, and were more than able to handle the promotion.

Bouley

Potatoes.

Next up were smoked fingerling potatoes.  Once again, something basic (potatoes) were prepared in a variety of ways: pureed; rolled with carrot powder (at “ten o’clock” in the picture), with corn powder (three o’clock), with mint, etc.  The powder took me by surprise — I wasn’t expecting the “powdered potatoes” to finish as strong as they did.  The mint didn’t do too much for me, but I did like the bit of cracked pepper that was added.  I have had an all-potato dish before, and that time, I thought it was too heavy.  By contrast, Bouley took the same ingredient and made it almost a light dish.  Brilliant!

Bouley

OMG.

The next interlude was among the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten.  It was a “cuzo crisp” (a type of cracker) with sauce aligot and white truffle.  Aligot is essentially potatoes pureed with cheese; it’s a peasant dish in the French countryside and how people survived the winter for years.  In other words, nothing fancy.  What made it amazing is what’s on top: freshly shaved white truffle.  The caption — “OMG.” — basically says it all.  The cracker and aligot were simple and allowed the magnificence of the truffle to shine through.  I wanted each bite to last forever.  

Bouley

Pumpkin-chestnut soup.

The next intermezzo was a pumpkin-chestnut soup.  It was made with several types of pumpkin and — you guessed it — black truffle.  My friend had it with foie gras; I didn’t.  He actually thought it was too rich with it, so I’m doubly glad to have had it without.  Actually, I thought pumpkin-chestnut was a great, creamy combination that, once again, did not come off as too heavy.

My entire dining experience — not just at Bouley, but ever — was building up to this next dish:

Bouley

Wow. Just… wow.

Egg soufflé, with polenta, and Swiss chard… and three slices of white truffle.  This is described on the menu as involving a $95 supplement when ordering a la carte, which I most definitely did not pay.  Maybe they were just feeling generous?  In any event, the notes I have say “Wow.  Just.  Wow.”

Bouley

I wished it would never end.

The souffle was incredibly light and creamy, and the polenta — which was sort of half-mixed in, half-underneath the egg — gave the dish some depth.  The chard added color, but obviously the truffle stole the show.  What’s amazing is that the souffle could be (and is) its own standalone dish.  The truffle just takes it through the stratosphere.  The earthiness of the truffle lingers after each mouthful, a reminder of the awesomeness you just had.  I am not sure I could ever bring myself to pay $100 to add truffle to a dish, but this comes pretty darn close to convincing me.

Bouley

Mystery dish!

At this point something weird happens: there’s a mystery dish on the menu!  I cannot remember what it was; I have no notes on it; I can’t figure it out from the menu.  It looks like, perhaps, portabella mushroom cap with beets and black truffle?  Any eagle-eyed readers have thoughts?

Bouley

Rhubarb soup.

Then, finally, we transition to dessert.  At Bouley, dessert is not a “course” so much as an experience.  It started with rhubarb soup, with strawberries and buckwheat gelato.  Last time, I had white peach soup with amaretto ice cream; the idea here was the same. I actually liked the rhubarb a little better.  Last time, the soup was served with creme brulee…

Bouley

Creme brulee.

…this time, it was its own course.  I think Bouley’s creme brulee is very good, but in the pantheon of amazing stuff served here, it actually comes off as rather pedestrian.  That’s not a knock on the dish; it’s really a testament to how incredible the rest of the meal was.

Bouley

Pineapple souffle.

There were two options for dessert: pineapple souffle (above) and chocolate souffle (below).  The pineapple was made with “ten flavors”; I was told what they were but now I forget.  As I mentioned, this dinner was around Christmastime — December 15 to be exact.  I was surprised that they were coming out with a pineapple dessert at that time, but it worked.

Bouley

Chocolate.

The chocolate souffle was also good, but, like the creme brulee, was pretty “plain”.  For some reason I found the mousse (left) a bit off-putting; I had expected it to be lighter, and it wasn’t.  But, no matter, this was my friend’s dessert; I had ordered the pineapple!  Ha.

All in all, Bouley was absolutely amazing.  Once again, the vegetarian tasting menu actually “fit” together.  The mushrooms and potatoes were dishes that were interesting and substantial without being overwhelming; they built up to the egg souffle which I cannot say enough good things about.  Similarly, truffles played a role in every savory course, from the very light hint of truffle in the tomato coulis to the show-stopping slices perched atop the egg.  This is Bouley at its best: familiar ingredients, sometimes even familiar dishes, but presented masterfully and always keeping you on your toes.  What more could you ask for?  Five stars.

I had the tasting menu, but the full menu is below:

Bouley

Menu.

Bouley

Menu.

Bouley

Menu.

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posted 

Asparagus, being assembled...

Asparagus, being assembled…

If you want fantastic vegetarian food at a great good decent price, then Jean-Georges is the place to go.  The flagship restaurant is the crown jewel in the sprawling empire of celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongeritchen is the cheapest three-Michelin-star meal in New York City (at least for lunch).  Jean-Georges is quite vegetarian-friendly, too.  Jean-George can legitimately stake a claim to some of the best vegetarian food in New York.

Jean-George’s lunch menu offers two savory courses for $38 or three for $57; dessert is extra.  This time (as I usually do), I got two courses plus dessert.  As far as three-Michelin-star restaurants go, this is pretty good; the next-best deal is Le Bernadin for $75, and everyone else (who serves lunch) charges over $100.  The one downside about the menu is that, of the three savory courses, the third is the one that is the “main course,” and there usually aren’t vegetarian options for that course.  There are some workarounds, though, which I’ll get to in a bit.

So, on to the food.  The amuse-bouche was really interesting.  The amuse is one of Jean-George’s strengths, and this place does the amuse better than anyone else.   At lots of place, even though the meal starts with the amuse, it feels like an afterthought, or worse, “faking it” — starting off with an amuse because that’s what nice restaurants are supposed to do.  At J-G, it’s a way to get you thinking: “pea cake with carrot vinaigrette,” what a neat way to eat “peas and carrots”!  And such lovely plating:

Amuse-bouche.

Amuse-bouche.

Clockwise from top left, there’s broccoli soup with pepper foam, which was creamy and had a kick from the pepper.  Next up is sticky rice with pickled rhubarb.  This one gets points for appearance, looking like a piece of nigiri.  And at the bottom is the pea cake with carrot vinaigrette.  Like I alluded to before, this gets points for creativity, and it tasted good too.  The pea cake was just a bit flat but the carrots got it over the top.  The amuses left me wanting more and wondering not just how they did it but how they even got the idea — which is probably where you’re aiming as a chef.

The bread was up next.

Bread--I had the sourdough.

Bread–I had the sourdough.

I went with the sourdough, which was pretty good, but not warm.  I have written about this before — it seems to me that serving bread warm would be trivially more burdensome for the restaurant, but would make a huge difference to the diner.  Sourdough in particular I find to be much better warm.  (Maybe I’m missing something and it would be truly difficult to serve warm bread?  If so, let me know in the comments!)

Butter and salt.

Butter and salt.

The butter and salt were good enough, but my standards have been forever skewed by L’Arpege’s salted butter from Brittany.  If I have to pick my favorite from this country, then I’d pick the goat-milk butter from Bouley.  So, J-G’s was good, but nothing noteworthy.

Asparagus... finished.

Asparagus… finished.

Sometimes you go out knowing exactly what to expect, but reality throws you for a loop.  That’s how I felt with my first course — warm asparagus salad, with hollandaise and truffle vinaigrette. I had expected a plate full of asparagus, covered in sauce.  I didn’t expect the bread crumb crust, which added some heft, and the finish (check out the first picture at the top of the post) added just enough flavor to take it out of the ordinary without coming off weird or “trying too hard.”

Tofu (not fish).

Tofu (not fish).

As I mentioned, the this section on the menu — the main courses — don’t have any vegetarian options.  So you can have two smaller courses (which isn’t a terrible idea and what I did last time), or make a substitution: any of the fish dishes can have tofu substituted for the fish.  So I got the “black sea bass” crusted with nuts and seeds with sweet and sour jus.  It was really interesting, and not like anything I’d ever had (well, other than at Nougatine next door).  The “nuts and seeds” were quite good and peppery.  The broth was savory and pretty good, though it didn’t wow me.  

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had tofu-pretending-to-be-fish; Alan Wong did it in Honolulu when I was there last year.  Alan Wong’s used a much firmer tofu, which I preferred.  J-G’s wasn’t as silky as the dish I had last time I ate here, but it was still rather soft.

Dessert.

Dessert.

Finally it was time for dessert.  The options time time were citrus, rhubarb, caramel, and chocolate; I chose citrus.  On the left, there are pieces of gingerbread with some citrus fruit on top (my notes are unclear here!).  On the right is a Riesling gelée (or was it a jelly?), with citrus fruit salad on top and finished with Buddha’s Hand “snow.”  (If you are inquisitive, click the link to go to the wikipedia page.  If you’re not: Buddha’s Hand is a weird-looking Asian citrus fruit.)  The gingerbread was good but not spectacular.  The other half of dessert, though, was more unusual:

Close up...

Close up…

The Riesling layer on the bottom seemed like it was there more for texture than flavor; it definitely tasted like a jelly but I didn’t really get the “Riesling” part.  The middle was a melange of citrus fruit, which was nice enough, but the “snow” on top is what really pulled this together.  It tasted like crushed ice, but with a distinctly citrusy flavor.  Imagine if you had a lemon water ice.  Now imagine that the “lemon” and “ice” were separated into layers, with different textures.  A cool reimagination of something familiar!

Jean Georges

All in all, Jean-George is nothing if not consistent; there’s a reason it’s a three-star choice year after year.  From the amuse to the Buddha’s Hand “snow,” there were interesting takes on familiar tastes throughout the meal. The asparagus and tofu “fish” were also quite good. I still wish the main courses would include a legitimately vegetarian option, which is the only thing that holds me back from giving it a 4.5 or 5 star rating. But this is widely considered one of New York’s best restaurants, and every time I’ve been here, it doesn’t disappoint. Four stars.

Petit Fours.  But no marshmallows!

Petit Fours. But no marshmallows!

Here’s Jean-George’s recent lunch menu. (Note that it’s a little outdated and they’re now on to their “Autumn” menu.  Return to the body of the post.)

Menu.

Menu.

 

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  • Petit Fours.  But no marshmallows! 50055
  • Dessert. 50047
  • Amuse-bouche. 50057
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  • Asparagus, being assembled... 50059
  • Butter and salt. 50049
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posted 
LouroLouro
American (New)

Louro

Mushroom “pot pie.”

If you’re looking for great vegetarian food in the West Village, you really ought to check out Louro, a now-one-year-old restaurant run by Chef/Owner Dave Santos.  Santos, you will remember, was doing a “supper club” at City Grit; they did a great vegetarian dinner a while back which I quite liked.  Chef Santos now has his own restaurant, but he still maintains a bit of the inventiveness of his old dinners with the “Nossa Mesa Supper Club” at Louro.  Every Monday, the restaurant serves up a prix fixe menu that changes with the seasons and the kitchen’s whims.  The restaurant opened last December and one of the first supper club menus was completely vegetarian!  My wife and I checked it out and had a great time.

The meal started with some bread and olive oil, which sounds standard enough, but this was more interesting than the usual.  The olive oil had some hot pepper and salt, but it wasn’t too spicy.  The bread was served warm, which I think makes a huge difference and I much appreciated.

Louro

Bread and oil.

Normally I put the menu at the end of the post, but because this was a set menu (and a set seating time) I thought I’d put it at the top.  Just like the City Grit dinners, the Monday suppers feature a fixed menu and a set time.  There is one seating, at 7 pm, so everyone’s eating the same thing at the same time.  It’s a fun way to compare notes, and since everyone’s got the same food, you don’t have to lean across the table to try some of your friend’s pasta.  (You really ought to get there at starting time; my wife and I were a bit late, which didn’t throw off the entire meal, but did require the kitchen to scramble a little to get us caught up.)

Louro

                                           Supper club menu!

The amuse was an eggplant purée with cauliflower romesco.  This is a play on a dish that might feature meat, but with the eggplant instead of the meat.  The romesco sauce was great — this was actually my first exposure to it, although I didn’t fully look into what goes into the sauce until I had it at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco about a month later.  At SBP, the romesco was more of a scene-stealer; the amuse here was much more low-key but still impressive.

Louro

Eggplants, cauliflower.

Next up was the pumpkin salad.  At the City Grit dinner, Chef Santos did a “mushroom carpaccio;” this time, it was a pumpkin carpaccio.  The salad was good, though the pumpkin “carpaccio” itself I came off a bit flat.  There was pumpkin purée, which added a lot of flavor, and pumpkin seeds, which I loved.  This dish is an example of Chef Santos taking things you’re familiar with and repackaging them in different ways.  In some cases, it might involve a meat dish being prepared without meat (“pot pie” and “cassoulet” made an appearance).  At other times, it’s a dessert that’s been “deconstructed,” evoking familiar flavors but with a unique spin.  This is an interesting them to unify a menu, and it worked well, though there’s a chance that too much of it can come off as gimmicky.  I didn’t get that sense at this particular dinner, but it’s a risk.

Louro

Pumpkin “carpaccio.”

The second course was the parsnip soup.  I did not think I would like it.  The menu says it comes with macadamia nuts, though in my notes I have that they were chestnuts.  Either way, I was surprised that they lasted through the entire soup.  Chef Santos, as you might remember, introduced me to the idea of “palate fatigue” — in short, getting bored as you eat a soup (or whatever) because every bite tastes exactly the same.  Having the chestnuts mixed in went a long way to making each bite interesting; the chive oil was a good touch, too.  This was probably the most “traditional” item on the menu, which is really saying something.

Louro

Parsnip soup.

The mushroom “pot pie” was unusual for a couple of reasons.  First, a “pot pie” usually features meat, but second, even if it had meat, a pot pie wouldn’t look like this.  The bit of puff pastry on top was a different take on the usual “crust,” and obviously the mushrooms were a good substitution.  The dish was hearty, as pot pie should be, without being heavy.  Surprisingly enough, even the “truffle cream” wasn’t too rich.  (A picture of the pot pie is at the top of the post).

Louro

“Cassoulet.”

The bean “cassoulet” was the final savory course; this was really similar to what Chef Santos served up at City Grit.  The slice of bread was too salty for my taste, but the dish itself was better than last time.  I can never get over how delicately the egg is poached.  Of course, the yolk is still runny, so when you cut into the egg, the yolk mixes with the beans to give everything an extra dimension of flavor.  For a long time I wasn’t a fan of runny yolks — if they aren’t your thing, steer clear of the egg.   The rest of the dish is still quite good, hearty and very “winter-appropriate.”

Louro

Guess what this is?

Dessert was described as “French toast.”  Obvious from the picture, right?  Last time, I had a “pineapple upside down cake” that was unlike anything that comes to mind when you hear that phrase; this time, the same applied to French toast.  It was yet another example of taking a dish apart and putting it back together in a way that is familiar without being boring.

And that is a good summary of basically the entire meal.  Pumpkin, mushrooms, beans… all things you could get anywhere, and all ingredients you’ve had a million times before — but probably nothing like this.  The Nossa Mesa Supper Club gives Chef Santos the ability to play around a little, so it is understandably more creative.  But the regular menu at Louro looks pretty interesting too — escarole salad with quail eggs, gnocchi with wild mushrooms, etc.  I haven’t ordered off of the a la carte menu, though it does seem a little light on the vegetarian “large plates” (there are quite a lot of vegetarian “bites,” “small plates,” and “eggs and grains.”).

All in all, this was a really good meal.  I give Louro points for doing this kind of a dinner at all, and of course the execution was very good.  (It doesn’t matter if you throw an all-vegetarian dinner if it sucks.)  From concept, to presentation, to execution, Louro did a very good job pulling this dinner together.  I won’t give it a star rating yet — I want to go back and experience the regular menu — but if you want great vegetarian options in an inventive-but-not-wacky menu, this restaurant ought to be high on your list.

 

Disclosure:  The meal was complimentary.  As always, all opinions are my own.

 

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