Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Breslin is All Grown Up

There are many dangers inherent in "reviewing" a restaurant after a single meal (I apologize, but I still cannot bring myself to call anything I write a true "review" without the added sarcasm of the overused finger flexion). I think it's fair to say that I would never pass judgment on a restaurant after a single visit, unless I had a wildly fantastic or horrible experience (the bad ones are always more fun to write about). Yet it's the restaurant that falls in the middle of my own personal curve that makes for difficult writing, especially when I've only eaten there once.

So with that said, I'm not sure what to say about The Breslin, the relatively new restaurant from Ken Freidman and April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig (and the late John Dory, which may rise again). At this point, The Breslin is beyond the infancy and preschool days of the initial hype, and has passed the proficiency tests of the major critics. All that's left is to either keep turning out meals at a high-level or move on to the next stage in it's restaurant life. In keeping with the metaphor, it's probably a bit like getting your college degree, but having no clue what to do with the rest of your life (I assume zero stars or a quick closing means you got caught blowing coke in your dorm room and get thrown out of school). Where do you go from here?

A good friend from law school, and one of the few people from my class who actually got (and retained) her biglaw job (mainly because she's brilliant), was in the city from Atlanta and wanted a good meal (we were law school cooking buddies). She will hereinafter be called "Future Partner" or "FP." I initially threw out a few suggestions, but we decided to wing it, settling on The Breslin over a round of Maker's Marks at her hotel bar.

We arrived before 9 PM to a packed restaurant, but we were told it would only be a 10-15 minute wait. Luckily, we quickly found seats in the corner of the bar where Future Partner ordered another Makers and I went for the Beggar's Banquet, a too sweet mix of syrup, lemon juice, Maker's, and topped with ale and bitters. Before I finished my drink, our table was ready, and we were led to the back corner of the surprisingly large restaurant, and past April Bloomfield cooking at the open kitchen, flanked by sous chefs.

The menu is completely of the moment in NYC, divided into three sections: snacks, then a mashup of small to medium sized plates, and finally, a couple of full-sized (read: humongous) entrees. Instead of going for a bunch of smaller dishes, we opted for a straightforward path through the menu. First, a snack of chips with sea salt and vinegar served in a labeled cellophane bag. Nice opener but nothing special.

It's hard to spend a few years in Georgia and not develop a deep love of boiled peanuts (I went native y'all). In Georgia, peanuts were not just boiled, but also fried, where you eat the shell whole (it's shocking that Georgians would fry something like that). Although I had never eaten both together at the same time, it somehow seemed wholly natural (fried in pork fat). This was a cool idea-- the crunchiness of the shell giving way to the soft, creamy peanut insides-- with a salty/porky hit to finish. The experience was how I would imagine biting into a cockroach would taste like (if it were seasoned and deep-fried in pork fat).

From The Breslin website.

Next, fried head cheese with sauce gribiche and hard-boiled eggs ($7). The combination of flavors evoked a deviled egg, but it reminded me too much of the far more successful version at Resto, which sat atop a piece of fried pork belly. The headcheese was drier than I expected, with not enough  chopped egg to properly compensate for the missing fattiness. The gribiche was bland, lacking the zing necessary to elevate the dish. Despite the presence of a tiny pickle, everything could have used more acid or something green for bite (I barely tasted the pickle and only just now remember it was there).  

A NY strip steak for two suffered the opposite problem. The steak was well-aged and served with fried cippolini onions and fingerling potatoes. Unfortunately, the acidity of fresh lemon juice in a red wine pan sauce, while it complemented the mineral taste of the aged meat nicely, overwhelmed everything else. It's too bad, this was a fantastic, perfectly cooked and seared steak. Why complicate it too much?

Future Partner asked whether we should have a bottle of wine with our steak. Why not I said? She clearly has expensive tastes, ordering a 2006 Argentinian Malbec called Catena Alta. The sommelier said she typically wasn't a fan of Malbec's, but she raved about this one. I have limited experience with Malbecs, but this was an excellent medium-bodied wine that tasted better and fuller as our meal progressed.

Oddly (for me, as someone who prefers a front-heavy meal) dessert was the most satisfying. FP agreed. So-called ciabbata donuts with banana ice cream were chewy and well glazed. My guess is they cut ciabbata rounds and deep-fried them (I'd like to know how exactly these are made). The banana ice cream was creamy and rich, a nice complement to the donuts.

 So much glaze that light cannot escape it.

We also got a free show courtesy of our neighboring table. They were on a blind date. The girl, who I'll call Georgia, because apparently she went to UGA, described an incident to her weiner-y looking date where her sorority sister apparently nicknamed "Jersey" punched Georgia in the face. Nice job breaking out of stereotypes girls. As retribution, Georgia got Jersey thrown out of the sorority. Weiner date, who was apparently good friends with Jersey, listened to the story in silence, as Georgia threatened to kill Jersey if she ever saw her again. Someday I hope to have a nemesis named Jersey.

I was disappointed that FP (and myself) didn't have as good a meal as we had hoped. While the meal was a let-down, I am extremely hesitant to say the same about The Breslin itself. I still need to try major portions of the menu, including the stuffed pig's trotter and the burger. Yet the atmosphere was hopping, the wine was great and the company even better.

Despite the disappointment, there's something to be said for not knowing what to do next. Like the recent graduate, The Breslin has a measure of freedom to explore, to try new things and find new experiences without fear of a bad grade or review. Sometimes it works out, and other times you fall on your face, but hopefully you learn something every time. 

The Breslin
16 West 29th (between 6th and Broadway)

Breslin Bar & Dining Room on Urbanspoon

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