It's "Try New Restaurant" Summer in our house.
When I say 'new', I mean restaurants that opened during the last two years - a period of time when we sort of stopped trying new places.
Mostly, that's due to the fact that we eat very well at home. But it also has to do with the bevy of new openings over the last two years being cut from the casual-chic model that mimic high-end food without ever touching the realm of surprise.
I also blame our third trip to Otom about two years ago, which was just abysmal. It felt like the chef walked out two weeks ago and nobody was steering the ship. And I ask nothing from a server, being one myself. I don't need/want unbridled enthusiasm. I only request that you present yourself as if it's marginally okay that we entered your world and did so to drop hundreds of dollars. That's all.
Mado hasn't helped the situation either. It's delicious food and we can pick the wine instead of someone imposing their current wine jag on us. On that. Yes, I get it. You think Zweigelt, sustainable Malbec and biodynamic Carménère have been criminally underappreciated in today's world. But the entire menu?
With Mado, Urban Belly, Indie Café and Semiramis as BYO options, the impulse to check out the place between high-end and BYO/good low-end just hasn't been there.
Which brings us to The Bristol, a place I've been infinitely curious about since before it even opened.
Food: A collection of small plates
Tarentaise - Aged cheddar
Duck Fat Fries
Chocolate Sabayon with homemade Nutter Butters with Lavazza Espresso
The good: Everything was tasty to one extent or another. This is good food. We were full and pretty happy (or happy enough) when we left.
But nothing...really...resonated. There wasn't much in the way of surprise - like a spectacular sauce or a wonderful side of jam or a ridiculous little crumble or something accompanying an item that made us rethink things. It's all very straight-forward. And a little safe.
I guess, in the final analysis, it seems like there were a few missed opportunities. Everything was salted properly (very well, actually) and nice attention was given to acid levels. But...
To be specific, the tonnato, while quite tasty with a little arugula, pecorino and a mayo with a hint of herb, but the tuna taste itself really didn't come through. The scotch olives tasted like great family get-together, deep-fried treats but never jumped out of that realm. The aioli with the duck fat fries, which were fine with a pleasant hit of lemon zest, was throat-stickingly thick.
I was somewhat excited about the bone marrow while being suspicious of the $12 price tag. Good bone marrow isn't so low in my brief dalliance with the gelatinous goodness. I'll say it again, after Lola's, no other bone marrow has a chance. This was bone-in and the marrow itself was borderline great. But the accompaniments just...weren't good. The shallot jam was flavorless and the parsley had an antiseptic quality to it. No sea salt or lemon, which seemed odd.
The chocolate sabayon suffered from the heavy hand of egg yolks, not allowing any sort of original chocolate flavor to come to the fore, making us miss the chocolate bark and shortbread from Mado a bit.
A lot of criticisms, sure. This was good food, just not anything that jumped above the world of "Yeah...good...fine" at any turn. It was the Luol Deng, Mark Teahen or Ryan Theriot of restaurant experiences.
Wine: 2008 Josmeyer Pinot Blanc Mise du Printemps ($47) & Alcyone Tannat Dessert Wine ($12)
But the wine list is something to be lauded. Almost everything is under $60, if I recall correctly, and the variation is commendable. It had a good amount of wines we've had before but nothing is really easy to get around town and the mark-up sits at just under 2 1/2 times retail. At the price points, that's right and proper helped by the "just under" part. A nice nod to sustainable and biodynamic small producers without screaming "Look at how obscure we are!"
The 2008 Josmeyer Pinot Blanc is mostly citrus fruits backed by a nicely fat texture. Deft touch of acid and a finish that might have turned almost banana-like. Vacillated between being sleek and perky and offering a touch of oil and smoke with herbs. Light on its feet. A very nice wine that plays above most $47 wines at most restaurants. We were quite happy with it.
Tannat as a table wine is typically a very soft, black fruited and herbal adventure that's become the national grape of Uruguay. The dessert version here was simply delicious. Huge caramel on the nose that followed through on the palate with some vanilla bean and toast and a nicely honeyed texture that tailed off gracefully. Great stuff and clearly outplayed the sabayon it was supposed to play well with.
We had two cocktails to start: the Smoke Sicilian Manhattan and the Rustic Rose. Both, along with the rest of the cocktail list, made us convinced that the mixologist used to work at Otom, a place we had two great experiences before that ill-fated third trip. The cocktail menu was eerily similar and pretty wonderful.
Pairing: 85 The Pinot Blanc did its best given the wide variation
We didn't really give the wine a chance to pair well with the "spraying to all fields" food we ordered but it performed admirably enough. Oddly delicious with the pastrami, which we never would have guessed in a thousand years - something about the pepper bringing out a little oil and smoke in the wine. Terrible with the scotch olives, which was expected.
But overall, there wasn't much wincing going on at all. It adapted quite well. More Alsatian wine must be bought. They're just damn good.
I reserve judgment on a return trip to The Bristol. If I had to guess, with Mado a few blocks over, I'd rather go there any day. We originally were going to Avec and figured to give The Bristol a try. Some regrets there as well, I guess. So...probably not.
We just weren't jolted out of the process of "consuming nice enough food" by anything surprising.