Monday, April 16, 2012

Four Bowls, A Crock And A Jar

Four Bowls:

1) Salmon pasta with peas at Benny's Chop House. This disgusting thing was up there with the worst of Buca di Maggiano Garden. Limp, luke-warm noodles suffocating in a deep lake of heavy bisque flavored by dry bits of raunchy fish and starchy, tasteless peas. I should note that I once had a great steak at Benny's, served with an especially delicious Yorkshire pudding filled with oxtail jus. Why, you might ask, would I ever order pasta at a steak joint like this? According a prior visit's server, Benny's does or did share an executive chef with an Italian joint, and Italian cooking was, the server explained, the chef's true passion. She lauded the pastas in particular.


2) Seafood ramen at Ginza. Nausea and regret stemming from that Benny's bowl were cured by this one. The food at Ginza almost always has that effect on me, and this clean, light, seafood broth with fresh-tasting assortment including some of the plumpest, most delicious mussels in memory really did the trick.




3) Pea risotto at Markethouse. It's a shame that this place is where it is and doesn't do much to compensate, because the food always outshines the setting. The rice here was firm but gave easily to the bite, and was held in a creamy, buttery suspension flavored intensely by a wonderful pea puree. The peas themselves were tender and delicious, and the judiciously applied, earthy mushroom assortment were a nice little enhancement. As for the setting, for standard hotel-dining it's probably not bad; it's just that the restaurant absolutely screams WE'RE IN A HOTEL at you the whole time, from the name-plated staff and cheesy elevator music to the closed-off breakfast-cereal bar that sits prominently in the dining room during lunch and dinner service.


4) Linguini with clams at GT Fish & Oyster. I ate at Boka a few times when the GT chef was at the helm, and I always thought the food looked better than it tasted. I can't remember disliking anything, but every server's description that made me think, "Wow, that sounds fantastic," led to a taste that made me think, "Hmm., that's not bad." Would that this background info ended with me telling you that all has changed now that the chef has moved to a more casual place with less fine dining pretense. As with much of what I've had at Boka, the linguini was just too "refined" for me. The made-in-house pasta lacked the heartiness of dried, and I think of lingini with clams as a big, hearty dish. At GT it was loaded with butter - fine butter I'm sure - and the clams were quite good, but their flavor did not infuse the butter at all. In the end this was tender housemade pasta with an excellent butter sauce. Missing were toasty garlic, clam aroma wafting from the bowl, and good, pungent olive oil to finish the dish.


A Crock:

Chilaquiles at Xoco. Wood ovens may do great things for pizza and bread, but it turns out they are lousy at cooking chilaquiles. This crock of tortillas swam in liquid salsa, the two never coming together to improve one another. An egg or two which must have been pre-cooked before hitting the oven came out rubbery and dry atop the crock, once again not integrated at all into the dish. I understand that Xoco is limited by the fact that they don't have a stovetop or grill to use at service. What I don't understand is why, if that's the case, they chose to put something like chilaquiles on the menu.


A Jar:

Clam chowder at GT Fish & Oyster. This should have been called bacon-cream soup. Way too much heavily smoked pork in this chowder, and more of those tasty-enough clams that failed to infuse the broth in any discernible way. This looked and tasted like pure gimmick.