Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"Small plates to share"

For our anniversary, my husband and I went to a restaurant in town that I won't name. Not because I didn't like the place - I did like it! - but because anything other than 10 out of 10 gushing may lead to angry emails from owners, or eternal banishment (again, I did like it, but more like 9/10), or who even knows. Maybe I'm still reeling from an incident, early in WWPD history, when I blogged (accurately!) that a certain now-defunct Brooklyn coffee shop was pretty but overpriced, only to get furious emails from Mr. Coffee Shop, who'd Googled the name of his coffee shop and somehow imagined that telling me his coffee shop wasn't overpriced would, I don't know, make me remove the post? I checked, and it's still up, so I suppose that didn't happen. But it did have the effect of making me reluctant to ever mention the name of a food establishment other than the handful of old favorites (Chelsea Thai, Dos Toros, Sobaya) that I'm giving a uniformly rave review. 

So. The place - and if you live here, you will soon know which it is - is the newish, less-expensive (but still, Princeton) version of a wildly expensive place just outside of town. It opened shortly after another restaurant also promising farm-to-table, Brooklyn-by-way-of-Central-NJ cuisine. That one, which I was so curious about for however long, turned out to be sort of... bad. A nice bar, but exactly the kind of American-means-bland food that these source-fetishization menus (not uncommon, as I recall, at cheaper places in New York) seem to imply. After that disappointment, it was back to the regular lineup: lots of cooking pseudo-Italian food at home, or if going out, Ajihei for schmancy, Shanghai Bun for not-so-schmancy, Chung Sol Bat in Edison or Nam Phuong in Philadelphia for excursions, and... I'm starting to think that if the cuisine doesn't include soy sauce, chances are I'm less interested. So there wasn't any great rush to try the latest sourced-ingredient establishment. 

That, and everything I'd read about the place - and I'd read a lot! not much new ever opens around here! - said that it would be small portions at entree prices. Under more let's say urban circumstances, with more options, I'd see something like that and be like, forget it, never going there. But it's Princeton. Options are few. And the prices seemed kind of... not that high for this town, even allowing for the apparent need to order more. Our waiter reiterated the "small plates to share" concept, and asked if there was anything we couldn't/wouldn't/shouldn't eat (don't remember how he phrased this), in a friendly way, but one that indicated that small portions and unexpected ingredients were things people were complaining about on Yelp.

Well! The portions were not tiny, which would make me think this was a conspiracy by the place to get people to order more (we really didn't need five dishes for two; three would have been more than enough), except that the people saying this online are telling you not to go there because you'll be ripped off. Anyway, a salad was the same size (and style of dressing) as at the not-tapas-inspired place down the street. Luckily I'm a big fan of that salad. Especially luckily, given that these same greens seemed to come with almost every dish. Everything also seemed to come with dollops of white cream (or was this the famous foam?), each with a different taste. OK, one plate did seem small - the falafel salad my husband got, with falafels that looked quite molecular. 

Then - and here I'm giving away the place, so be it - I had the "stuffing gnocchi," which were my introduction, I suppose, to... is this molecular gastronomy? At any rate, to food more posh-and-now than I'd probably ever come across. It was gnocchi - at least the texture and appearance of gnocchi - but the taste was Thanksgiving stuffing through and through. As gnocchi and stuffing happen to be two of my favorite foods, I couldn't have been more pleased. Plus, I got to enjoy these two starchy kid-foods under the guise of sophistication. There were also mushrooms, which I've relatively recently taught myself to not mind (still not so sure about a giant portobello, though), maybe even enjoy? Maybe. And the foam-cream with this dish was "smoked curd" flavor (maybe? it was the only listed item that made sense) and delicious.

The other not-so-small plate I dug into enough to remark on was smoked arctic char. I was expecting something in the lox family, but pleasantly surprised to find something that - much in the manner of the deceptive-in-a-good-way gnocchi! - looked like cooked salmon but tasted like smoked trout. It came with the very tasty eggs of an unspecified fish, and some potatoes I'd have been more excited about if I hadn't just eaten all that gnocchi. (How will I ever recreate stuffing gnocchi at home?)

The desserts looked a little too... main-course-ish. One included peas and "sable", which either meant whitefish, rabbit, antelope, or a kind of French cookie, according to Wikipedia. It's 50-50, from the context, whether it was the fish or the cookie. There was also an ice cream sandwich with barley and rhubarb - possibly wonderful, but I'm a culinary peasant whose preferred ice cream adornments are cookie dough or rainbow sprinkles. There are many reasons I'd never make it as a restaurant reviewer, but that's got to be one of them.

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