Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Shy Chef?

My French friend "Madame" tells me that in France one's saint's day is more important than one's birthday. As the originator of "If my birthday doesn't last a full seven days, it didn't happen" I find this disappointing information. Incredibly there was a Saint Nina and her day is January 13th. Yesterday was also Friday the 13th, a day that, historically, has been a lucky one for me.

In view of these momentuous events, Richie said, "I'll take you out to dinner." As it happened, just the other day we had driven past a restaurant that had always looked interesting, but I'd never looked it up. For once, I remembered and googled it. The menu looked good - lots of Korean-Asian dishes as well as American classics such as the steak with port wine sauce, mashed potatoes and sugar snap beans that Richie would come to order.

Bamboo roll-up shades shielded the long windows overlooking the free parking lot. Diners, at wooden tables, seated on wooden chairs, can look into the glass-enclosed kitchen and watch the chefs. I counted four in whites and black, brimless baseball hats. The decor is a soft yellow with dark wood accents. When the room fills up, it's noisy, but happy noise.

The server brought an oval dish with slices of baguette, and a big pat of sweet butter and two smaller oval plates. The man at the next table had ordered the bento box and I saw one for the first time. It was a high-sided tray at least 12 in. by 16 in. with a small bowl of soup and three other small plates -- Korean ribs, seared ahi and something else with a spicy black bean sauce. The bento items change nightly.

We ordered crisp wontons with sweet-sour sauce to come with our drinks ($8.95 for eight.) I noted white and black sesame seeds and flecks of red chili in the sauce. They were crisp as advertised.

My crab cakes, two fat tubes, like croquettes, arrived next to a pile of field greens and a small bowl of wasabi aioli. ($10.50) Despite being creamy, the sauce had a curiously arid taste to it. Dry somehow. And it could have been kicked up a notch or two toward the hot side. Happily I'd saved the sweet-sour sauce.

Next up, the coconut shrimp which were good, but again unexceptional. The mandarin orange sauce had been dribbled around a pile of field greens . ($10.95)

Richie offered me a bite of steak and its texture could only be described as "soft." Nice flavor, but the port wine sauce didn't bring anything to the dance at all. Two towers of mashed potato anchored the steak with the sugar snap beans fanning across the top of the plate. ($22.95)

The food was fresh, properly cooked, and presented with efficient courtesy, but ... there was something just not quite there, elusive... I wish the chef had been bolder, stronger with his seasonings. Take a look at She posts lots of food photos and restaurant news. But a photo doesn't display tastes so caveat emporer.

Wine, a glass apiece $7.50 each; $15
Food and wine $74.35 , plus 20% tip.

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