- Fine Jan 16, 2002 09:40 PM
We rarely go to super fancy restaurants anymore, so when we do, it's a big deal. Our visit to Elisabeth Daniel left us with a huge hole in the bank account and no compensatory feeling of contentment in the tum or spirit.
The thing about tasting menus is that each taste has to explode with flavor, exemplary ingredients, and perfect balance in order to justify the nonstandard approach and outrageous cost. Too few items did, alas, the most memorable being a salad of roasted baby beets with a fennel pollen (heaven help us) vinaigrette, fried leeks, and ginger, and a complimentary combo of sorbet and granite, bursting with flavor and unmarred by overly experimental touches, served as a pre-dessert rather than a palate cleanser.
Crayfish panna cotta garnished with sevruga caviar (despite the menu's claimed commitment to "sustainably raised ingredients") and sorrel coulis was one of the richest and oddest dishes I've ever tasted: everything was completely pureed and custardlike while the strong sorrel-stem flavor overwhelmed any other.
Although the menu indicated roulade of sardine and green olives was "poached," the fish tasted and smelled raw to me. One would have to love that very fishy quality to choke it down!
Both seabass (most fish that have that name are endangered) and "diver" scallops lacked the burst of flavor I associate with the freshest examples and something called "beet-green-green garlic 'cannaloni'[sic] and preserved rangphur lime" consisted of two maroon-colored, mushy essences of saltiness! Other oversalted items included the vinaigrette on the mache I was served in place of a cheese course, a shiitake broth, and the topping on a veal shank.
I requested that my squab be cooked through (I get tired of having to argue with waiters about this and point out I not only grew up on squab but have cooked it and eaten it in restaurants for many years--with the rare fad only having come along in the past few; see quote below from the government's guidelines on food safety of farm-raised game*); the waiter blanched and tried to dissuade me. Though far redder than well done, the squab was nonetheless quite tasty and crunchy, though I didn't expect to find a bone in what was called "breast"! The chef chose a bed of cabbage leaf-enclosed black lentils, which in both texture and flavor seemed a bit wrong to me--I'd have used a grain like wheatberry; a tiny dollop of tart cole slaw-like garnish was enjoyable.
Desserts were ok if not memorable. Rather odd-tasting (triticale?) whole-grain rolls--like the peculiar cucumber-flavored tap water--did little to enhance the dining experience.
What will be memorable was the $30 corkage and $8.75 for a "taste" of Sancerre, the bottle of which surely cost the restaurant no more than $15.
With 6.75 glasses of two different Calif. whites, the bill came to $241 before tip. I repeat: outrageous. And that was for the "cheap" prix fixe (85), not the more costly chef's selection.
Service was good, though why the waiter felt compelled to whisper advice on the list's whites to someone who brought an 85 Cab from a home cellar is beyond me.
Throughout the meal and in the "post-mortem" we both kept comparing it to the many wonderful $34 prix fixe dinners we've delighted at Le Bistro in Inclince Village. This meal came up short by every measure.
*"As with any perishable meat, poultry, or fish, harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli, can be found on raw or undercooked game. They live in the intestinal tracts of game, livestock, poultry, dogs, cats, and other warm-blooded animals, and must be eaten to cause illness. Foodborne bacteria cannot enter the body through a skin cut.
There are about 2,000 species of Salmonella bacteria. Escherichia coli can colonize in the intestines of animals, which can contaminate muscle meat at slaughter. E.coli O157:H7 is a rare strain that produces large quantities of a potent toxin that forms in and causes severe damage to the lining of the intestine. One disease produced by it is called Hemorrhagic Colitis and is characterized by bloody diarrhea. Another disease, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), can cause kidney failure in the very young. A similar illness, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), may occur in adults.
Bacteria multiply rapidly in the "Danger Zone" -- temperatures between 40 and 140 °F. Cross-contamination can occur if raw meat or its juices come in contact with cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as salad. Freezing does not kill bacteria. Only cooking to 160 °F can guarantee bacteria has been destroyed."