Bow wow! Finally made it to Elemental@Gasworks
First, thanks to Susu for prodding me to try this place about a month ago.
I honestly knew virtually nothing about it before going, having missed last year's flamewars about it. Here's what I learned one needs to know about Elemental@Gasworks that you won't find out from the website:
- No reservations. Okay, they do tell you that on the website, but they don't say how to get a table. Get there at 5 for cocktail hour when they open or get there at 8 to catch an early table turning.
- No wine list. Oh they've got wine. Just ask for wine. Phred will pair a glass (or 2) with each course. Of the 12 wines (really!) we sampled, most pairings were infinitely excellent - only one disappointed. I'm usually ecstatic to get one or two sublime pairings in a multi-course menu anywhere else, so this is a feat.
- No worries. If you're a control freak, don't go - you'll probably get frustrated. Just relax and leave the driving to Laurie and Phred.
- No hurry. Our 3-top was there for 4 hours and we didn't linger long after the last of 9 1/2 courses as it was approaching midnight.
- No tipping. If you pay by card, there won't even be space for a gratuity on your reciept.
- Great value. 3 cocktails (not including the nip of Oloroso sherry we were handed upon walking in the door for which there was no charge, of course), 9 1/2 courses, 12 wines, $160 inclusive. Unbeatable.
I'd rave about specific courses (oysters + serrano ham, lamb tartare, chicken + biscuit, rum + pepper venison, cheese course) but I gather any given dish's appearance on the menu is mercurial, I'm not sure there's much point. Suffice to say that the way to go is for each member of the dining party to order the 3-plates-for-$36 option and to collectively decide on what courses to have, then share them. They'll be brought out serially, so if you've 4 people, plan on a long evening. And definitely order wine.
Terrier, I'm so glad you made it. I was induced to go by last year's "flamewars" (I love a good controversy) but honestly, have never had anything but an overwhelmingly positive experience there. The danger of course, is getting lured back weekly to try the ever-changing, always innovative menu, enjoy Phred's great wines, and reexperience the seductive speakeasy-like quality of the restaurant itself.
This place is great, but I'll bet that sherry was fino, not oloroso. You wouldn't want an oloroso before dinner. I think we were up to 15 or 16 different wines by the time we staggered out -- fantastic pairings, fantastic variety, but even at a third of a normal glass it was a bit much. Food was wonderful too.
I haven't been to Herbfarm.
I gather that it's pricier; Elemental is actually pretty reasonable for what you get.
Our bill was $137 total for two, with no tip, for two "tasting" menus, which is basically a small portion of everything on the menu (I couldn't decide, so the guy who served us went all General Patton on us and took charge), and the insane onslaught of delicious wines. The wine portion of that was $28 a person, which is literally a couple of dollars a (small) glass. And, for two, there's no comparison to being limited to a single bottle in a normal restaurant, no matter how good, or a painfully limited by-the-glass selection (which could easily have ended up twice or three times as much money).
The short answer to this question is yes. You can opt for a more "traditional" meal where each person has his or her own appetizer, entree, and dessert -- dishes are priced at $7, $10, $13, and $18 -- it's a three-course meal for $36, or you can go the long, delightful many-course tasting route. If you opt for the tasting menu, you can let Phred decide what you should eat, or you can choose, or you can tell him if there are some things you absolutely want to try. Then he decides what comes out and in what order, and pairs the food exquisitely with wine (sometimes with more than one). Prices are always very, very reasonable, as Phred and Laurie are less interested in turning a fat profit than running the kind of restaurant they want, the way they want to run it. I think the longest meal I've had there was about 4.5 hours, with 11 separate courses, and at least 15 wines/other spirits.
From 5-6 is Elemental's cocktail hour -- if you want guaranteed seating, definitely show up by 5, as there are only 5 tables.
A couple of recent posters severely misread the original post:
- You get 3 courses, not 9 courses. But if you are a party of 3 and you each order and share 3 different items, voila: a 9-course dinner.
- Their bill was $160 for 3 people. The Herbfarm charges more for a single diner.
There are other differences. The Herbfarm has a brilliant chef who prepares incredibly creative, complex dishes like nothing else in the region. Elemental has good, interesting food with some unusual service twists that you will either love or hate (or maybe both).
A real chowhound must try both.
It's actually not this rigid. There is a three-course prix fixe on the menu, but I can't remember a time when I've had a 3-course-menu-per-diner-equals-nine-courses experience like Bruce describes. It's a lot more like ordering omakase at a sushi restaurant -- what you get depends on the whim and genius of your chef and host.
I would not recommend Elemental as a wedding gift. I really liked it, don't get me wrong, but it can be a love-it-or-hate-it experience, and unless the couple love food adventures and eat out a lot, they could find it jarring. And I would not by any means consider it a fancy restaurant, it has a more industrial/experimental feeling. I've been wanting to get back there for ages! Maybe this weekend...