Comme Ça: Two Weeks Later
My first visit to Comme Ça is reviewed here:
When I went to Comme Ça two weeks ago, the room was full, and the atmosphere was buzzing, but it was nothing like last night. Last night was a madhouse. To put it in the words overheard from another patron as he walked out, it was “a zoo.” They had the full-on Osteria Mozza-on-a-Saturday-at-8:00 going – and it was Tuesday! The bar was stacked two-deep when I arrived, as was the hostess stand. The long corridor leading to the kitchen had waiting diners standing along its length. Waitresses with their candlelit trays constantly move past in the front area, meaning there really is no place to stand at where one will not have to move from in a minute or two. Many were wandering from cheese bar to liquor bar, looking for a place to land as they waited. It seemed some poor fools actually thought they could dine without reservations; after wandering about for a half-hour or so, they gave up the ghost and departed. The people at the bar, meanwhile, were permanently camped out, not dining there or even particularly drinking, just flagging out their territory, chatting away in the din, and making it virtually impossible to get a drink over the wall of bodies.
When a break appeared in the bar – one of the wall of drinkers had to use the bathroom – we used the opportunity to get drinks. One friend got a bourbon on the rocks. Well, on the rock. I really like how they put the liquor over one large piece of ice. Very nice. The bartender remembered me and what I drank last time (champagne), but I had him make the cocktail he recommended first last time, a Dobb’s Cocktail. It was much like a Manhattan, my favorite cocktail, and very well made. I really like the use of classic champagne coupes as cocktail glasses, too.
We were seated and, after the confusion about our server was settled – I had requested to have the same excellent server as I’d had two weeks previous, and we were not put in her section as confirmed several times – we began going over the menu. The food took a long time to come this time, much longer than on my last visit. The first item to arrive were the pommes frites. They were still excellent, but this time, they had much less salt on them – a great improvement. They vanished quickly. Two friends split the mushroom risotto, which led to my whiskey-fueled chastisement. (“Why are you ordering Italian food in a French restaurant?!”) It was decent but nothing to write home about. I chose the glazed sweetbreads, which were tender and soft, fried and served in a slightly sweet sauce with pearl onions on wilted romaine. There were five good-sized pieces to the dish, which I thought was very generous. Another diner has the French onion soup, but he sent it back as the crouton was burnt, flavoring the entire soup with a charred taste.
By the time we ordered, the braised veal shank special was already sold out, so one diner was forced to settle for the lamb shank instead. It was huge, an enormous club of rich meat sitting atop flageolet beans cooked to the perfect consistency. It was lacking a bit in flavor, though, which made me glad it was not my dish. The duck confit was fantastic, wonderfully rich and succulent, perfectly cooked. Again, this was not my dish, but it is likely to be so on a future visit. The accompanying red cabbage was spiked with a nice hit of vinegar, just enough to give it a subtle tartness. I had a combination of two appetizers for my main course, the French onion soup (nothing burnt on mine) and the steak tartare. The soup was fantastic, rich and dark and sweet, a textbook example. The steak tartare came premixed with the egg, mustard, and capers, along with toast rounds. The texture was good, though I felt the flavor of the meat was a bit drowned out by the condiments. (One of my friends really loved it, though.)
Two diners were not so lucky. I was quite surprised to see that the portion size of the boeuf bourgignon I’d ordered just two weeks prior had shrunk by more than half. It is understandable to have some downsizing in portions, and the full blade steak I had a fortnight ago was almost a chore to finish, but to see it reduced to nearly a third of what it was – at the same price, no less – seemed a bit surprising. It was about half the size of the duck confit leg. Moreover, the diner who had it said it was overcooked. (When I had it two weeks ago, it was medium.) Still, his entrée was not the smallest. No, that award goes to the goat cheese ravioli. Six silver dollar-sized ravioli were arranged in the center of a large plate covered in a green coulis, surrounded by cherry tomato halves. C’est tout. My sweetbreads appetizer at seven dollars less was larger. This might have been passable as one of a series of courses in a tasting menu at an haute cuisine restaurant, but as a main course at a brasserie? It was insulting. We had two unhappy diners. The wine list also proved a bit of a problem. We kept running into reasonably priced reds that were out of stock. Between this and the veal, it seems as if the restaurant has not been able to keep up with unexpected demand.
The dessert of the crème brûlée was fantastic – studded throughout with vanilla beans, a crackly sugar crust, not too sweet. It may be the best version I’ve ever had, but then most crème brûlées I’ve had have not been very good. Our server teased me when I asked about the other options, reminding me of my previous complaint that “you can get the other ones at Boule.”
Our service was fantastic. I requested our previous server from my last dinner, and she was even better than before. Some of our party were undecided on wine, causing her to go back and forth for wines to try and to get the sommelier, and she did it all with patience and very good humor. She is one of the best servers I’ve encountered in the city, in fact, and I’m very glad we have been seated with her on our visits. Whenever I return, I will request to be seated with her.
The patio chairs are still there, but the back section now has some real wooden chairs with a faux bamboo back. They look so much better, much more appropriate; here’s hoping they start to spread through the remainder of the restaurant soon. The metal bucket stools were all collected and stacked up, hidden behind a chalkboard by the side of the cheese bar. Clearly they were not a hit.
I explained to folks at the table that Comme Ça had just been open less than three weeks, so growing pains were still to be expected with the wine list, the food, the service, and so forth. For such a young restaurant, though, I really enjoy it, and I think that, in a few months, Comme Ça will be a really remarkable place. (The salting issues, for example, were no problem at all last night.) Now it’s more of a question of waiting for the crowds to thin out. Hopefully the expanded hours, supposedly set to start later this month, should help that out.
Right now, I'd say book ahead and expect a crowd, or else wait for the kinks to be worked out and the crowds to thin and go in the new year. Still, for all its flaws, Comme Ça, for as young a restaurant as it is, has already become one of my favorite places in town.
What time do they open? I'm thinking of heading there tonight to eat at the bar - as early as possible to beat the rush!
Boeuf bourguignon is supposed to simmer for hours, so the meat is usually always well-done. Do they prepare it differently at Comme Ca?
It's a shame the portions have shrunk so quickly, maybe they were afraid of running out of stuff. In any case, it's better to run out of something and take it off the menu than make portions smaller for those who have already ordered it.
You're right: All the previous preparations of boeuf bourgignon I'd had were like how it was served last night - slow-cooked, long-braised. The previous paleron I'd ordered was different, pink inside and covered in the burgundy sauce. It was good but somewhat too salty, probably from the addition of extra salt to the sauce cooked with bacon.
I also thought of their trimming portions to keep dishes on the menu, especially with the mention of the veal's running out. It seemed odd that the duck and lamb would be so big while the bouef bourgignon so small, though the server told us the ravioli's portion was that size since the restaurant opened. (They also ran out of the small baguettes after we demolished the first one and began carving up full-sized ones.)
It really was a madhouse in there, very Mozza-esque, and on a Tuesday night, no less. I believe they open at 5:00, but I'd call the restaurant to be sure. No one was dining at the bar when we arrived last night, which was somewhat irksome. They weren't even really drinking there, either. Everyone there had just sort of camped there, immobile, and the small area was inaccessible to anyone else wanting a drink. Two weeks prior, when my dining companion met me, we had the entire bar to ourselves as we waited for our table. What a difference fourteen days can make...
If you can get a table, I recommend asking for Ashleigh's section. She really has given us exemplary service both times.
I was one of the diners with Woolsey. I felt sorry for the diner as soon as I caught a glimpse of his plate. It was very disappointing. Restaraunts should not be able to get away with this. I can understand cutting down a portion to a certain extent. For the price he paid, he deserved more than six pieces of not silver dollar sized but quarter sized ravioli. The diner refered to his meal as a "happy meal." For the boeuf, my fellow diner reacted with a remark, 'hey, who put meat on my potatoes." I too thought that fear of running out may have downsized the portions, but it still doesn't justify it.
We were also there last night with an 8:45 reservation, but unfortunately we didn't experience fantastic service. I realize that new places can be busy, but there was absolutely no effort to be helpful by the hostesses or the manager, who really gave us the runaround when we asked politely about when we might be seated. When you keep people waiting for over 45 minutes for their reservation and they ask about their table, don't be evasive, don't act exasperated and don't lie -- and you don't have to buy your waiting customers a drink but at least help them flag down the bartender to order a drink (we also couldn't get to the bar). We've been to nearly every new place and every "zoo-like" environment, and we're always understanding and in fact enjoy the bustling environment, but it's unacceptable to be lied to and treated like we're asking for the world when we just would like to know whether we can expect a table. We left when we still weren't seated at 9:35 (my friend with the reservation then waited another 10 minutes to tell the manager why we were leaving). We had a delightful meal at Lucques.
Ha! My friends and I were there as well last night! Note: if you're interested in eating at the bar, I think if you get there before 7 you have a shot - a couple of my friends got there early and sat at the bar drinking while waiting for the rest to show up, and all the shorter tables in the bar area were empty as well.
Everyone at the table decided to get the "Dealer's Choice" for cocktails, where you tell the waiter what you like, and he tells the bartender who then comes up with something. I think this worked for some people, and it didn't work for others, and quite honestly, not all the drinks were that inventive although they were well-made. Part of it was that the waiter didn't ask for enough information, I think, and just asked for preferred alcohols. If you gave just that, you got a standard drink. A friend who liked rum got a daiquiri; another who liked vodka, mint, and citrus got a caiprioska (sp?); yet another who asked for whiskey got a whiskey sour. However, a friend who said she liked good appletinis got a lovely apple fizz, and my saying I liked manhattans yielded me an excellent Presbyterian. This is the kind of drink better made while you're sitting at the bar and can have a back-and-forth with the bartender, in my opinion. The carafes of wine are quite healthily-sized also - I think one gave me the equivalent of just over 2 glasses.
For appetizers: sweetbreads (mine!) - as described above. I love sweetbreads, and theirs were good although mine were on the small size. Two people got the bone marrow, which was almost too rich (not that that's necessarily a bad thing...). One person got the mussels, which was a generous serving and could have easily been a light dinner. I was not impressed by either the escargots or the tarte flambée. The escargots were served shell-less in a little cast iron thingy, they were just so-so. Maybe I like the more traditional service of escargots when they're either in shells or those special escargot dishes, but this just seemed to be a pile of little rubbery bits (yes, I know that escargots are really just a vehicle for the garlic butter).
For entrées - ah, one person at the table did get the veal shank, which was quite lovely (and gigantic - at least the bone). I got the sole, which fairly melted in my mouth and came with the cutest little carrots in the world, although I didn't like the celery root purée at all - for whatever reason, it tasted a bit mayonnaisey. Two got the duck, which I just might have to get next time, one the salmon which I didn't try, and the last the skate which was also very good.
For dessert, we got a plate of three cheeses, the chocolate brioche bread pudding, and the lemon tart. Of the pastries, all good, none spectacular (although it seemed like the ice cream that came with the bread pudding didn't melt, which was weird). The cheeses were quite superb.
My only major quibble with our night was the service. Admittedly, one member of our party arrived 20 minutes late because she couldn't find the restaurant - but it still somehow took 90 minutes before the waiter took our food order - and that's after my friend had to flag him down three times. Granted, it was busy last night, but that was ridiculous. After that, he was more attentive, although it did take awhile for us to order a second round of drinks.
I have reservations in another couple of week, and am actually looking forward to it.
It was just sort of.... eh. Thin thin crust rendered a wee bit too soggy with the fromage blanc, the lardons a wee bit overcooked (I actually thought that of the lardons anytime they were in a dish - are they supposed to be that hard? Maybe I've just always had more undercooked ones). I just thought that the other appetizers (aside from the escargots) were much better.
I'm sorry to hear that, too. I was torn between the steak tartare and the tarte flambée, and it seems I made the right choice.
You mention that the moules frites could make a light dinner, and I think that's true of many of the appetizers at Comme Ça - the small steak tartare (it comes in two portion sizes), marrow and oxtail, or mushroom risotto, paired with the onion soup, for example, are perfectly portioned for a lighter appetite.
You're right with the Dealer's Choice thing - it does work better when you can have more interaction with the bartenders. It took a lot of hit-and-miss with me, and even then, they didn't really give me something new and interesting as I'd wanted, just a slight variation on my old standby.
I keep seeing that the skate is good in the reviews here; I recommended it, but no one would touch it. They couldn't get past the fact that it's a creepy gross manta ray. Sheesh...