James - Thoughts Anyone?
After several glowing reviews, my wife and I had dinner at James. I have spent a few days thinking about my meal and wanted to offer a few points on my experience for those interested in eating there:
Pros - Great atomosphere and very intimate. Good service and knowledgeable staff (which is a must for a restaurant at this price point). Great selection of micro-brews and cocktails with various varieties of infused vodkas, scotch and whiskey. On the food front, I thought some of the menu items were very inventive (namely the sweetbreads).
Cons - My biggest issue was the portions. I am a fan of the small plate philosophy as a way of building a meal, but it is critical that the follwing be followed: you need more than 3 courses, the food has to be served in an efficient, timely manner and the dishes have to complement each other. During my meal, I found the portions incredibly small. The risotto was very soupy and the rise was undercooked and not in an al dente sort of way. Also, no spoon was given to soak the little that was on the plate. Ditto for the rest of the courses...Beautifully executed halibut, octopus, mousse, but not enough on the plate to be meaninful; especially, at that price point they are charging. What I would suggest to the folks at James is: Less is more is fine, but supplement with a more robust menu offering, because it unfortunately left old porcus wanting more.
I didn't have a problem with the portion size because I wasn't impressed with the food and didn't really want more of it, and also because I was doing a tasting menu and I just figured I was getting smaller portions because of that.
It's amazing to me that they still don't know how to cook risotto, I had that exact same problem with the oyster risotto dish I had there, and that was a few weeks after they first opened. I have never been back for dinner (why bother?), but have had snacks at the bar a couple times since then and been similarly unimpressed.
The risotto that was served was very different than the beautiful picture they had on the website and, although I probably should have said something, I decided against it. My two biggest issues with this place was size and timing. If they gave you just slightly more food and brought it out more quickly it would help tremendously. I am a big fan of Lacroix and feel they do this very well. I also wish they would use more local ingredients - we had the chicken from france, the hearts of palm from Hawaii and the lentils from France. All were fantastic, but thought that it was a shame because they bill themselves out to be a restaurant with a focus on American cuisine, so why not use more local ingredients....The food, though, was very good and interesting.