Citizen Public House and R&D
We made it back to Citizen Public House for a second time this past weekend. not having been there since just after their opening a while back. The place seems to be very successful now, it started getting packed before 6 PM on a Saturday evening. We sat at the bar again as its a nice way to interact with the bartenders. If you go, try to meet the bartender Thomas, he is excellent, very engaging and knowledgeable and happy to talk about things, make suggestions or encouraging you to try something new, but in a very professional and seasoned way. He knows what customer service in the food business is all about.
I ordered the Smoked duck breast with rosemary millet, sauteed greens, spiced pistachios and apple/cherry compote while my wife had the sea scallops with corn grits, bacon, snow pea greens and a cola reduction sauce. Both were very good dishes, with the scallops outshining the duck by just a bit, in my opinion. I loved the soft and creamy grits with chunks of corn, the sweetness of the corn was surprisingly similar to the sweetness in the scallops and it was a good match, especially with the other clearly defined and contrasting flavors on the plate. The scallops had a heavy dark sear but were still very moist and tender even when ordered medium. No weak points in this dish at all for me. My wife paired it with a flute of sparkling wine, another good match.
The duck breast was smoked, giving it a decidedly bacon-ish flavor, which wasn't bad but perhaps was a bit strong for me. I ordered it medium rare and the meat was perfectly done, but the skin was not crispy and not all the fat between the skin and meat had been rendered so the texture was contrast was not there. The rosemary millet was very nice with a good clean astringency to go up against the salty richness of the meat. More saltiness in the pistachios and sweetness in the fruit compote and more earthiness in the greens (kale and rhubarb, I think) all made for a well composed set of flavors. I had a Suduri pinor noir from Willamette Valley but it was overpowered by the smoky bacon flavor in the dish and thus was not the best match. Still I was fairly pleased with the dish and enjoyed it along with sharing some of my wife's scallops.
Then we went upstairs to R&D, which ended up being disappointing enough that I spoke with the manager, who responded appropriately and answered by concerns, promising to bring it up with his staff. My concerns were primarily with the customer service in the bar and how our server handled things when we expressed something that was not tasting good. Basically she got defensive and sent us the message that the recipe and technique were correct and that we were wrong. This is particularly unacceptable when they add on a mandatory 20% service fee, as has been discussed in previous threads. If you have a mandatory service fee, the service should be very good, not amateurish.
Now I understand and appreciate the whole modern speakeasy trend that includes limiting access, making people wait to enter when the bar is completely empty, having strict rules of behavior, taking a long time to craft the drinks and charging a premium price. I've had experiences in Los Angeles and San Francisco that I felt were wonderful and felt the high prices represented a true value for what I received, something truly special and crafted with care, passion, inventiveness and attention to detail and quality. Unfortunately at R&D, my experience was that it has all the outward appearance of a high-end modern speakeasy without the quality drinks to make the whole thing worth it. I think they rely too much on gimmicky techniques (like using a very loud hand-held power drill to whip egg whites or bringing a coffee grinder/drip brew system to the table or flaming lemons tableside before dunking them in the cocktail) without resulting in truly exceptional cocktails. I just don't think they are focused enough of flavor and they are too focused on giving the appearance of doing something exceptional. I do like the decor and the mood of the place, although the bright lights at the bar are really too bright for the darkness of the rest of the room and I like how they come to your table to talk about the drinks and make some things table side, but I do not like that they are hardline about not ordering off the menu. At one similar place in LA I've been, the server asked me what I like in terms of style and flavors and then made a recommendation. They had so much confidence and they really came through. I like what R&D is attempting to do, but I think the staff needs to be better trained in service and in cocktail making. I hope they improve. I'd like to hear others' experiences there.
I have been to R + D a few times now, doubtful i will be back but i like the premise
I agree the drinks are a bit showy vs taste driven, more of a date place than a pure drink place, however i think it is worth a visit to check it out if you are interested - i like their new wave old fashioned however they severly lack any rum and gin drinks on their menu for R and D which is disappointing to me, however if you like whiskey or bourbon you will find many drinks on the menu to your liking
Mabel on Main's and Casablanca are better pure drink places with more variety - the Mabel on Main bartenders will craft you a drink based on what flavor profile you are looking for just ask, and 9 out of 10 are very good
Casablanca bartenders seemed to mainly know their specialty drinks on the menu only - however i am sure it depends on who you get - have only been there a couple times - however their bar is very well stocked and they made me a pretty good jack rose with some instruction and make a proper manhatten
On drinks alone i would rank Mabel on Main's as the best of the 3 because if you tell them what you are looking for they will craft you a great cocktail and i have not found that to be the case at the other two places - however I am happy to have all 3 choices and would certainly recommend checking each one of them out, they all have a unique atmosphere from one another and depending on your mood and who your with, each one could suit you better
I agree about the quality of the cocktails at CPH, particularly when Thomas is making them, I told the manager that he ought to make Thomas from the CPH bar the overall bar manager and have him train the staff and oversee the operation up at R&D, because Thomas is a true professional and an excellent bartender.
At Mabel's I've only ordered from the menu. I'll have to talk with them a little more and have them make me something unique. I'll try Casablanca, too. I didn't know about that place, so thanks for the recs!