I love Camino this time of the year, when crab is on offer. After Michael Bauer's rave on Thursday, I felt like we were in for a treat.
My martini was great. My husband's quail was terrific--perfectly cooked, seasoned, really masterful.
He didn't love his smoked rockfish soup--he found it thin and one dimensional (I've thought in the past that soups were not this kitchen's strong suit).
But salads they do well, so why was my kabocha salad skimpy, under-seasoned, oily?
And the storied crab was mis-conceived: lots of pepper that overwhelmed the delicate shellfish--and in some of the smaller pieces, it was almost dry (their crab has always, always been moist). It was mis-matched with a spicy/flat aoli to boot and a few unmemorable pieces of yacon, an obscure vegetable that tasted like a less bright cousin of jicama.
The server, who was otherwise fine, brought me my hot towel, when I had a crab leg to go--it was no longer hot when I was ready for it (I just asked for another).
Even the best kitchen has an off night. Or it wasn't off, but just didn't connect for me.
I have been to Camino several times over the years & used to really love it. The past 2 times though I felt it had gone downhill. The first visit that felt off, I thought maybe it mostly had to do with the service &/or a bad night. Gave it a second chance several months later & again felt a little disappointed. Again in that case the service was a big part of the problem, but the food also lacked that sparkle that used to be there. I'm sorry for the vagueness in this post but it's been another several months since that last visit.
I stopped going a couple of years ago in large part due to service issues, too. The food isn't enough of a draw for me to make up for being ignored by staff for long periods of time as I gaze sadly at my empty wine glass. I have wondered if there is something about the size of the room and layout that means certain tables fall between servers, so to speak.
we tried Camino on several visits over its first few years attracted by the menu and ingredients, we can easily walk to it, and unlike similar establishments its noise level is moderate to bearable. we gave up on the place, because its cooking either pushes the limits of 'understatement'. creativity seems a bit short, maybe it sticks too close to the middle of the road, or our tastes just aren't as refined and sensitive as its regular clients.
Sometimes one just hits a wrong night (or day, in our case at Hopscotch, for example, where we received one of the most terrible lunches of recent memory).
I've gone to Camino several times; I like it a lot yet I don't love it. I agree their soups are mediocre, but the salads are usually on point, as you say.
Even when we haven't been bowled over by our entrees, they've usually (not always) been properly executed with clean, if plain, flavors. Was it perhaps really busy the night you went?
Bauer does rightly point out that split-second timing makes a difference, and let's face it, since they all know who he is, they're going to make an extra effort on his order! We found the same was true at Roka Akor/SF; the prawn dish he raved about was clearly enhanced for him - we received a dish about half the size of his photo, LOL.
The orange cake Bauer raves about, btw, seems to be made from a recipe that grinds up the whole orange, peel and all. It gives it that depth of flavor that a lot of Camino's food tends to lack.