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*17 keeps on chugging

I have been meaning to try *17 since the Wes Morton took over the kitchen and finally got a chance this weekend. Minor flaws aside, the restaurant is in solid hands. Food seems as good as ever, serving the same brand of American cuisine that it’s became known for.

I was expecting to see at least a few changes to the style of cooking that put 17 on the map, but the menu reads as if Ryan Pera was still at the helm, right down to the poached seafood dishes served in flavored broth. No signs of Michel Richard influences on this menu. It’s really too bad. I hope *17 has a chance to evolve, now that Wes Morton has proven he can handle a kitchen on his own.

Here’s what we had:

Pork rillette amuse bouche
More toast than rillette here. It might have been good. Couldn’t tell either way.

Pan-seared ahi tuna / local beets / leeks / beurre rouge
I didn’t get a sample, but my friend liked the tuna quite a bit. I am generally bored with seared tuna, spoiled completely by tuna cheeks I had at Manresa that tasted like they were imported from another planet filled with delicious animals and fish, but this might be something I’d order myself. I’ve never had beets paired with tuna before. Seems like something worth trying.

Poached Scottish salmon / spring vegetables “a la grecque” / green garlic broth
Another dish I didn’t try, but I did catch a big whiff of the garlic broth. Any chef that completely ignores practical implications of what happens after dinner is either clueless or has a bold vision for his food. I think it’s vision in this case. Garlic makes things taste good. Keep on rocking, Chef Morton.

Moulard duck foie gras “terrine” / preserved rhubarb / organic strawberries / toasted almonds / 25-year balsamic / brioche
A very well prepared foie gras dish, marred by a couple of perplexing choices. The terrine was served on a warm plate and had began to melt by the time it hit the table. Not a major problem, but details matter when you serve premium ingredients. The strawberries were excellent, but you really couldn’t taste the balsamic vinegar, served as a microdot that had no effect on the flavor at all. I know, 25 year balsamic is expensive, but it’s not that expensive.

Salt was a bigger problem. The first few dabs of foie seemed ok, but as you worked through the dish the salt began to overwhelm everything else. This is why in many restaurants foie gras is sometimes served with flavored salts on the side, which really helps to accentuate the subtle flavor of the liver when used in moderation. Add too much salt or even try to use a salt variety with an unusually large flake and the complexity of foie flavor is diminished, as it was in this case.

Handcut tagliatelle / berkshire pork ragoût
Great pasta dish, not too mushy not too al dente, just right. The ragout was quite good, but seemed under seasoned. Or maybe the foie gras salt assault ruined my taste buds. Who really knows?

Braised beef short rib / potato puree / sautéed arrowleaf spinach / sauce bordelaise
The waitress told us, with a certain amount of misplaced pride, that as many times as the chef has tried to remove this dish off the menu the general manager has refused. I can see why. Spring, summer or fall, when people keep on forking over almost $40 for some braised short ribs (NY Strip costs less, strangely enough), give the masses what they want.

The short ribs were well made. Then again I am no longer surprised when I find a restaurant with competently made ribs on the menu. Maybe it’s time chefs start putting "short ribs" in quotes and serving bison or kangaroo instead of beef to break through the monotony a bit.

Bananas foster sundae / vanilla crème brulee / warm bananas / caramel ice cream
Mixed reviews on this one. I thought it was an interesting idea and quite good, if you ignore the creme brulee that got a bit warm when the bananas were flambéed. Almost everything on the plate was too sweet, but combined with the slightly salty ice cream (hope that was intentional) it worked pretty well.

Sticky toffee pudding / candied kumquat / mascarpone gelato
I liked the gelato and the kumquat more than the pudding itself, which was a bit like dryish shortcake. Ok, but not great.

Granola petit four
A truly awful end to an otherwise good meal. This thing tasted like a slightly less chewy Cliffs Bar. WTF is the idea here, exactly?

Downtown dining seems to be bouncing back, although I am not sure if people know or care. By the time we left at 10 the restaurant was empty, except for some guy in a red Ferrari with a "chino-x" license plate. Just as downtown was winding down, Midtown was just getting started and absolutely packed with the bar hopping types.

If I had my choice, downtown would someday become a destination for cutting edge food and movie theaters showing nothing but indie films, while midtown remained an enchanted place to drink and get laid. But before that happens, *17, The Grove and others have to step up to the level being set by Michael Kramer at Voice. Right now, downtown restaurants seem to have the talent, but maybe not the ambition to be the dining destinations they aim to be.

No photos this time, kids. Use your imagination.

May 11, 2008   2 Comments