The menu announces: “All meats cooked to the temperature you request.” That is, unless your server is somehow inconvenienced by your request. We asked for our cinnamon-brined pork chop cooked to 135˚F, which would be medium-rare, rosy and moist. Our waiter du moment went away briefly, returned, and told us that the chef cooks it to 145˚F and lets it rest for five minutes to finish cooking internally. That’s how it arrived — well-done, tough, white all the way through. (When I told the chef, he was appalled: Like me, he’s a fan of Bruce Aidells’s meat cookbooks, which specify the lower figure as ideal, as well as quite safe with American commercial pork.) The accompanying cinnamon-shallot gravy was good, the braised chard was nice, and the corn spoon bread was passable. (It, too, needed more moisture, less time in the oven. Spoon bread is a great treat when done right — soft and succulent, almost puddinglike.)
Char-grilled hanger steak was pretty good, rare as ordered. It’s not the pricey Brandt beef the restaurant uses for its cheeks and burgers but comes from a larger, cheaper purveyor (using Brandt would nearly double the price) — and it’s noticeably less flavorful. The more serious disappointment was that the celeriac mashed potatoes served with it had too much potato and not nearly enough of the haunting flavor of celery root, and also not enough dairy (cream, butter, even milk) for the luxurious smoothness I’d hoped for. (Ever since tasting the spectacular version that Brian Sinnott served at Molly’s — he’s now at 1500 Ocean — I’ve craved a repeat.) As for the braised Brandt Farm beef cheeks, James and I both wished for more red wine in the braising liquid to give the sauce greater depth (something more like Pascal Vignau’s beef cheek bourguignonne at Savory). But maybe the service was making us cranky.
For dessert, a butterscotch pudding was airy and subtle, with a velvety texture and gentle taste. A cheesecake garnished with caramelized apple slices was light, too, if a little more substantial.
I returned a few days later for Sunday brunch with the Lynnester, Cheryl, Michelle, and Sue. The phone was partly out of order that day, so we couldn’t do a call-ahead and had a 20-minute wait before being seated. No big deal — but then the real waiting began: for coffee, for drinks, for a chance to order, and finally, endlessly, for food.
Drinks first: The restaurant has a beer and wine license, but apparently the owners expected to get a full liquor license, because the written brunch menu offers rum drinks with numerous fruit flavors. They’ve got the fruit syrups, but — no rum. If you want booze for breakfast, you’ll have to content yourself with wine, beer, a mimosa, or else champagne with a bit of pomegranate, mango, etc. flavoring. No mojitos after all.
As we sipped, blood sugar plummeting, we eyed the beautiful golden Benedict at a neighbor’s table and envied the huge, handsome hamburgers heading for the patio. Eighty minutes after arrival, the Lynnester checked her watch: “It’s after 2:00. I’ve got dinner reservations for 6:15 tonight, hope we’ll be done in time.” Cheryl said, “I hope the food will be worth the wait.” Urban solace? Urban nightmare. Ninety minutes after our arrival, when the waiter refilled our coffee cups for the third time, one of us asked in the weak and failing voice of a starved Dickensian orphan, “Please, sir, will our food be coming soon?” “Two minutes,” he promised. Five minutes later, he returned with loaded plates, a mere 95 minutes after our arrival, 75 minutes after we were seated.
I assumed the delay was because the kitchen was backed up, but it seems to have been another service problem. “Usually, that doesn’t happen, even if the restaurant is full,” chef-owner Matt Gordon told me later, “because the brunches are such fast-dish orders, the kitchen can get them right out. So this implies that something went wrong along the way — the ticket [the order] was lost, or some kind of miscommunication.”
The dish most worth waiting for was the Portobello Benedict. The base is a pair of house-baked biscuits, stacked with spinach, portobello slices, and perfectly poached eggs, topped with smoked-ancho (mild chile) hollandaise. It was flawless and fabulous, eliciting groans of pleasure as each of us tasted it.
Coming close was the butter-pecan French toast, large soft slabs of egg bread topped with buttery browned-sugar syrup and a host of whole pecans. Alongside were a few bites of what the menu describes as “maple/turkey/bacon/sausage.” It’s not a series of choices, but an all-in-one sausage (or Churkendoose) whose full name is “maple turkey chicken bacon yam sausage,” and it’s made by Bruce Aidells.
Lynne and Michelle both liked the Monte Diego well enough — a baked version (rather than deep-fried or grilled) of a Monte Cristo, with fontina as the cheese — but I was a bit disappointed by its austerity. The stuffing had much ham but little cheese (more goo, please!), and the baked French toast surrounding it seemed dry as well. The plate is supposed to include grilled pears and strawberry-currant jelly. The jelly had a fine, dark fruitiness, but — where were the pears? Send in the pears! Was it pear jelly instead? Or did the server finishing the dish forget to add the fruit?
Warm cheddar and chive biscuits with “Southern country gravy” is the menu description of the dish I most wanted to try, even if it’s the unhealthiest thing you could ever eat (pig fat! flour! cream! A bad-carb-cholesterol nuke!). But it proved not quite Southern after all. The biscuits are on the larger, softer side (more Midwest than Deep South), and although there’s some loose bulk sausage in the gravy, along with those sliced Aidells links, it’s not the typical sage-laden breakfast sausage my mouth was set for when I saw the word “Southern.” (The chef seasons the bulk sausage with various chile powders instead.) As the plate circulated, the gravy did cool and congeal into authentic Deep South wallpaper paste — but sorry, I still wanted a hint of sage in my glue.