the food stands alone at Bar Ferdinand
t says: After hearing about Ansill cheffing it up at Bar Ferdinand, g and I decided to venture out to Norther Liberties, or “No-Libs” as the cool kids call it (I guess “Norberties” wasn’t cool enough). Actually, we had not been there since wandering in after a delightful dinner at Modo Mio a while back … but that’s another story. We picked a Thursday (g and I wanted to try the $40 8-course tasting menu), hopped a cab, and arrived exactly on time …
August 2012, Thursday Dinner, Party of 2. We were seated promptly … which was good … because we were starving. Scratch that. I was hungry. g was starving. So we quickly pondered the menu, but because we were there for the tasting, there really wasn’t much choice (but, as you see the menu below, that was totally fine with us):
g and I approved of the jamon-themed dinner (but we wished kp was there to enjoy all this ham) and decided that two tastings and one wine supplement would be enough to hold us over. So the plan of attack for this post is first food, then wine, then service. So here we go …
The first two courses were done quite well. I liked opening up with the sampler because I was really able to taste the differences between the three (and who knew that Iberico would be so sweet – even without the peaches!). g felt the weakest item of the dish was the pickled cauliflower. I disagree – I felt the peaches were superfluous. So we agreed to disagree about the ham pairings, but we agreed that it was indeed a brilliant move to have us taste just straight-up ham – especially because each of them would be incorporated into the dishes that followed. We also both agreed that the mussels were very nice – bursting with bright and lively flavors – kind of like a crudo/ceviche, except the muscles were fully cooked. It’s true that nothing here was otherworldly, but it was a nice solid start for the meal.
Don’t let the picture fool you – the croquette was tiny. And to be honest, it was underwhelming in flavor. Yes, good crunch. Yes, a nicely textured filling, but just make the thing a little bigger so you can stick some more ham in it or something. This was my weakest dish of the night (but hey – it was fried and crispy, so you bet your bunsen burner that I ate it with a smile!)
This pork terrine was amazing … but not because of the pork. Don’t get me wrong – the terrine, itself, tasted fine, featuring a variety of different textures/types of ham in one single slice – so that made me happy. But what took this dish to “the next level” was that red jelly-like smattering you see in the upper left. That, my friends, reminded me of a cross between cranberry sauce and sangria, and it was ridiculous in combination with the salty-savory pig. And when you mixed it up with some of that unidentified brown sauce on the bottom, it had this odd feeling of Thanksgiving – not necessarily the exact flavor profile, but it definitely filled you with a sense of cozy comfort.
The salad was kind of unremarkable so I’m not going to show the pic. The surprise was that it was accompanied by what was essentially potato stix. I might carry around potato stix with me in the future just in case I come across any boring salads while I’m at work …
The last three dishes had pics that were taken with such low light that there’s no real point in me posting them. Which is a shame. Because the two savory dishes were VERY good. As far as Merluza was concerned (i.e. it’s like cod), it was a fantastically cooked piece of fish – I mean I didn’t even know that fish could have that kind of texture! (In my mind, it was as perfectly cooked like how a sous vide steak is perfectly cooked). And the accompanying potatoes and sauce added such beautiful subtle flavors. And then there were the albondigas (read: lamb-pork-cow meatballs) which were also kinda-sorta-insane. They weren’t fancy, and texturally, they weren’t much (in reality, I prefer my meatballs a little softer), but there’s something about their flavor, when mixed with the smokey-tomato-based sauce that instantly captivated me. I had the urge to slap those meatballs on a hoagie roll and devour it with my bare hands (I assure you that no such thing happened in the restaurant – I stayed with my fork and knife). The meatballs lacked subtlety/complexity, but that was perhaps its strength, as no thought was required except one: “these are so yummy”.
The dessert was fine – I mean, it was a cookie and some lemon curd. The cookie was unremarkable, but lemon curd (like ham/bacon) makes up for a lot of sins. I was shocked he didn’t do some kind of choco-bacon concoction to finish off the ham-themed dinner, but whatever …
Ok, so, the service … the service was horrendous. g and I recall that they are a tapas restaurant where the dishes normally just come out of the kitchen as they are ready. We would have been fine with that concept, however, because we ordered the wine pairing, there needed to be appropriate progression of plates for the pairings (i.e. we had four glasses of wine that were each paired with 1-3 specific courses) so that each wine hit the table with certain courses. They failed this task several times – but in all kinds of ways. Some times we’d have the wine but no food. Other times we’d have the food but no wine. And still, there were lengthy gaps between courses and at least twice did servers attempt to give us food that we had already seen or straight up wasn’t something we ordered. The table next to us, who also ordered the tasting and pairing, even had things completely out of order! And I assure you that our server, at any given time, had no idea what courses we had had, which ones were coming next, or even what glass of wine we were on (at one point she tried to convince us that we had already had our second glass of wine when we had just finished our first … and then she never came back with the second glass like she promised …) On one hand, I could excuse them for “just being a bar”, but seriously, if the food is going to be this good, you kinda-sorta-havta step up the service, otherwise patrons who actually are going to your establishment for the food (i.e. like us) are going to be a little turned off.
And now for the wine … the wine was horrendous as well. ARGH!! I will list the badness:
1) The xarel-lo was way too light to tango with the terrine, which had such booming flavor due to the pork and the accompanying sauces. That terrine screamed for a heavier white or a light red or something! After a bite of the food, the xarel-lo tasted pretty much like water (it was best paired with the salad … which really didn’t have much going on, so you could actually taste the wine). It’d be different if it was zippy or fruity or something … but it had nothing to offer. Failure.
2) The Montsant was a classic Spanish red from Montsant – there really is no other way to put it. It’s bold and in your face with stewed fruit and a twist of very-nearly-aggressive backbone/bitterness. It’s a wine that puts some hair on your chest (and was served a little warm, so the alcoholic burn was kickin’!) And then they pair it with the fish and the meatballs. The problem is obvious: Montsant + fish = stupid (in my book – feel free to disagree). I’m not saying that you should never pair red wine and fish, but I am saying that this particular red wine completely blew the fish out of the water. All of the subtlety and complexity of the food was completely masked. Failure.
3) The dessert wine … ugh … the dessert wine … Just because you have a dessert wine doesn’t mean you just blindly pair it with whatever you’re serving for dessert. This dessert wine = super-sweet and rich. Lemon curd = super-sweet and rich. And two sweets don’t make a right – they monkey-knife-fight each other. Maybe the cookie and the wine would have been alright, but the lemon curd forced us to make a decision: lemon curd or wine? Result = we abandoned half our dessert wine – the lemon curd was more delicious.
So as you can see, the food at Bar Ferdinand was actually quite wonderful – and for the price, it was very-nearly-a-steal! It’s a shame that the service and wine could use lots of improvement. I’m sure the service will get better as they get used to the idea of meal progression and pairings. But as for the wine, well, I don’t know who made those selections, but let’s just say that I know of a certain Spanish wine enthusiast that would be more-than-capable of taking over Bar Ferdinand’s wine program and selecting wines that would actually complement instead of fight with Chef Ansill’s delicious food … and he’d probably do it for little more than his love of wine, alone … right, a?