after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Talula’s Table Pop-up: Maybe a Taste of the Future?

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t says: As I mentioned before, g and I were lucky enough to score reservations at this Stephen Starr event. Three of us went – it was a g, t, and cm outing! I’m telling you right now … there’s going to be a LOT to read – so let’s get started!

7/2010, Thursday 8:30pm, Party of 3. We arrived, not quite knowing what to expect. Would it be a restaurant? Would it be a warehouse? Would it be a tent? No idea! All I knew is that it was not BYO …

The venue turned out to be this place right on Washington Square that had an indoor section and an outdoor section. You enter what looks like a large outdoor patio, complete with umbrellas and lounge-worthy sofas and chairs and tables, and then find an entrance to the actual restaurant off to the side. It was a very unique layout. The outdoor patio also had a bar towards the back that was selling a selection of mixed drinks and wine. I have come to understand that anyone is allowed into that outdoor patio/bar area, even without a reservation – and cm believes that food was offered out there as well – so there may be a back door into these events.  The drinks were quite pricey, but perhaps on par with what you’d expect from Mr. Starr …

Speaking of which … we saw him. That’s right. Mr. Restaurant, himself, was seated in the outdoor part with another guest (no idea who it was). I guess he wanted to mingle over some drinks in lieu of eating the very fine meal? The funny thing is that g was the first (and only) of our party to recognize him and pointed him out in a very dramatic fashion: “cm … … that’s Stephen Starr …”. We confirmed via iPhone google images to ensure that she was correct. Never doubt your wife. We didn’t have the nerve to really say anything to him – but we really wouldn’t know what to say, as in all honesty, Morimoto and this pop-up are but shining stars in a sea of over-hyped mediocrity (cm and k also really like Buddakan – we have no beef with Buddakan – it’s good! – but we love Morimoto much more, given our penchant for raw fish – Pod is also good, but only on all-you-can-eat night).

As we waited for our table, we decided to enjoy a drink outside. g and cm both went for the raspberry sunset, featuring Patron, Cointreau, lime, and raspberries. From what I understand, it was quite tasty. I, on the other hand, went for the mojito. We all agreed – there was something special about this mojito. The ingredients didn’t seem like they were that different from the usual suspects that you’d find in a mojito (Appleton Estate V/X, mint, lime) – the only difference was that instead of mint it was “Aimee’s mint” – but I doubt that the source of mint, alone, could have made up for the dramatic increase in taste versus any normal mojito I’ve ever had (including the countless 10Cane mojitos I’ve had). In the end, we still don’t know what the secret was!

Right when we placed our order for drinks, we were told that our table was ready. We waited around for our drinks to be prepared and headed inside to be seated. The inside of the place was quite nice – almost like a Stephen Starr “light” restaurant. There wasn’t too heavy of a theme in there (after all, it is a “pop-up”), but, there were tall ceilings, nice tables and chairs, and, much to our chagrin, too much modern … “art”. A lot of the pieces that adorned the walls as well as the free-standing sculptures around the room were trying just a little too hard to be cool. This place was so not Django, which was more of a “rustic home” – with flower pot bread, mismatched silverware, well-worn Laguiole knives, servers in jeans, etc. So not Talula’s, either, which is even more rustic with its farmhouse table and chairs. In these places, because the atmosphere-o-meter was turned so far down, you could focus on the two most important things – the people you were there with and the food you were eating. What more would you need? So, yes, this restaurant was Starr-ified a little – but the one element that I think best captured Djano/Talula’s was the use of potted herbs as centerpieces … cute – very cute.

But enough about atmosphere – let’s talk about food. After we had ordered [I’ll tell you what we ordered below], we were presented with the “cheese bread”. No, they didn’t call it that – I call it that. It’s this small dinner roll-esque bread that is made with gruyere cheese. It was warm and airy and even more delicious than I have ever had it at Talula’s. It melts in your mouth as the flavor of gruyere comes on and fades away like a peaceful wave at the beach. It definitely brought me back to those chef’s table dinners. The three of us fought valiantly against our primal urges to demolish these poor defenseless little rolls. We lost the battle … and the rolls lost their lives. But then … magically … as if we had willed it into occurring with the sheer sorrow in our hearts for the shameful deed we had just done … our waitress came around and formally introduced us to the cheese bread they were serving that night and gave us each a roll. Holy crap. She totally forgot that she had already given us one! Score! The second one was as good as, if not better than, the first. We did take our time with our second rolls, but we ensured that our plate was absolutely clean … just in case she actually had anterograde amnesia (i.e. think “Memento” … or “50 First Dates” …).

When the wine guy came around, g had another moment of recognition. It was Brian [Freedman]! It was the dude from “The Wine School”. A while ago, a few friends and we took a few-hour course on Italian wines at the Wine School (Groupon rocks!), and we were super-impressed with both the presentation and quality of wines sampled (and quantity, too!). We highly recommend it. Brian was our instructor, and, while most of his jokes were “canned”, we liked his enthusiasm. He was no less enthusiastic at the pop-up restaurant. His passion for the wines he described as well as the descriptions, themselves, persuaded us each to venture an additional glass of alcohol. g and I went for two different glasses of red (mine was Spanish “Cap De Barbaria 2005”, g’s was an Austrian “Sattler St. Lauren 2006”), while maybe cm went for some French bubbly? They were all delicious and went well with the food – but I’ll leave the descriptions of the wines to those wine professionals out there.

Now, I feel obligated to warn you in advance that my descriptions of the food are going to be a little spotty. On one hand, a substantial amount of time has passed, and g and I have eaten out a LOT recently due to our move, so we’ve had a lot of very delicious food, and I’m easily confused. On the other hand, because I ordered a glass of red wine in addition to the mojito I mentioned above, my Asian genes probably kicked in, interacted poorly with the alochol, and prevented long term memory consolidation … sorry! Maybe g or cm can fill in the blanks?

We ordered three “middle” courses and shared. These were the smoked scallop ravioli, the chicken sausage, and the fried squash blossoms. g’s fave was the fried squash blossoms. I appreciated the play between the delicate blossom and the delicate fried-ness. They were accompanied by a green tomato ketchup which tasted so good that I wonder why green tomato ketchup is not commercially available (yes, I realize that perhaps one time Heinz may have had green-colored ketchup, but I don’t think it was the same as this ketchup made from green tomatoes … I hope …). Now that smoked scallop ravioli was something else. It had a sweet pea sauce and some micro-greens. And somehow you’d get that smokey flavor radiating throughout your mouth, surprising you as you chewed. The greens and peas added just enough vegetal zing so the dish felt light and summer-y. That was definitely a dish that had Talula’s written all over it – it was the kind of dish that made you close your eyes so you could concentrate on your mouth. The chicken sausage dish was good, but to be honest, I’ve forgotten any and all details about it, so it was definitely outshined by the other two.

We ordered three “dinner” courses as well. I was a little surprised at the expense of these courses, as I was clearly promised $22-28 on the phone both when I made the reservation and when I confirmed. The actual range was $28-30. Liars! I wave my fist at whoever it was propagating the deception.

The Kennett Square mushroom gnocchi was definitely the most massive of the three “dinner” dishes. It featured mushrooms, gnocchi, and cheese – what more do you need? The gnocchi were very soft and pillowy – less “bite” than I’ve experienced from Django. They actually verged on being as volatile as Vetri’s. That said, they were insanely rich – they filled your mouth with goat cheese that just begged to be foiled with the salty grated cheese and the mushrooms. A few interesting notes:

1) Outside of her mom’s Thanksgiving stuffing, these are the only mushrooms I’ve ever seen g eat.

2) The cm and I actually disagreed with g about whether the mushrooms were too salty – and it seemed that cm and I, two people who tend to want to add more salt to things, were arguing that perhaps there was too much salt, while g, who is super-sensitive to salt, argued that it was just fine. I think what we later found was that the grated cheese, itself, was very a very salty cheese – reminding me of a pecorino romano, so that’s probably the reason why the mushrooms had quite a salty twang to them. We agreed that the mushrooms in combination with the goat cheese was the way to go for maximal per-bite enjoyment.

Another dish was the beef cheeks, risotto, and cheddar. The beef cheeks melted in my mouth. I am going to find beef cheeks. Seriously. They were that good. The risotto was well-cooked – and I’m sure there were other components, too, but those beef cheeks … And you know what? g ate the beef cheeks, too! She normally doesn’t go for cuts of meat that sound gross (e.g. oxtail, pork belly), but she ate these beef cheeks. For me, of the three larger dishes, this one most reminded me of Talula’s, as, much like the smoked scallop ravioli, there were a lot of different flavors at play. It made me want to sit back and just think about them. I like food that makes me question the meaning of eating …

The other dish was a duck (prepared sous vide) in cherry sauce with tater tots. I’ll leave it to my trust dinner mates to describe it because I just can’t remember it at all! I know it was there, but it was one of the last things I had tried, and by that time, I had reached the bottom of that glass of wine …

We did venture the “Not Your Granny’s” cheese course. And while I could tell you each of the cheeses (I have the list right here), it’s better if I just tell you that the cheese were great, and their pairings were awesome. I’m going to stick all of my “vintage gouda” in caramel from now on … I will admit a little disappointment that Aimee, herself, didn’t present the cheese plate (some other blogger mentioned that she did), but they seemed very busy that night, and, to be honest, we could just visit her in Kennett Square, so we’re not crushed.

Finally, we were given an Eclat chocolate with our bill. Gotta love Eclat. It’s not your normal caramel-filled chocolate. If you have no clue what I’m talking about, go and buy some right now.

Summary: There was a lot of good food to be had. I personally feel that the highs were right on with Talula’s (which is not shocking as I saw some of these dishes on their menu!). True, some of the dishes missed the mark for me, but a “low” for Talula’s is still above mediocre dishes I’ve encountered elsewhere – so perhaps that’s not a fair assessment. I suspect that given more experience with serving up 90 diners a night in lieu of less-than-20, they’ll be able to pick up right where they left off with Django. We liked what we saw, and we hope that Aimee finds her way back to Philly, although I personally hope it won’t be in the form of a venue that’s this large and “classy”, I’d even consider going even if it wasn’t BYO (just so long as Brian’s still there picking out interesting wines for reasonable prices).

Written by afterdinnersneeze

24 July 2010 at 5:14pm

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