after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

How does your Garden grow [more delicious]?

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t says:  You know, there are some restaurants in the city that have been open for some time and have fallen out of the limelight.  Maybe the chef isn’t using the fanciest gastronomic techniques.  Maybe the decor isn’t minimalist-chic.  Maybe the menu doesn’t have enough hipster-ironic items.  But they still do a damn fine job.  Take Talula’s Garden.  Now I have to confess that it’s hard for g and me to be unbiased when it comes to all things Talula, so I won’t do a course-by-course breakdown … but I’ll leave the punchlines here:

1)  TG gives first-class service – prompt and frequent clearing and resetting of tables, cheery smiles from happy servers.  No one’s “cool”, no one’s stuck-up or snotty (i.e. no long tirades over the conception of the idea of a dish and sourcing for every single ingredient).  This is a lesson in old-school serving, where people appear genuinely concerned about whether you are having a great meal.

2)  Their food still brings the thunder …

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“pumpkin gnocchi” … how could “pumpkin gnocchi” turn heads (actually, i don’t think pumpkin is in the gnocchi)?  I don’t know how – but it did.  I dare not try to dissect this dish because this is one of those times when knowing the components is irrelevant, because really, it’s about having the most perfectly cooked gnocchi on your fork, driving it through the sauce and ?cheese? and nuts, and sticking it in your mouth and realizing that you just had the second-best gnocchi you’ve ever had (sorry, first best goes to Vetri … still … although I’m not sure if those spinach gnocchi count because they aren’t the same type of gnocchi – they’re some kind of volatile ricotta gnocchi).  Maybe it would have been different had I been sitting in Mercato or Melograno or something, and I was expecting pasta greatness – but this just came out of nowhere and surprised the hell out of us with its mix of rustic attitude (like “so what?  i’m gnocchi! no big deal”), burst of fresh flavors (despite “pumpkin”, I was feeling spring more than fall), and perfect harmony.  I don’t know if it’ll ever taste the same again, now that I have such expectations (and now you, the reader, does, too!).

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pork belly.  So pork belly is “bait”, right?  You can’t mess it up.  Hell – I can make pork belly taste good.  But, can you elevate it to something otherworldly – and how do you do it?  It’s widely known that this blog LOVES the pork belly at Fond.  It has that sweet crisped crust on top of a delightfully soft pork belly.  It’s our undisputed champion, beating out competitors due to its shear hedonism (fat + salt + sugar).  TG’s strategy was to walk a completely different way.  On the surface, it looks like someone “put too much sh*t on their pork belly”: black garlic, fruit, pomegranate sauce, ginger, sweet potatoes …  It looks crazy.  It almost looks like a mystery basket on Chopped …  Shut up and eat it.  A. MAZ. ING.  It all worked.  I could not believe it.  Believe it!  Unlike the pork belly champions of yesteryear, this one seeks balance.  Acidity to keep the mouth watering.  Savory and sweet flavors to go with those from the pork.  Textural contrasts with the fruit and pomengranate.  A bit of starch so you’re not just eating fat on fat on fat.  This the pork belly you take home to mom – the one that’s tastefully dressed, delicate, and could keep your attention for a lifetime.

Sure there were other dishes we had that were also fantastic (other pasta, shortrib, crudo, vegetables), but I think what’s important is that TG still has “it”.  I know there have been chef changes, and I know that farm-to-table isn’t sexy anymore – but these weren’t the reasons to go.  The reason to go is because I cannot think of a place that expresses its ingredients as well as TG, no matter how far-fetched or familiar they are.  No fancy foams, mists, or meat glue – just a plate of ingredients prepared in such a way that honors and elevates the raw product.  When you’re done eating, the first question you ask isn’t “Holy crap – how did the chef do that?”, it’s “holy crap – where can I get me some ramps?”.  It’s a shame, because I think that this recipe will not yield chef stardom in the way other, more “unique” places will (i.e. those places with cutting edge techniques, or fusion of disparate cultures, who are in it for the “show” of it al), but for us, TG will always remain as one of our “special occasion” restaurants.

3)  Oh – and did I mention that their desserts are fantastic?  Have your cheese and eat your sweets, too!

Ok … so g and I love TG.  Nothing new there …

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Written by afterdinnersneeze

17 March 2015 at 1:07pm

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