16 March 2011

The one & uni Fergus

Vinoteca – A bustling, chaotic, pretty much disorganized wine bar that, almost magically, actually seems to be organized when one is a customer. They serve people sitting, standing, bar-leaning, and shopping in what seems an utterly chaotic and random way. But serve them they do. On offer are a fairly mediocre list of wines by the glass in the midst of a pretty wide-ranging wall selection of wines by the bottle. I don’t try the food, as I’m on my way to dinner, but I suspect the trick here is to plan the liquid capacity of your group carefully, so that you may order by the bottle rather than the glass.

That said, they’re friendly and receptive to banter, even in the midst of a crushing post-work rush. Really, this isn’t a “wine bar,” this is a neighborhood bar that happens to serve wine and be awfully well-known. And that’s not so bad.

Huet 2007 Vouvray Le Mont Sec (Loire) – The oft-expressed opinion of increasingly ego-overwhelmed critics that great ageable wines taste great in youth is persistently dispelled by wines like this. It’s nice enough, with firm structure, gently chalky minerality, a lot of spine without much flesh, and a strikingly long finish that holds its poise all the way to its denouement. But really, there’s so much more to come that only those intimately familiar with the usual trajectory could even begin to divine the potential here. I doubt I would, encountering this wine blind. So is it a waste to drink this now? I’m starting to wonder if it might not be. At the very least, the demi-sec bottlings offer more early material for appreciation. (3/11)

Kracher 2008 Zweigelt “Illmitz” (Burgenland) – Oaky zweigelt. What a terrible idea. What an unpleasant wine. (3/11)

Haisma 2007 Gevrey-Chambertin (Burgundy) – Dark fruit, though far from opaque, with the slender musculature of a runner. Mushroom dust, some earth. There’s wood, yes, but it’s young Burgundy. Wood’s not uncommon at this stage. Structurally sound. I’ve never heard of this guy, but on a sample size of one, he might be worth watching. (3/11)

St. John – A place that probably needs little introduction to the carnivorous, the nose-to-tail ethos is not overwhelmingly in evidence on my menu tonight. Or maybe I’m already a quarter of the way in from each end, and it’s just the stuff in the middle that I’ve yet to 100% embrace. But to be honest, tonight’s carte is pretty staid, vs. my expectations.

And yet, those expectations include a determination that I will push my boundaries a bit. So, rather than the infamously delicious marrow that I’d usually order, I opt for sea urchins. Now, I eat their roe all the time in Japanese, Italian, and other sorts of places, but the slashed-open entirety of these spiky little sea aliens are a new experience for me. New, and delicious. All the briny liquidity that makes a carefully-shucked oyster such an exercise in perfection is, more delicately, displayed here.

After that, my cream-stew-ish dish of some sort of heirloom pork is perfectly tasty but pretty standard and straightforward. The chocolate terrine that follows, however, is stunning...and even more so with the incredibly rich Armagnac ice cream that accompanies it. There’s a vieille prune and an excellent coffee somewhere in this quadrant of the evening, but honestly I’m meated and wined into fair, albeit happy, oblivion. The atmosphere is gymnasium chic, the service is quick, the overall experience is pack-‘em-in and move-‘em-out. And everyone loves it. This is a great, great restaurant.

Bizeul “Domaine du Clos des Fées” 2008 Côtes du Roussillon “Les Sorcières” (Roussillon) – Flavorful, but with odd helixes and skews to its geometry. Red fruit mixed with earth, herbs tossed with grains, light but with a low subwoofer hum. There are a lot of tasty elements, but they never quite coalesce. It’s good, but only just. (3/11)

Same post, many more photos: here

William Henry

Terroirs – Apparently, every major city must have a wine bar carrying this name, with or without the trailing pluralization. This one was a little more groundbreaking than some of its namesakes, shaking up one of the most established wine cultures in the world with naturalia and a passel of its qualitative cousins.

The menu’s perfect for a sort of place in which one wants (or should want) to sample and graze both solids and liquids. I make it simple on myself, in conception if not quantity, by assembling an array of charcuterie from the Pyrénées, radishes with anchoiade (the only failed dish I’ll order; the sauce is gelatinous and obliterates the delicate radishes), and cod roe with egg. The bread’s good, too, and given what I’ve ordered I end up with rather a quantity of delicious cornichons, which are about as sharp a palate-clearer as one can find.

To my amusement, the guys behind the bar are both American. We chat into the wee hours of the late afternoon, at certain points including my neighbors to the right (ties over their white-shirted shoulders and highly intrigued by the opacity of the orange wines in front of me) and my neighbor to the left (a beer aficionado with an immense affection for Portland, Oregon). Wee-hour chatting encourages wee-hour bibulous addenda, and that is how the rest of the evening goes slowly but inexorably wrong. On which subject I will have nothing to say, now or in any future post…

Mathis Bastian 2008 Riesling “Grand Premier Cru” Wellenstein (Luxembourg) – Bright and vibrant. Crisp acidity, not overly sharpened, with flaky limestone minerality and ripe lemon flavors. Pretty impressive, and by a fair margin the best Luxembourgeois wine I’ve tasted. (3/11)

Il Tufiello 2007 Fiano “Don Chisciotte” (Campania) – An orange wine. What’s most interesting to me is how clearly both the waxiness and textural impact of the grape and the dust of the region shine though the layers of tactility provided by extended skin contact. The tannin here is present but quite manageable within the wine’s overall balance, and acidity hasn’t been completely lost, so the end result is something a little brighter and fresher than the orange norm. It’s not as complex as some, but it’s a simple pleasure. (3/11)

La Stoppa 2006 “Ageno” (Emilia-Romagna) – Very deep, rich, and shaded. A powerful, almost stravecchio style of orange wine (really more brown when taken to this extent), full of dessert spices, minerality, and preserved fruit. Absolutely delicious, albeit heady. (3/11)

Vino di Anna 2009 “Jeudi 15” (Sicily) – Carbonic (at least, what one imagines a carbonic wine to taste like) and crisp. Apple (skin on), raspberry, red cherry. Vivacious, irresistible. I love this. (3/11)

Les Foulards Rouge 2010 Vin de Table “Octobre” (Roussillon) – Spicy, frothy acidity with sharp, boisterous red berries. There’s more to it, thankfully, with earthier and more herbal…well, I was going to write “nuances,” but they’re more like microbursts. Nothing’s quiet in this wine. Fun, if simple. (3/11)

Navarre 2008 Saint-Chinian “Cuvée Oliver” (Languedoc) – I really don’t like this. Stale butter and the scotchy taste of wood (is it wooded? the web site doesn’t mention it if so) completely ruin whatever fruit characteristics might be present. Nasty stuff. (3/11)

de Bartoli “Vecchia Samperi Ventennale” Vino Liquoroso (Sicily) – A wine of tension. This strikes me as amusing, since I’m sure it would be characterized as a wine of meditation on many Italian lists. But it’s that settled uncertainty – is it trying to be sweeter or drier? is it a Marsala or not? – that’s this wine’s brilliance. Complexity defined. A jumble of bones, rocks, nut oils, and differing shades of late afternoon. Long. Incredibly long. Really brilliant. (3/11)

Cazottes Eau-de-Vie Goutte de Mauzac Rosé Passerillé (Southwest France) – Floral as much as fruity, with the quality of my preferred clear spirits in that it goes beyond a simple spirituous expression of the source material to achieve something a little more interesting. Those who prefer that purity might not like this as much. There’s a delicacy along with the usual heat that’s not often found, either. (3/11)

15 March 2011

Donna Summer

Hot Stuff – Exactly the sort of downmarket curry joint one wants. We, as is recommended, just let them feed us. And it’s good. Very good. And stupidly cheap (for London). We – the other party to which I keep referring is London-based wine writer and Barbera 7 co-conspirator Stuart George – bring wine, of course.

Sainsbury’s Sauvignon Blanc (Central Valley) – A whole orchard full of grapefruit, lemon, lime, with just a hint of pith and bitterness. Good flavor for the money. (3/11)

Sainsbury’s Cabernet Sauvignon (Valle Central) – Why the language switch for the appellation between this and the sauvignon blanc, I don’t know. I’m sure some focus group, somewhere, knows the answer. Sweet green pepper, synthetic and sticky fruit. I rarely think the cabernets are ideal candidates for cellar-dwelling price points, and sauvignon even less so than franc. This wine demonstrates why. An underripe festival of pyrazines would be one thing, but to add the sticky, plastic sugar element just to make things “more palatable” is triply wretched. No bargain at any cost. (3/11)

Edmunds St. John 2000 “Los Robles Viejos” Rozet (Paso Robles) – Undoubtedly much-victimized by a transatlantic voyage and then a good shaking from hotel to subway to restaurant, so when I mention the muted elements to come, they’re only partially due to a wine in its midlife crisis. But that’s a factor, as well…though the eventual signs of a more mature life can be very clearly glimpsed through the haze and miasma. Beefy, dark, scowling and broodish, with the mourvèdre taking a very prominent role (my drinking companion complains of mild brett; without lab work it’s hard to know for sure, but I feel it’s the animal stink of the grape rather than the animal stink of a yeast) and the other grapes of this southern Rhônish blend pacing around in the background. Structure is still fulsome and enveloping, and so while the fruit is well along its development curve, there’s still softening to be done. In another wine, I might caution about the future, but my experience with ESJ wines is that they always go longer – and often much longer – than my initial instinct suggests. So I’d say, more based on experience than the possibly traumatized state of this particular bottle, there’s absolutely no hurry, though given the right culinary conditions this could be coaxed into a state of reasonable enjoyability right now. I’ll wait on the rest of mine. (3/11)

Rasoi – I’ve done upscale Thai, and now here’s upscale Indian. It’s not quite as overtly striving as was nahm, until the plates arrive. This is decorative, modernized, Westernized Indian food in presentation and, on occasion, in ingredients. But not, I’d say, in flavor, which is just as rich and complex as one expects. Service is more the upscale norm, and there’s a quite fine wine list to match (if anything actually matches Indian cuisine). I had my doubts about this concept, unsure if the soul of the food would survive the upscaling, but I needn’t have worried. This is a vibrant success.

Sula 2010 Chenin Blanc (Nashik) – I’ve watched this particular bottling over seven vintages now, which is kinda fun to say about an Indian wine. Interestingly, while it has gotten cleaner over the years, it has not necessarily gotten better, which might indicate that it’s coming up against some sort of externally-imposed limit. Maybe vine age, maybe terroir, maybe something else. It’s still a bright, light-fruited quaff, still tastes less like chenin (either the Loire style or the fruit-blast South African style) than something more innocuous, still has just-bright-enough acidity, and still goes pretty much nowhere on the finish. In other words, its primary quality remains a delight at drinking a pleasant wine from India. (3/11)

Neumeyer 2007 Pinot Gris “Le Beger” (Alsace) – The label says pinot gris, there’s a little hint of pear-ish fruit done up with wintry spices, and the particular sort of (very) light off-dryness is carried in a very pinot gris-like way. But otherwise, this has about a foot and a half firmly in the riesling camp, in that its structure is metallic, cylindrical, and firm. The overall effect is to pretty much dry out the residual sugar, leaving a fine, steely minerality dominant over the restrained fruit. The finish is long and firm-fisted. While it will not be to the taste of those demanding lushness from their Alsatian pinot gris, for me it’s almost an historic resurrection of a much-missed style. A style that is, though it’s hard to remember in this era of dessert-y pinot gris, very appealing with food. (3/11)

Same post, many more photos here.

12 March 2011

Lab rinse

Maze – My dining companion is unwell. Exceedingly unwell, in fact. Against our better judgment, we go ahead and attempt to keep this (sometimes difficult) reservation, made ages ago and reconfirmed twice. It might be our only chance.

As soon as we walk in, I know we’ve erred. We order a few small plates, hedging our bets despite the increasingly green face across from me. Fifteen minutes later, we’re out the door. In an act of kind generosity, they rebook us for two nights hence.

In between the greenness and the hasty departure, here’s a bit of an aborted mini-meal on my part, which I scarf while paying the check and hastily draining a few glasses of already-delivered wine. The delicious-sounding poached duck egg with Jerusalem artichoke velouté and a persillade of porcini (which initially presents itself, somewhat unfortunately, as a giant bowl of foam) is terrific at bite one, tedious by bite four. There’s no balance here, just incredible richness. I like richness, a lot, but there’s no respite, and this dish needs one. On the other hand, there’s also tea-smoked salmon with cauliflower, radishes, and apple vinaigrette. Here’s all the spare crispness that the other dish lacks as its counterpoint. The flavors are clearly delineated, though of course a plate like this relies much more on quality shopping than it does on high-skill kitchen techniques.

Anton Bauer 2009 Grüner Veltliner Rosenberg (Donauland) – Open, but it’s a small opening, spreading tiny white petals to show the (nicely) vegetal greenness within. There’s just a touch of the lurid to the aroma, but it’s a luridness that exists mostly in a nearby room, rather than right in front of the taster. Simple, nice, not really more than that. (2/11)

Josmeyer 2008 Gewurztraminer “Les Folastries” (Alsace) – Off-dry, with its minerality delivered in a waterfall of crystallization. Sweet lychee verging into peach, but with a clementine counterpoint, even a little mirabelle as it lingers. There’s power here without overt weight, and also without relying too heavily on the common crutch of sugar. Extremely nice. (2/11)

A few nights later, take two. More small plates to start, this time starting with a rabbit and foie gras terrine with accompaniments from both the porcine and dried plum genres. It’s very good, if just a touch dry. Next are quail, kohlrabi, and cauliflower with the spice of the souq and a burnt onion reduction. The combination is extremely flavorful, but suffers from the same issue as the poached egg: too many intense flavors in the same narrow band, which ends up (due to a longer-lingering aftertaste) being dominated by the onion char. Even the kohlrabi doesn’t help. Again, it would be preferable in a smaller quantity than is offered here, and this isn’t exactly a big plate.

The only unmitigated brilliant dish I’ll have here is the next: daurade atop squid Bolognese and garlic, with some sort of citrusy counterpoint and a lump of chorizo. The squid Bolognese is a brilliant idea, frankly, bringing land and sea together, and though I’d have preferred better integration of the chorizo into the dish, everything works in both isolation and tandem. After this, the better-sounding (on the menu, anyway) pork cheek and belly mini-choucroute is a bit of a letdown. I expect the choucroute concept to be taken somewhere individualistic, but other than the meats used, it’s really not. I like choucroute, and I like this. But I wouldn’t have to come to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and pay this much to get one I like equally well, and this isn’t exactly an Alsatian-sized portion.

Rice pudding with mirabelle finishes. It’s quite fine, but at this point I’m suffering from a bit of palate fatigue, so I’m not sure my faculties are in session.

Rereading the above, I see more carping than the restaurant really deserves. It’s good, service is attentive if a touch quick (they turn tables here, and it’s a huge restaurant with a lot of ground to cover), and while it’s expensive it’s not larcenous. But it is not, to borrow the Michelin parlance, worth a special trip. It’s more an “if you’re in the neighborhood” place…though it’s not a bad neighborhood to be in, for sure.

As for the wine list, it holds quality options for both conservative label-drinkers and wild-haired seekers of the alternative (naturalia, not so much), with the former of course being soaked for the maximum number of pounds, and the latter getting the better end of the deal. In other words, the normal state of affairs. Special note goes out to a more than decent by-the-glass selection.

Gosset Champagne Brut “Grand Rosé” (Champagne) – Simple and a little heavy, full of red-berry flavor but extremely linear and literal. Solid. (3/11)

Keller 2005 Spätburgunder “Selection” 38 07 (Baden) – Light-minded, with soft red fruit both yielding and a little plush despite an enveloping tan minerality. Just a touch of brett. Really quite beautiful and approachable, though it’s not blessed with much complexity. Maybe that will come. (3/11)

Trimbach 2008 Riesling “Réserve” (Alsace) – Sulfurous, though mildly so. Yet it does obscure. Underneath that sulfur there’s a heck of a wine…powerful, iron-cored, bracing…but I think this has been treated for the long haul, which it should have no problem enduring. Now, it’s just sulfurous. (3/11)

Disznókő Tokaji “Late Harvest” (Hungary) – Concentrated sweetness, copper, bronze, brass, molten candle wax, and amber. Some extremely concentrated apricot, as well, perhaps more as a honey flavoring than an actual fruit experience. Very clean, devoid of the style’s typical issues with volatility, and delicious. (3/11)

Ledaig 20 Year Scotch Whisky (Isle of Mull) – As broad a peat aroma as I’ve smelled in a Scotch. Not strong, just broad. Drinking this is to experience the sensation of consuming a Scottish woolen blanket. That, since it’s probably not clear, is a compliment. I really love this. (3/11)

Same post, many more photos: here.

09 March 2011

Om nahm nahm

nahm – Upscale Thai. I know this exists in the States, here and there, but I’ve never heard anyone get particularly passionate about it. The Thai that foodish ’merican people love, in its restaurant form, is downscale, or at least midscale. And there is, of course, the plethorama of goopy, Americanized Thai places with the four-color-curry pick-your-meat menus, at which everything after the coconut soup is more or less a disaster.

Not here, though. David Thompson’s beautiful boutique hotel restaurant is as classy as any joint, albeit with a bit more wood-toned warmth. (Caveat: the music is excruciating elevator world-jazz, but no one’s perfect.) As for the service, it’s efficient more than warm. Normally, I would prefer this, but part of the game this restaurant plays is that there’s no hand-holding…you’re expected to know, or to not know and guess, rather than be gently guided through a menu that will, for non-Thai-fanatics, be largely unfamiliar…and one can always feel somewhat at sea aboard the truly unfamiliar. In any case, if there’s a question of construction or detail, there’s always Thompson’s parenthetically exhaustive, obsessively pedantic, and fussily brilliant cookbook.

I’ve been warned off the tasting menu, which would be my usual choice at such an establishment, by my frequent-guest dining companion as it apparently over-relies on dessert…rarely the strength of an Asian menu. So we trade off a hand’s worth of choices (i.e. five), covering what feels like a pretty wide range of styles.

And wide-ranging is what we get. First, the crusty caramelized chicken hash (I don’t have a better way to familiarize it) on sliced fruit that serves as an amuse. Then, pigeon larp with thinly-sliced bitter melon, bracingly scudded and about as far outside Western flavor norms as anything I’ve ever eaten. It’s very difficult to eat, to be honest, and yet it’s so different that the intellectual exercise is enjoyable in its own right. (The post-larp burn, however, is a companion for the rest of the night and well into the next afternoon.) Squid with snow peas, each black with the former’s ink, is so much more delicate than what’s preceded it, and perfectly cooked to two entirely different textures. A pair of soups follow, one a rich oxtail broth that plays familiar Thai melodies in a very rich, almost French-reminiscent broth, the other a frankly brilliant gourd soup that dances a very appealing flavor tango between the familiar and the unusual. Finally, there’s a massaman duck curry rich with what I call “baking spices” in the West – this is as close to dessert as we’ll get – and a clarion combination of briefly-seared venison slices with chiles and other Thai aromatics that cleans everything up and ties off the bow with its precise, almost spare, yet intense flavors.

All that sounds good, right? Well, not so much in toto. There are, frankly, way too many flavors in this meal. It’s our fault, not the restaurant’s, but the churning confusion on the palate is very difficult to deal with; rather than the satisfaction of a frontier explored, I’m left with organoleptic disarray, bewildered and a little overwhelmed. Next time, whether or not I choose the tasting menu, I’ll ask for some help with focus and linearity.

The wine list is extensive, and appears to be pretty decent (given the sort of food we’re eating, I scan the rich and aromatic whites, make a quick choice, and ignore the rest), albeit quite expensive. What I choose is a cultish Antipodal wine that I never see in the States.

Dry River 2008 Gewürztraminer (Martinborough) – Sneaky. Starts off very shy, then gradually opens; the ideal temperature, at least from a “cold” opening, is somewhere a little higher-temp than might be ideal for most gewürztraminer. Is what appears to be a lowish alcohol vs. the gewürztraminer norm a factor? It might be. The aromatic range includes rambutan and some stone fruit, nut oils, and roses, but everything is nicely restrained…even delicate…in comparison to the weighty power of which the grape is capable. Off-dry, but just that; this is in no way overtly sticky. Finishes long and a little tingly, with the promise of minerality to come. As the gewürztraminers of Alsace get heavier and sweeter, this is a nice respite. (2/11)

Weinbach Eau-de-Vie Poire William (Alsace) – Extremely intense, round, and fulsome, as stylistically befits any beverage from this house. Ripe pear, salt, minerality, sweat (an oddly regular component of this particular spirit, across producers and appellations). So much going on that the heat, which is not inconsiderable, actually takes a step back. I like this a lot. (2/11)

07 March 2011

A narrow escape

The Narrow – Here on a Sunday, with a commanding window view of this fairly slick, newish-feeling (as much as a London neighborhood can be) stretch of the Thames, there’s only one thing to have. Sunday roast? Yes, please. The beef.

It’s Denham Vale cowflesh, and it’s really flavorful. As for the overall dish? Well, the thing is, I grew up eating beef (and pork) roasts approaching this quality pretty much every week in my chilly Norwegian-American home, so where for some culinary adventurers this sort of back-to-the-roots cuisine is somewhat of a novelty, for me it’s more akin to familial comfort that most of the locals are undoubtedly experiencing. It was for me, like it probably is for many here, the sort of meat-as-weekend-reward meal that was more special when it was unique, and is now less so in the deluge of carnivorism that makes up the modern Western diet. Though I can guarantee that my grandmother didn’t roast her potatoes in goose fat to an exquisite crunch, as they do here. The gravy’s problematic…a little too rich and reduced for the dish…the parsnips and Savoy cabbage nonentities, but between the potatoes and the mashed swede (that’s rutabaga for those who speak American English), there’s plenty of contrapuntal goodness on the plate, if one considers heavy, starchy things to be the proper counterbalance to sauced meat.

Lighthouse “Navigator” Doppelbock (British Columbia) – Dark, bitter, dark, spicy, dark, and dense. Very, very flavorful. And sorry, but I have to say it: this would be greatly improved with a little chill. The traditional ambient serving temperature does not suit this particular brew. (2/11)

Penderyn “Peated” Single Malt Whisky (Wales) – A mediocre whisky with a completely tacked-on layer of aromatic iodine. The oak is shockingly buttery, even beneath the peat. Not good. (2/11)

Crusting Pipe – An unexpected last-moment connection via social media (thank you, Mark Zuckerberg) leads us here to meet our French family, who have fallen in love with the city of London and on a whim have decided on a serendipitously simultaneous weekend getaway. There’s a somewhat worn but still interesting atmosphere inside despite the dubiously over-touristed Covent Garden location (though I don’t know about the forced entertainment in the courtyard), and a pretty dismal wine list, but I suppose one really isn’t here for the latter as much as the former. I enjoy myself despite what’s in my glass.

Mount Brown 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (Waipara) – Mineral-driven, which is to the good, with little tropicality and also no overt pyrazines. Unfortunately, lacking either and not having aught other than some rocks in their place, it’s wan. There could, and should, be more. I suppose I’d be kinder were this made from a less aggressive grape, but while I adore mineral qualities in my sauvignon blanc, it’s a grape that I think should bring some of its own expressiveness to the mix. Here, it doesn’t. (2/11)

Same post, more pictures: here.

06 March 2011

Rules are made to be broken

British Airways – Along with a typically horrid procession from English breakfast (I’d still like to know how they induce the “tomato” to become a fusion reactor) and some weird sort of pastry that I just can’t face, there’s a little stealth bubbly courtesy of the overbooked business class folks moved to the steerage seats in front of me and a charitable flight attendant, who sighs that she “knew this bottle was going to be trouble” while she pours me the rest and holds a finger to her lips. Their loss, and compensation, is my gain. Despite the frequently dismal food, I do like this airline.

Lanson Champagne Brut (Champagne) – Sprightly with deeper tones. Not complex. Just basic, direct, flavorful bubbly. (2/11)

Rules – The oldest restaurant in London, is it? The oldest restaurant back in Boston is a disaster at which no one should eat, with a reputation (earned or no) for serving inedible food followed by a complimentary dessert of food poisoning. So the fact that this establishment is not only overloaded with character, but actually good, is rather shocking.

Dining late – right off the plane – is a disadvantage in that they’re out of quite a few things. Once the preemptive menu deletions have been dealt with, there’s also a missing oyster among the three we order. Between the duo that remain, the Brownsea Island Dorset Rocks, globular and intense, are so much more interesting than the dull and slightly bitter Wild Cumbrae Rocks oysters.

A rich, rich, rich Cornish shellfish soup follows, thick with ground-shell texture (this is increasingly apparent as one reaches the bottom of the bowl, where the broth is quite frankly crunchy, though I wouldn’t wish to sacrifice the flavor just because I’m afraid of a little chitin) and made even headier by the addition of apple brandy. Then: fillets of red deer with chanterelles and a trio of roasted beets. This is delicious food, but it’s extraordinarily heavy. It does, however, help prove modern English chefs’ argument that the “problem” with English food was never that the cuisine itself was bad, only that the cooking was atrocious.

In lieu of dessert, I choose herring roe on toast. This has to be something a Norwegian would like, doesn’t it? Ah…but this, too, is absent from stockage. After some whispered discussion between our waiter and his manager, we’re offered a compensatory plate of British cheeses, with what must be at least a cup of a delicious, creamy Stilton. The rest – a cheddar, a goat, a double-cream – are mostly forgettable, but the Stilton is terrific, especially countered with quince paste and an intriguing chutney-like condiment.

Service is attentive without fawning, and the décor can hardly be surpassed for mood-setting. The walls are filled with portraits and line-drawings of people that, by their pose and their visage, must have been important in their time, or at least considered themselves so. Now? They’re just art on a wall, forever gazing across the room at someone else who has suffered their lost-to-history plight. Thankfully, the food below has not fallen victim to amberization, and though it remains extremely rooted in the past, it’s full of life. This is a pretty fabulous experience, with an omnipresent sense of eating history that’s more enveloping than it is overwhelming. I kinda love this place.

Pierre Usseglio 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Aging in a clingy, somewhat sloppy fashion, not bringing much of tertiary interest to replace a fading fruit goopfest. It’s good, but it’s decidedly not very good. Dark berries, soil, black pepper, and simplicity from start to finish. On the positive side of “eh,” but still “eh.” (2/11)

Glendronach 33 Year Scotch (Speyside) – Cream, pepper, spice, old-growth forest. An electric zap of front fades, then re-emerges to a low-level fuzz on the finish. Quite compelling. (2/11)

Same post, more pictures: here.