Friday, August 21, 2009

Spring Hill sends out a let-down

Restaurant Name: Spring Hill
Restaurant Location: 4437 California Avenue SW, West Seattle, WA

Well, I have been hearing about Spring Hill from my friends and family in Seattle (see other reviews on this site, in fact) for about two years now. The effusive use of enthusiastic adjectives in their descriptions of the food have long made me sad that I haven't had the opportunity to visit the restaurant. Then, in a recent issue of Food and Wine, Spring Hill was written up as having one of the best new chefs of 2009.

And, finally, this week, I got a chance to eat there. In all fairness, my expectations were high.

I was dining with two other bloggers on this site (Steve and Cindy), both of whom had eaten at--and loved--Spring Hill on many previous occasions.

Dear reader: I am sorry to report this, but the evening we dined at Spring Hill was a lazy night in their kitchen....a disappointment to be sure.

We all started our dinner with some small plates: a Kampachi tartare with salmon roe, a Duck Egg yoke Raviolo, and a serving of Bread and Butter (which, yes, you have to pay for here). Each of these, while tasty, had off-elements. The Kampachi tartare was beautiful, but the chef had missed patches of skin on the underside--a jarring visual and textural element. With the duck egg raviolo, the egg is supposed to be poached and runny but was, unfortunately, set by the time it arrived at the table (despite a specific request for a very runny egg). And the bread was, I am sorry to say it, tough and dry (though the butter was delicious).

A little daunted, we headed into the entrees. I ordered the half Dungeness crab with warm butter and lemon (which was messy as hell, but tasted good, if dull) and Cindy and Steve both ordered the burger.

The Spring Hill burger is $17, so certain expectations are present. It should, for example, be cooked to the ordered temperature. It should be something special, not just another burger. But, it was just another burger and in both cases, overcooked. More disappointment.

I hope very much that this was just an unfortunate off-night at the restaurant rather than a more dire problem (e.g. the place is resting on its laurels, the chef is bored, the staff poorly trained). Given the rave reviews this place has garnered, I'd even be willing to give it another try and hope for better. But, be warned, Spring Hill is teetering.

Spring Hill on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 14, 2009

Seasonal: A German-Austrian Idyll

Restaurant Name: Seasonal
Restaurant Location: 132 W. 58th Street, New York

Seasonal is a newish (open less than 1 year) German-Austrian restaurant. A friend of ours, who just so happens to be German, recommended the place to us, and so on a steamy summer evening we braved the heat with he and his wife to check it out. The restaurant is a small spare space (long and narrow, lots of white), that invites long, delightful meals on its comfy leather chairs or a slow drink at the curving bar.

We were happy to give in to the flow and enjoyed one of the better meals we've had in quite awhile.

To start, our of our party tried the Tomaten-Topfen, a delicate summer salad of Heirloom Tomatoes, Homemade Topfen (a cheese quite similar in taste and texture to fresh mozzarella) and micro basil. Another choice appetizer was the Jakobsmucheln, an arrangement of plump Diver Boat sea scallops perched proudly atop a tangle of red beet tagliatelle (ingenious) served with Maitake mushrooms and fresh horseradish. This dish was as bold as the tomato salad was demure, and both were outstanding in terms of flavor, freshness, and beauty.

For my starter, I ordered the Ziegenkase Salat, a beautiful salad of baby greens dressed with a shallot elderflower dressing, and nestled atop a pumpkin seed crusted round of fresh goat cheese and sweet, salt-baked baby beets. It was summer on a plate and impressive (as were all dishes at Seasonal) in its marriage of disparate flavors into one harmonious dish.

My husband chose a heavier first course, opting for the almost obscenely good Schweinebauch, a dish of pork belly confit (crisp, creamy, and decadent) with braised onion served in a light, flavorful Riesling caraway jus. He had to fend the rest of us off in order to finish.

Though all of these dishes were heavy on flavor (in all cases resulting from a combination of many elements perfectly merged) and richness, the portions were reasonable. I've been to so many restaurants that offer appetizers that -- rather than actually stimulating your appetite and making you eagerly anticipate the next course -- stuff you so full you can't contemplate your entree with anything but dread. Seasonal does an excellent job of portioning correctly so that you can enjoy every last bite of your food.

After a lovely interlude of wine (a lovely Gruner Vetliner) and good conversation, our entrees arrived.

Two of our party chose the Tafelspitz. A gorgeous take on a traditional dish, the Tafelspitz was a perfect cut of Flat Iron steak that had been long poached to perfection and served in an oxtail consommé (yes, it was rich and delicious beyond belief). The dish was served with an impressive assortment of sides and garnishes, including two crisp little potato pancakes, an apple horseradish sauce, a chive sauce, and a side of creamed spinach (the latter being everyone's least favorite item).

I was served the Heilbutt, a beautiful pan-seared halibut (they rolled the fish so that it was artfully presented as a long cylinder) perched atop a bed of roasted onions, sauteed romaine (which sounded awful but was both appetizing in appearance and taste - almost like shredded, sauted Brussel sprouts), and tiny Chanterelle mushrooms. This presentation was lightly sauced with a rich, yet still delicate, bacon-mustard cream sauce. I ate it all.

Though we were extremely full at this point, we couldn't resist ordering one dessert to share around the table. Our choice: the Topfennockerl, a lightly sweet, airy Quark mousse served in quenelles that had been rolled in a fine nut crust. The plate was sauced with a raspberry-Champagne cream sauce and the whole dish was garnished with a fruit compote. This dessert struck all the same notes as the appetizers and entrees: a light, summery feel that was still rich and displayed an impressive complexity of flavors -- not to mention beautiful presentation all around.

I look forward to returning to Seasonal at the first opportunity.

Bon Appetit!

Seasonal on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sheep Station: My New Neighborhood Favorite

Restaurant Name: Sheep Station
Restaurant Location: 149 4th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn

It's been some time since I've walked into a new restaurant and wanted to order literally every item on the menu. So, discovering Sheep Station, an Australian pub in my neighborhood, was a refreshing change of pace.

Part bar and part purveyor of quality comfort food, Sheep Station is billed as a casual, welcoming Australian kitchen and bar. And it is, indeed, all of these things.

Occupying much more space than it initially appears, Sheep Station has its bar front-and-center, with a narrow row of charmingly rickety tables along the opposite wall. The two times I've been in here, most people seem to have congregated at the bar in a merry, noisy slouch of food and drink. Don't head here anticipating a quiet, romantic dinner -- the place is noisy.

They have an extensive list of draft beers as well as a respectable wine list (so both wine and beer drinkers will be content - not always an easy marriage). It appears that there is a larger room in the back, perhaps for private events (I've always eaten at Sheep Station fairly early or on a week-night and there's still been ample seating in the front).

So, on to what you really want to know: Sheep Station makes good grub. Imagine lots of meat--ranging from perfectly grilled lamb chops to a juicy burger adorned with pineapple and an egg (and written up recently in Saveur Magazine)--cooked just right (meaning: actually as you request) and served with thoughtful sides. Imagine tasty wine-poached mussels with a side of very well-executed frites. Imagine poutine that is neither too heavy nor too dainty. Imagine a series of great sandwiches, including a "chook" (chicken) sandwich with plenty of tender breast meat tossed with a curry aoili and guacamole and pillowed between two halves of a big, fluffy kaiser roll.

Now imagine that you could eat all this lovely food--along with a drink--in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere for about $20 bucks a person (most sandwiches and entrees range from about $10-15, with the lamb chops being the big splurge at $19 (well worth it).

I have to say, I'm glad I've discovered Sheep Station -- it's extremely rare in Park Slope to be treated to a restaurant that is of high quality AND has reasonable prices.

Bon Appetit!

Sheep Station on Urbanspoon