Saturday, March 20, 2010

it's a RISk

We went to the bar at RIS last night for happy hour and to sample the menu. Our bartender told us he was new, which unfortunately was a harbinger of the rest of the evening. While he did fine when it was just me and Gennaro at the bar, as it got busier and our other dining companions joined us, he forgot to fire orders and couldn't keep up with the pace of things; we waited far too long (at least forty-five minutes, although thanks to good company, I didn't feel pressed to check my watch) for entrees after an appetizer, and probably a good thirty minutes for the bar food, which we ordered when we were essentially the only people there, around 5:30 p.m.

Sietsema's review mentioned generous portions, but I have to wonder if there's been a readjustment based on that comment. The Pan Roasted Rockfish with grapefruit brûlé, sunchokes, spinach and citrus glaze ($25) had completely crispy skin and flaky flesh, a textbook preparation, but it was a very small portion, the accoutrements almost nonexistent. Sardines lightly breaded and pan fried with pine nuts, sweet onions, verjus and golden raisins ($13) were likewise excellent -- phenomenal flavor and just the right application of the Mediterranean pine nut-raisin topping -- but the plural "s" is something of a misnomer. One single lonely sardine ... Well, to be fair, at any other restaurant in the area, I don't think I'd find it that odd, but my expectations of a greater food-to-price ratio had been raised by the review. (I should note that we didn't order the crudos, which is the dish he calls out specifically as being a large portion relative to others in the city.)

Then again, saying the restaurant has a "heavy hand" with the plating isn't necessarily wrong (whether it's good or bad remains to be seen). We asked the kitchen to do a half-portion of the Mushroom Pappardelle with butternut squash, roasted chestnuts, Brussels sprouts and Parmesean (sic) ($18), and if that was truly a half-portion, then I recommend getting the full plate only if you are famished or running a marathon the next day. The components were individually lovely, and the elements of nuttiness in the mushroom noodles and the chestnuts played off the squash well, but it didn't entirely tie together -- although in this case I'm inclined to think that's because, due to the timing issues, it came out a bit cold; at the right temperature, I think this had the potential to be a very good dish.

My favorite dish was probably the Bar Tart of caramelized endive, walnuts, blue cheese, and grapes ($6.30), topped with lightly dressed greens, all on a flaky round of puff pastry. I know I've seen peoplerail against this combination before, but in this presentation (instead of as a plated salad) it was really fantastic, the cheese just melted enough to unify the sweet-salty-creamy-peppery elements. In the future, I would go back and get this and a glass of wine during the "Rush Hour" happy hour -- the place is less than three blocks from my office -- and leave happy after that.

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