Friday, April 23, 2010

didn't siroc my world

Last night was a lovely night to sit outside anywhere in Washington. I had thought it might get a bit chilly, but surprisingly, the patio at Siroc (which lacks heaters, as far as I noticed) remained pleasant after the sun went down. Dinner itself, however, was less so.

My friend and I wanted to taste several dishes from the menu, and as noted upthread, Siroc happily does half-portions of pasta, which meant we could do two appetizers and two pastas. For our first course, we had the
Cappelacci filled with Lobster and Roasted Corn with a Sweet Pepper Beurre Blanc and Baby Cilantro and an off-menu special of Soft-Shell Crabwith Crispy Pork Belly and Baby Bok Choi. The latter was absolutely the dish of the night: a big, meaty soft-shell, prepared expertly, with crispy pieces of pork and tender greens, all tied together with just enough of a balsamic-reduction drizzle (which is an ingredient that likely belongs on the trite food list if not already there, but did work in this dish, adding a bit of tang and cutting the richness of the fried crab).

Sadly, the pasta did not work as well. This dish was basically another riff on lobster and butter, but although many dishes succeed with only those two elements, this dish completely failed to pull it off. There was an odd sour-citrus note (from the sweet pepper?) and a bit of a chili oil (hot pepper as a balancing element? I don't know, it was just confusing) that didn't integrate; if there was corn present, it surely wasn't roasted, because none of that flavor came through. The lobster itself was compressed into dense balls at the center of the cappelacci, and so lacking in any forthright lobster flavor that it seems safe to assume it had been frozen. This was likely also the case with the crabmeat in the crabcake amuse over a spot of mango puree, although the mere presence of an amuse was a pleasant surprise, and highlights the very good service we had throughout.

For our second courses, we had another half-portion of pasta, this time the
Hand-made Potato Gnocchi with a Ragu of Muscovy Duck with Caramelized Carrots and Parsnips. For a dish with so many elements that should have exploded with flavor, we wound up instead with a bowl of dumplings under-topped with a sauce at once overly herbaceous and bland. This would have benefited from a brief encounter with a salt-shaker, which might have allowed the flavors of the duck and the root vegetables to emerge and lend some life to the dish; instead, this was just sad. We also had the Quail Marinated in Pomegranate with Fingerling Potatoes baked with Goat Cheese Curd, Green Olives and Crushed Tomatoes, which did at least have flavor; unfortunately, many of them just didn't belong together! One of the odd men out here was the cheese; luckily, to some degree, there was very little of it (I think we each had one small bite that included it). I don't recall actually seeing any olives, and the fingerlings were sad and limp, although properly seasoned. I think I got the one fairly meaty bite of the bird, the skin of which had been lacquered to a sticky-sweet shine by the marinade.

It's disappointing when a meal that seems promising falls this far short of the mark, especially when there are little elements that shine. The plates evinced plenty of good technique: the vegetables in the ragu had been chopped into perfect, tiny dice; the crab was fried with neither too light nor too heavy a hand. Service was unobtrusive and spot-on throughout the night, as well; when we realized that our chosen orders of the Nero d'Avola and Soave wouldn't be exactly right with our first course dishes (particularly the Nero), we added a glass of the Chardonnay, which managed to appear before the appetizer after all, allowing us to pair it with the pasta dish.

I hadn't been to Siroc before and very much wanted to like it, and if invited back I would get the soft-shell crab again in a hot minute and have not a single qualm. But for a small, independent restaurant to fight off the corporate behemoth, it has to be far more consistent -- after all, even this short-ish thread yields a sense that the highs are high and the lows are definitely low -- and send out dishes that don't wind up less than the sum of their parts.

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