We ducked into Bacchanal, a new restaurant that opened in late May that quickly became known for serving tantalizing small plates with influences from Italy, France, and Spain. We started things off the right way - with a superbly made cocktail. It was a particularly humid July afternoon, and this Old Fashioned was the antidote.
The decor was a perfect blend of tufted leather banquettes, wood columns, and iron.
After the sommelier selected a nice Beaujolais for us, we began ordering a few things.
We were all fans of octopus and were not disappointed by this rendition. Although I have not tried Jiro's octopus (known for being massaged for 40 minutes) ,Chef Scott Bryan's version was one of the softest and most flavorful I've had the pleasure of trying, with notes of paprika bursting through.
The Hamachi Crudo, served with avocado, chili, chive, and hearts of palm was a refreshing appetizer but since it only came with a few pieces, we doubled down.
Unfortunately, they ran out of brandade fritters, the one appetizer I was most curious about, but the ample amount of perfectly cooked Gulf Shrimp more than made up for it. The chorizo oil gave each mouthful a slow burn while a mound of white beans remained on standby, ready to extinguish.
The best dish of the night, however, wasn't even on the menu. My colleague Gavin recalled an asparagus dish he had a few weeks back that came with the juiciest mushrooms topped with the most addictive mushroom fondue cream sauce. Luckily they were still serving it and the sauce was money. If parents poured it on steamed broccoli, kids would eat it, no question.
Our fifth appetizer consisted of crisp sweet breads, seasoned beautifully with an intense sweet and sour reduction. The cippollini onions were cooked down until they melted on the tongue. My only regret was not having bread to sop up that sauce.
After sampling most of the appetizers, we massaged our stomachs to make room for the entrees. The Grilled Skirt Steak retained its juices and the black bean chipotle tinga and spiced avocado gave off the perfect amount of heat. Both Gavin and Xavier ordered this entree and were silenced after the first bite for about five minutes. Eyes were rolling back. Truth.
Peter ordered the juicy Roasted Farm Chicken and I loved how it went so well with the creamy mascarpone polenta and soft carrots. Again, the sauce was excellent and "made" the dish. I believe it was madeira-based with some minced tarragon.
With everyone ordering meat, I decided to get fish. The Scottish Salmon was cooked perfectly; crispy skin and velvety soft flesh that broke apart easily. Loved the texture of the pea shoots, the bright ginger soy vinaigrette that cut through the fishy essence, and the earthy chanterelles with sesame seeds that helped round out the dish.
Our first stomachs were full after five apps and four entrees. But our second stomachs ached for dessert. The vanilla panna cotta in a passionfruit soup eased us into our second round of gluttony. Creamy texture paired with an acidic and almost floral soup. Perfect summer dessert.
The Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake with cocoa nibs was heavier and sinfully decadent like your typical chocolate cake. The side of vanilla ice cream was a welcome addition to balance out the sweetness.
The last thing we stuffed down our gullets was our least favorite dessert, the Peach Tarte Tatin with créme frâiche ice cream and caramel. The peaches could have been cooked down to a softer texture and the pastry wasn't as warm and flaky as I had hoped.
On my way to wash my hands of the sticky caramel, I glanced to my right and spotted Ruth Reichl, a former NYT food critic. Two years ago, I had read her book, "Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise" which detailed her hilarious escapades while dining undercover at the city's top restaurants. A fan of her writing style and her blog, I walked downstairs to the bathroom in a daze. "Was it really her or was I hallucinating from the old-fashioned?"
As I washed my hands with Aesop lavender soap, I steeled myself. It was time to march upstairs and look again for confirmation since the dining room was dark. As I approached the table, Ruth's dining companion looked up from her phone and politely smiled.
"Can we get another menu?"
Bolstered by liquid courage, I went to retrieve a menu from the hostess stand and delivered it to the table without missing a beat.
"Thank you so much," she said, thinking I was a server.
"My pleasure," I mumbled as I stood there. Two seconds (which felt like 2 minutes) passed as my hands fidgeted. I must have seemed like a creeper when I blurted out my request.
"So um, I actually don't work here but I just wanted to say..."
I turned to Ruth.
"...that I'm a big fan of yours and I love your blog and I love your writeup of Bestia and I love your blog." I stammered, my voice growing with excitement.
Ruth unleashed a megawatt smile and said, "How sweet, let me introduce you to my dear friend here. Her name is Kate Krader, the Restaurant Editor of Food & Wine magazine."
My mouth may have been awkwardly agape when Kate kindly gave me her card and thanked me again for bringing her a spare menu.
On my way out, we snapped a quick photo capturing Ruth's hearty laugh, my large Asian eyes, and Kate's "who the hell is this guy" smile.
Awesome night all around.
Get: Everything was on point but if I could only pick 2 appetizers and 2 entrees to share family style, I'd recommend the sweetbreads and the gulf shrimp for apps and then the steak and salmon for entrees.
Sauce is the main star: In many restaurants where I have been to, the sauce was always the supporting actor to the protein, merely an accompaniment whose absence wouldn't be missed. Bacchanal is the first place in a very long time that made me sit up and pay attention to the sauce as an equal to the protein, and in some dishes, it was the main star (mushroom fondue sauce on top of the asparagus). The concentrated sweet and slightly sour sauce with the sweetbreads was a runner up that also made us talk about it more so than the actual sweetbreads (which were amazingly prepared in their own right). Look, I'm just trying to say that it's not often where you want to lick the plate clean.....for every dish. Makes the dishwasher's job that much easier, I suppose.
Cocktails: Known for its vast selection of alcohol, you'd be remiss if you didn't have a drink or two. Try the Old-Fashioned!
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