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Last week Martha Bayne and I reprised an early 2006 visit to Schwa. Since its reopening the day before Valentine's Day, we'd been trying to land a reservation for a mid-March, midweek seating, but had some difficulty. First she couldn't get a call back, and then the answering machine was full. When I got through I didn't have a dummy credit card handy to secure the date, and when I called back the machine said they were booked until early April. When I finally reached a human on the phone again--Chef Michael Carlson himself--it turned out we got the exact date and time we wanted originally. Persistence pays.
While Bayne is taking on the critical duties and weighing in next week, I'm just going say the whole interactive experience at Schwa is enriched by a modicum of curiosity. Carlson and his reinforced kitchen crew all serve the dining room, and each seems more than willing to talk about the backstory, creation, and technique of any given dish. It's a necessarily hurried perspective--they have work to do, and on our night the room was less than half full--but it's a willing one, and certainly more enlightening, colorful, and honest than anything you'd hear from a server.
Strangely, though, we got the idea that they don't get many questions from diners. One chef asked if we were in "the industry," simply because we were asking about the dishes that came to the table ("No, we're just nerds."). Most people just eat, he indicated. But when someone offers you a plate and says "Dude, here's a shot of gelatin-clarified rutabaga juice," how can you not be curious?
For me, what's most fun about Carlson and his restaurant is not eating in the glare of his colorful (and unwanted, it seems) press--the catapult to national prominence, the mysterious disappearance, the redemptive comeback--it's the opportunity to experience such furious creativity through the unfiltered, unpretentious perspective of the people responsible for it.
Or more simply, as Carlson replied, when we complimented his soon-to-be-famous sous vide antelope, "It's cool. It's tasty."