Next week in Omnivorous, I'll review Avenues, post Graham Elliot Bowles, now under Curtis Duffy, former chef de cuisine at Alinea, a Trio vet, and (like Chef GEB) Trotter's alum. Given my space limitations, writing about this one presents an extra challenge, because each course is announced with a long list of elements, in contrast to the standard terse, generalized menu descriptions. Is anyone else tired of that overused menu-design conceit? I'm usually forced to ask servers to repeat these inventories two, sometimes three times, which isn't fun for anyone. But, oh yeah, I'm working.
I digress. Unless it's a distraction or a particular marvel, restaurant design is pretty low on my list of things to talk about. But at Avenues--and I'm hardly the first person to whine about this-- the starchy, institutional atmosphere really is a distraction. Between that and the well-intentioned but oppressive attentions of our server, the runners, the hostess, and the wine steward in the relatively empty room last Wednesday, I might sound like I'm building up to a pan. Well, forget about it--four of us had an exhausting, challenging, but marvelous three-and-a-half-hour meal.
Here are some notes on a few great courses:
Wild Oregon morel risotto: Our fourth course, a swirl of red wine and elephant garlic "froth" around a mound of Acquerello carnaroli rice. It had a nutty, earthy texture, almost like a savory hot cereal, and was a nice demonstration of how foams (our server was careful not to use that word) can go beyond gimmickry and really integrate with a dish.
Pan-roasted spring chicken breast with a bit of thigh confit: This came with a crackly chip of skin I had to protect from one of my dining partners. The dish was plated with a nifty ball of saffron panna cotta, but the best thing about it was a tiny bite of bulgur that absorbed the bird's juices. In the midst of this kind of razzle-dazzle sometimes the most shockingly delicious things are the simplest.
You'll hear more about the Wagyu course later (what you see in the photo is its African blue basil accent). We were told the beef was rolled in sea salt and grilled over superhot binchotan, Japanese lump charcoal.
Two desserts: The first a rectangular construct of passion fruit, white chocolate, and lemongrass with little carrot-cake puddings and wide shavings of gingered carrot strewn across the plate. These had the texture of gravlax, and were memorably discombobulating. Then there was a frozen malt cylinder that, when broken open, spilled Chambord over chunks of dense "compressed" chocolate cake. Both were terrific, and I'm glad I didn't have to choose between the two.