One evening at Honey's, in the Fulton Market district, chef Charles Welch appeared at my table to drop off the mains: a spit-roasted pork chop and half rotisserie chicken. After the former Sepia executive sous chef ran down the dishes' respective attributes, he bid us good eating, and then spun around into a support post with a startled "Whoa!" It was a harmless spot of slapstick that rendered the genial chef all the more genial.
But it was also emblematic of the sometimes bumbled executions of fussily plated dishes I encountered during my visits to the restaurant, which inhabits a former machine shop on a decreasingly industrial stretch of Lake Street.
Brining meat as a seasoning technique as well as a safeguard against overcooking is smart in the context of a busy commercial kitchen. But if the beasts spend too much time in the pool, everything ends up with a generic Acme Meat texture. I couldn't differentiate between the perfectly cooked pork chop and the overcooked chicken. Despite accompanying artful arrangements of white beans and escarole, and ratatouille and thick green-olive jus, respectively, both seemed like the ham versions of themselves.
With a name that makes it sound like barbecue or fried chicken is on the menu, Honey's is instead trafficking in what's described as Mediterranean-inspired food. It's food that's assembled elaborately, painterly, with precise strokes of delicate, if overmanipulated garnish and glistening patches of sauce. It's food that in some ways reminds me of the gorgeous platings of Curtis Duffy at Grace. It's expensive food that looks pretty but too often fails to resonate beyond the table.
While Welch's compositional skill is easier to appreciate in the airy sky-lit environs of the front bar, it can be more difficult to perceive in the darker interior dining room, where small, sweet seared bay scallops disappear in a viscous approximation of white gazpacho—traditionally a bread- and almond-based slurry garnished with grapes, here bedecked with grilled peaches, compressed cubist apple excisions, and tart baby sorrel leaves. A $17 lamb tartare doesn't appear (or taste) raw at all but is somehow seared gray and devoid of any lamb fat or funk that might make it interesting.
Many components of the dishes at Honey's take a spin on the kitchen's rotisserie, which gives them an appealing flame-kissed character seemingly at odds with the complex platings. But that's not an issue with a simple grilled romaine Caesar tossed with pickled shallots, though the smoked giardiniera with the spit-roasted cauliflower threatens to overwhelm an otherwise lovely vegetable plate.
Concision takes charge at the center of the menu with a pair of pastas and two raw shellfish offerings, the latter's condition obscured by a surfeit of garnish: bloody Mary mignonette, celery leaf, and horseradish camouflaging a tiny littleneck clam, while cucumbers, melon, basil, apple vinegar, and crushed macadamias completely overwhelm the oyster selection. The pastas, on the other hand, are the most promising offerings on the menu. A perfectly spooled coil of buckwheat chitarra is draped with morels that nonetheless get bullied by an excess of thyme butter and crunchy bread crumbs that interfere with the delicate texture of the pasta. Meanwhile squid ink "orecchiette" bear no resemblance to the ear-shaped southern Italian pasta, but rather to stubby, ridged cavatelli. It's a head-scratching misnomer for an otherwise tasty bowl tossed with calamari, shrimp, octopus, pesto, mint, and pine nuts.
Among the entrees, sea creatures fare a bit better than those from land. A rainbow trout fillet cooked in a sarcophagus of salt and ash remains flaky and moist, flanked by piles of roasted corn succotash, while swordfish steeped in the Middle Eastern marinade chermoula, arranged with panzanella, shaved radishes and squash, and charred tomato vinaigrette, comes across as one of the most vibrant-tasting dishes on the menu.
Desserts by pastry chef Alison Cates (another Sepia vet) are a bit more memorable than the savory side of the menu, especially a baked Alaska swirled with raspberry puree mounted on olive oil cake and a shredded, mildly curried cake with coffee mousse, goat-milk ice cream, and the nutty Egyptian spice mix dukkah.
Beverages span the usual range of bespoke cocktails, microbrews, and a largely old-world wine list with a few bottles under $50.
With servers in white jackets and Vans running plates, Honey's seems to be striving for a binary attitude of irreverence and stiff formality. The food, though, seems firmly rooted in the latter. v