Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Restaurant Saul

What can I say about Saul Bolton? The bloke's got it licked.

I'd heard that his restaurant on Smith Street's restaurant row had become a neighbourhood favourite and a few local residents had patronised it at least 4o times. Well that's pretty good PR I'd say. Looking for some goodly portions of delicious food on the Friday before Labor Day, the missus and I thought we'd get off the F train a couple of stops early and see what all the fuss is about. When I discovered that he's trained with some of NYC's greatest (David Bouley at Bouley, Eric Ripert at Le Bernadin) I got a little giddy with excitement. Generating faultless and grand dishes with those boys is bound to have an effect, and I'm glad to say Mr. Bolton had absorbed a lot of their technique and he didn't disappoint.

The surroundings are austere with plainly laid tables, no artwork on the walls, no frills, no fuss. I kind of like that, because a restaurant's decor can sometimes divert one's attention away from the plate and we were here to eat, not sit around in a plush room. We were primed and ready to scan the menu. There were some very tempting appetizer dishes on there too, including a foie gras with rhubarb, a duck confit with grits, sushi-grade hamachi. I opted for the seafood chowder, and the wife went straight for a warm Summer salad of an unknown-to-us grain 'frikh', HOTW mushrooms, fava beans, peas and a poached egg. We ordered and we were immediately given something to think about. Two small dishes were whipped out of the kitchen and onto our table, each with about a cup of intensely green liquid at the bottom. Our waiter said it was cucumber, mint and dill soup, (I believe). And that's exactly what it tasted like. It was chilled, refreshing and so far so good. Onto the starters! My shellfish chowder was a slick concoction of haddock, scallops and smoke lardons, all huddled together and keeping warm in a delicious broth, rich with butter and speckled with finely cut chives. The wife had a twinkle in her eye when her salad showed up, I must say it looked delicious. I couldn't resist the temptation to reach across and steal a mouthful. It had a great texture with some garlic 'chips' in there combining with the peas and barely-cooked egg.

The best was yet to come. The entrees were just as tempting as the appetizers (or entrees???) and I wanted to eat them all: Wild salmon, snapper and bass, steak, squab and rabbit tenderloin. I had spied a rabbit 'en crepinette' on their website's sample menu and I was hoping that was on, but in it's absence I plumped for squab. It turned out to be 'squab of the century'. I just don't know how he cooked the breasts so perfectly but was able to get some very decent colour and crunchiness to the skin. It was the legs that really got me all hot and bothered. They were embellished with a deep brown colour and crackly skin suggesting a very hot roast, and yet the meat beneath that crisp toothsome outer was soft and moistly yielding. I smacked my lips in delight at the gaminess (I must find out where he gets his pigeon) and hastily flagged down the waiter as one might flag down a speeding yellow cab when you're busting for a slash and need to get home, sharpish. "Tell me a secret my friend, how the hell do these legs remain so moist when they're so crispy on the outside?" Within seconds my man was gone, sporting a cheeky grin, and returned with my answer shortly after. "He makes a confit of pigeon leg first, then crisps them up under the grill." Well, of course he does! I was amazed by my own stupidity. The number of times I've reheated D'Artagnan duck confit under a hot grill, with the same results, and I still couldn't work it out. Perhaps the properties of Saul's excellent cellar was starting to have an effect. I was drinking a summery Rose rather too quickly.

Feeling rosy cheeked and full of well being, I was presented with the dessert menu which looked delicious too. I couldn't tell you exactly what was on it, but I do know we ended up with an astonishingly good lemon tart and a really stinky wedge of Valdeon, which we disposed of aided by two sturdy glasses of aged port. You can't have blue cheese without it, right? We were given garlic bread with the Valdeon, which disappointed. I'd have much rather had a club cracker or a nice Digestive biscuit, but it was a finely aged cheese and there was no mistaking it.

We weren’t hurried out or made to feel that we had to do one to make way for the next wave (we could see people were starting to form a line outside) and we were grateful for that. Cradling my new food baby in my arms, I managed to get up out of the chair, slip our excellent waiter a few bob and staggered into the cool night air for a smoke.

I can't wait to go back, not for the decor, not for the desserts but to sample each and every one of Saul's savoury offerings. I think the bloke's got real talent.

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