"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Friday, April 29, 2011

What Happens When – April 27, 2011

We, humans, are ultimately creatures of ennui. I wonder if cockroaches ever despair of their mundane life of scuttling around and being smashed under slippers – well, I suppose it is rather thrilling to be running for your life all the time; hence, the Hollywood doomsday movies. Prozac, Zoloft, instead of introducing any more chemicals, an organic carefree and bohemian stint to sow the oats may be the antidote for a middle-age crisis. Having a limited life span, is not necessarily limiting, but can be quite liberating, as it forces one to live more fully and creatively (and here, there is the safety net in the form of Dovetail).

Amuse Bouche

Gelee; omelet; gazpacho
The light and creamy green onion gazpacho breathed spring onto my table; yet a sinking saltiness immediately betrayed – just like the fickle New York weather. The diminutive cube of chard omelet had a red pickled stalk, which elevated it from a plebian kitchen counter item. The spoonful of lemon balm gelée was sufficiently irksome in taste and texture - further aggravated by the few salt crystals - to have neutralized any calming properties the herb might have.

Garlic knots

The hot rolls were admirably chewy and sweet, which implied homemade dough. The melted shreds of parmesan and oil were, however, a little too slick for a light spring day.

Rabbit in Filo – Yogurt, dates, fresh garbanzo beans

The lean, poor Easter Bunny was presented in two ways - Rolled-up leg and shredded breast in pastry – and there was little that the thick yogurt and sweet dates could do to the haplessly dry meat. The roll of leg - with the skin on to add flavor - was over-salted, while the shredded meat was flavorless. The filo dough was crispy on the top but lukewarm and papery for the rest.

Vegetable Bouillabaisse

A truly impressionistic rendition, the head note of the soup was its acidity. Then, the sweetness of the pureed vegetables, aided by a subtle spiciness, started to seep through to the palate. Finally, the third note was the delicately garlicy ramp. Each vegetable was cooked proficiently: The fiddlehead ferns crunchy and bitter; the potatoes starchy and pillowy; green peppers paper-thin and refreshing; the red peppers tender and sweet; and the tomatoes perfectly concassé for a change. However, the star of the vegetables was the fennel, cut into thick wedges, which perfumed the bouillabaisse with its herbal and grassy aroma and provided meaty bites to the soup. The accompanying crispy croutons were drenched in oil, but the rouille added velvetiness to the spring song of soup.
Almond Cake – Whipped Cream and crumbled Florentine

I have yet to understand the allure of olive oil cake, and even more so, of having such a dense and starchy cake as a dessert. Hungry still after a full course, are you? Even dressed with vanilla-bean speckled whipped cream – losing its head, by the way, for sitting out in a warm April evening – and brittle Florentine, The almond cake’s drabness cannot be disguised. It would have been better off with a hefty scoop of ricotta and tangy marmalade as a breakfast.

Milk Chocolate Tart

The wondrously liquid milk chocolate – the consistency of a hardening chocolate fondue – was daintily encased in an exquisitely thin cacao shell. The rich milk chocolate was intensely sweet but not childishly saccharine like a Hershey’s bar, and smartened up by the barely sugared crust. The case should have rested here; instead, a few broken pieces of meringue were dropped, almost accidentally, on the tart. If it were done on purpose to provide textural contrast, it should have been properly crumbled and more evenly distributed. Sometimes withdrawing and refraining require even more skills than addition.

Sour Cream Tart
Sour cream, sitting out in the warm room, was as attractive a woman pasted with a full make-up under the Florida sun: the cream was runny and greasy, and incredibly inelegant. Take a jar of sour cream, mix in the sugar, and dump it on some crumbled graham cracker; then leave it under the library lamp for one hour. Voila, you have the sour cream tart. The key to cream is temperature control, which at What Happens When seems to have been sacrificed in the name of wagon service. Yes, I do reminisce the good old days when wagon service was the norm (which eerily coincided with the quite demise of dim sum carts); however, in the good old days, there was no such horror as a sour cream tart.

Macaron with homemade grape jelly

Obviously, everyone had to get into the macaron scene. What Happens When’s version was so unpleasantly powdery and floury that it could not have been made with almonds. The mysterious dark red paste was equally disagreeable, which I was informed, to be homemade grape jelly. “Ah,” the table sighed in unison: We were just talking about how tasteless grapes in New York could be.

What Happens When
Address: 25 Cleveland Place, New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 925-8310

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