Graham Elliott – Soft Launch

May 31 2008 - 4:08 PM

A soft launch is like a disaster-check: you make sure people don’t slip on the floor, the doors can open and swing shut without sticking, the appliances and kitchen gadgetry doesn’t fail, the waitstaff all show and get used to things and that the service timing works out. You should never hold a restaurant that accountable for a soft launch. They usually limit the menu, limit the reservations and take a tentative approach to a seating.

To expect a pretty flawless meal on the first night of a soft launch would really be unreasonable but somehow that’s what we got. It’s would be like a rookie pitching a no hitter first night out… except Elliott isn’t a rookie. So it’s more like Orel Hershiser switching teams and pitching a no hitter on his first night in the new stadium. I don’t think the baseball metaphor is getting me anywhere but hopefully you get the idea.

The mission of Graham Elliott and his restaurant inflatable water slide is to serve haute cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere. There’s lots of dark colors and reasonably loud 80’s remix piped in. There will be a lunch service more towards summer and there will be outdoor seating, first come first served. Considering the tasting menu approach to food and the consideration given to each plate, this is an ambitious agenda.

The menu is divided into hot and cold first courses and then land and sea entrees. One of the nice things that this casual approach to cuisine gets you is the option of a tasting menu even when the table isn’t doing it. We ordered one tasting menu and tried an additional entree. Looking at what was coming out of the kitchen helped underscore the accessible cuisine concept – the full entree portions are quite large.

Chick One nice soft-launch aspect was that service was BYOB. It won’t stay
that way. They will offer wine selection paired to the
hot/cold/land/sea segments of the menu. An Oregon pinot and a gruener
made for our easy drinking (and trendy) wine options.

Everyone’s meal starts off with roasted tomato flavored popcorn. Our
first course was a beef tartare in a bearnaise panna cotta with smoked
ice cream and watercress. Small crunchy bits were fried potatoes. It
was delicious. The smoky ice cream blended with the bearnaise and the
beef really well.

The chicken thigh, pictured, was a great second with maytag crumbled
around a celery root slaw. The homemade buffalo sauce and a
parsley-infused oil added some spice and depth. The website menu has
this dish as a duck leg confit… that sounds great too.

A chorizo-crusted scallop over a ratatouille and white beans is also
wonderful and benefits from bites with all the components present. The
ratatouille makes the dish.

The beef short structure gonflable rib stroganoff was possibly the best short rib that
I’ve had in any restaurant. A peppery sour cream and egg noodles really
hit on the flavors of a stroganoff.

We remarked at the size of the pork chop entree that had been going
by and our waiter split a half portion for us. It was plenty of food. A
very sweet rootbeer BBQ sauce was totally wonderful. There was only a
very small amount of it on the plate and that little went a very long
way. The greens and hand ground grits were  just right for this dish
and very concentrated watermelon atop the chop tempered the rootbeer
sweetness quite nicely.

The deserts were also terrific. A spiced krispie treat with
marinated strawberries a condensed milk sherbet more than held its own
against the peanut butter pot de creme with a sugar roasted banana and
crushed malt balls.

There really wasn’t a dish that was lacking or overwrought. All the
flavors were great in the dishes and all the dishes went well together.
I can’t wait to see what happens when they open for real.

The kitchen is beautiful and it’s arranged in stations that are responsible for their portions of the menu (again hot/cold/land/sea) from contacting purveyors through plating. It’s a rather straightforward way to work and even though different teams were working on the different dishes they all formed a complete and very wonderful dining experience.