The differences between mediocrity and greatness were never more evident than they were to us last weekend. We made plans to meet with our friends K&D for some happy hour noshing, and w had read a couple of interesting things about the preciously named H5O (h-five-oh) Bistro and Bar on the ground floor of the Hotel 50 downtown. We walked in about 3 and found ourselves to be the only ones there (although a few other people wandered in as we were leaving). They're trying to pull off the updated mid-century aesthetic with varying degrees of success. The gas fireplace in the middle of the bar is pretty cool, but what's up with the hideous head shaped cocktail table? And the dining room, which has a nice view looking out over Waterfront Park, seems almost like an afterthought, leaving a room with about zero feel.
But we were there to eat and drink, and the bar space itself was pretty comfortable. K and I started out with Manhattans (pic at top left) which seemed thin, almost like they had been sitting in the cocktail shaker too long. D & w tried a couple of their house cocktails. w's pomegranate-something was so tart it really needed some simple syrup to bring it back into balance, and D's ginger-vodka infusion drink was, well, pretty good. The happy hour deal is $1 off well drinks, a couple of wine specials, and $3 off their bar menu items, which could make for some pretty sweet deals. Note the "could make". We tried four different things, with varying degrees of success, but overall I went away pretty unimpressed. The Venison Burger ($9 on happy hour- pic at left) was good, juicy, well cooked, a little blandly seasoned but with an intriguing apple slaw on it that I did like. The trio of crudos ($6 for beef, salmon, and tuna- pic at right) was very attractively plated, but the flavors lacked that slap to the palate that something really fresh delivers. The razor clam strip I thought was tough, but the others liked, saying they liked the chew. I like some chew, too, but to me there's a difference between "toothsome" and "overcooked". We also had the charcuterie plate, which seemed to consist of Sysco-provided sliced meats (if I'm wrong I will definitely print a correction), which in this town of incredible house-cured meats just doesn't cut it. So all in all a sadly uninspiring attempt at satisfaction.
Luckily we knew just where to go to regain our equilibrium, which was across the river and up SE Hawthorne to EVOE at Pastaworks, where once again chef Kevin Gibson knocked out our tastebuds with his über-fresh creations. We ordered a bottle of the 2007 Tedeschi Soave which was perfectly bright and crisp to keep our palates clear for what was to come. What came? How about his famous fennel salad with guanciale crisps on top? Or some perfectly seared scallops with a mouthwatering grapefruit-avocado salad? And we were just getting started.
Even though we had been eating quite a bit, the thing I find at EVOE is that with Kevin's light, balanced touch with food, the more you eat the more you want to try. Everything on the menu seems to call to me. It's like "if that is THAT good, then that other thing must be amazing". And it usually is. So keeping those gluttonous thoughts in mind, we also tried the meltingly tender razor clam on toast (at left). Take notes H5O...this is exactly how clams should be cooked! Then we noticed the duck confit. I think I made my feelings about duck confit clear a couple of posts ago (in fact, I have Ruhlman's recipe poaching at home in the oven as I type this at work) and EVOE's (pic below right) was sublime. The duck was awesomely tender, the skin crisped just so. Between w picking away at it and D cleaning the bones down to the bone I only got a few quick bites (that's why I love eating with those guys. Every diner for themselves!) and it was stellar. After that we were ready to leave, but Kevin put it upon himself to bring out a plate of the Pastaworks house-cured lardo (pic at bottom left), basically the cured fatty parts of a prosciutto, with some julienned apples. If ever the Lord was to take me, that would have been the perfect time because I would have died a happy man! This was incredible... the lardo smoky, perfectly seasoned, so clean.
Even though I've pimped EVOE a lot in my posts, it is truly one of the 2 or 3 best restaurants in town right now. Every time I go i find something new to get excited about. And I was struck once again at how Kevin is able to squeeze so much flavor out of so few ingredients. He gets the maximum, texturally and flavor-wise, out of every ingredient, yet everything is always simple, light, and balanced. This is great cooking, and if you haven't been yet, you NEED to go! Just keep in mind if you see me coming, hurry up and clear out of that chair!!
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: one of my fave apps, Piquillos con Atun!