Swoon Kitchenbar -- September 2008 (dt)
Dinner Party of Eight -- the Next Generation
5.96 - 7, 7, 7, 7, 5.25, 5, 3.5 (1 absent)
Food took back seat this evening, as Tim and Judy became
the first set of grandparents of the group, and zounds of references to Sienna
Emilia and Chloe Valentina throughout the evening celebrated and wished good
health to the grandchildren and to Noel and Mari!
DP8, this evening, reformulated as DP7 with Judy in DC, grandmothering her new grandchildren. Although we missed you, Judy, your absence was for the best of reasons.
Swoon sits rather obscurely on Warren Street, with a decorated sidewalk-parallel ramp effacing a direct view. The door swings open and a slightly claustrophobic arena awaits, with recessed tables on the left, window tables to the right and behind, and a twenty-some foot long bar lining the right wall. The check-in podium sits twenty feet ahead, and one sees a classic Warren Street first floor set up – long and narrow. Swoon effectively made the long space feel like three rooms, with the ceiling encasement closing off the first room, and a tall swag, with the potential of cutting the remaining in half, dividing the back two-thirds.
I would get to food except the ambience is such a hodge-podge that, although one thinks he/she has figured the interior themes, another piece drags one’s attention all the way over some place else, all of it done artistically and aesthetically pleasantly enough that the eclecticism grew as the evening lengthened.
The bar was lit by several foot-high lamps, with the reddish glow blaring from the wooden-slat-looking shades drawing attention. And then there’s the six foot nude sprawled, facing entering customers. I seemed to be the only male who noticed the “disturbing” piece, the other men’s attentions drawn elsewhere (read between those lines). A wine rack featuring vertical standing bottles—floor to almost ceiling—captured the eye. The front room’s floor is tiled with one inch squares while apricot-peachish, possibly lemony in the rear room, wall paint was subdued enough to allow all the other accoutrements to have their say. The mid-room featured banquette-type seating while our back room found large-group settings lining the center aisle.
Ceiling fans relentlessly stirred air, globular encased lighting competed with a mix of recessed lighting, and a single fluorescent highlight window blared light over my shoulder, which, fortunately, allowed Ken and me to read the fine print of the menus and wine bottles in the low light. And, then, the art work, again, mixed such different genres that the mind raced to draw a theme. We sort of concluded it was somewhat folk, Harry-Potter-apocalypse, semi-abstract-nudish, to be interrupted by feet-high plant-reed-flower settings in large urns that blended the cacophony into something interesting. Those sitting with their backs to the aisle endured the apocalyptic themes this evening, though. Some discussion of flowers and bushes prompted Kriss to caution Don, although Deb K brought it back up later.
Finally, to the food. Sides of four and three sat on wooden and comfortable chairs, and linens graced the table, while a setting of two forks and a knife in a white linen napkin, bone white bread plate, and a firm water glass greeted us. Just after the tap water was poured, two plates of six 2-inch triangles of butter preceded a Longaberger-ish basket, filled with a hearty artisan bread, about ten minutes after we sat. Drink orders were taken and our winemaster, Tim, stayed with the evening’s menu suggestion of 2007 Quattro Mani (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo) for five, and two orders of diet soda. The Quattro Mani, an ordinary red Italian wine, with a nice finish and good balance, was later shown, online, to be marked up about three hundred percent, a bit more than we normally see ($9-10 retail, $38 Swoon).
The menu is printed daily, with seasonal choices strongly evident. The charcuterie was available as was a cheese plate, as were another ten appetizers, as were half-portions of a half-dozen pasta & rice entrees. I suspect we were tempted to try more of the appetizers but the a la carte pricing may have daunted some of us to be a bit conservative in our ordering. However, Tim ordered the small portion of Local Corn Risotto for the table – a light & creamy dish that was clearly, but not overpowerfully, flavored by fresh corn, with poached shrimp and halved cherry tomatoes that had me thinking it would have made an excellent entree, and Deb T had the arugula salad – fresh and light, with a pleasantly light, lemon-vinaigrette dressing.
The entrée list, this evening, was overly weighted with fish and seafood. Seven entrees included three fish and one scallops, leaving the non-seafood eaters with a skirt steak, the duck breast or the veal rib, or the five pasta & rice choices. Three chose the spice rubbed skirt steak, with one very favorable, one ok, and one “don’t care for the spice on it” comment for the rub. Orders of well done (Kriss and Chay) and medium-rare (Tim) came as ordered, sliced, underlain with pureed potatoes, a grilled red onion, and red wine jus.
Deb T, of course, ordered the pan seared scallops, flavored with a spiced carrot vinaigrette (we were thinking pumpkin, at first), beet greens, and hazelnuts. The sear did not equal Arlington House or FCI but it was near the top of Deb’s list.
Deb K had the sweet corn ravioli, accompanied by a pepper broth, mushrooms, and chorizo, which she liked, and I too, based on the sample delivered across the table.
Ken, after some soul searching, settled on the Pappardelle, served Bolognese, olives and ricotta. Its arrival prompted some trepidation because Ken had his heart set on linguini with red sauce but the end result was satisfactory.
Don had the pan roasted halibut, seared to give structure, edged with a celery leaf pesto, and accompanied by a potato fingerling and smoked mussels salad. The fish was moist, flaky, tender, and excellent. The mix of flavors complemented well, and Don thought he had the best entrée of the evening.
We noted that portions looked small, typical for a NYC bistro atmosphere but upon completion of courses most of us judged the amount of food to be adequate. Plates and bowls arrived toasty warm, and the sauces and flavors showed some of the best skill we have seen in some time. Most of us felt items were overpriced but...
Dessert certainly beckoned. Frangelica (Tim) and Sambuca (Chay) kept one end of the table happy. Three of us (Kriss, Deb K, Don) ordered the chocolate cannoli accompanied by a spoon of caramelized vanilla ice cream and a length of fig, I think. Although this choice looked tiny in the large bowl, again it was enough and excellent. Deb T stole my blackberry tart idea but shared the flaky crust filled with cream, ringed by blackberries, topped with red raspberry ice cream – another excellent choice. Ken had the peach tarte tatin and deemed it ok although it did look tasty.
Crystal served us capably during the evening, with an occasional extra hand during the evening, clearing dishes or, especially, serving entrees. Pleasant, knowledgeable about most of the dishes, attentive, she allowed us to enjoy the food and ambience and still be available as we desired. Thanks, Crystal. Ken’s coffee got off to a slow start, but finally kept a flow coming, even though Ken thought the quality poor. The pacing for the evening was a casually easy pace, definitely not rushed but still comfortable.
The bill came to $116 per couple, including drinks, tax, and tip, somewhat lower than I was expecting but it also reflected an easing back on appetizers and salads. A muttering about prices was still discernable. Also to be noted is the menu’s reverse, listing the local suppliers of goods – a venture this group whole-heartedly supports. Although there were holes in the menu (for our tastes), most of us found something we could order, and further examination kept reminding me of the niche Swoon plays in the restaurant variety in the area.
We traced our way back to the front door, re-examining the paintings, bar, patrons (especially, one table – Ken, Tim and Chay), and deemed Tim’s choice (probably with Judy’s assistance) a reasonable success for the evening. Back seat occupants changed cars and off we drove into the steamy air of this September evening.
Earlier in the evening, we
gathered at grandfather-bachelor Tim’s, with visitors’ help with appetizers.
We nibbled on the cheese and crackers, fruit chunks, fresh pepper slices, Deb
K’s hot pepper-onion-garlicy guacamole mix. Pinot noir, pinot grigio and diet
soda started the libations. Deb K brought her own tonic and lime, and she was
not to be deterred from her Tanqueray.
Discussion, of course, started with all the details about the grandkids, the reopening of school, selective muteness (restaurant talk about school), and others I cannot recall.
Pulling out of Tim’s driveway, we guessed our destination but no close guesses were forthcoming, especially since he effected the latest house departure ever (7 p.m.). The turn by Stewart’s over the bridge prompted ideas about which Hudson restaurant we might visit, and, when one names all the restaurants, one guess is bound to be right.