Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reflecting on Restaurant Week: Equinox

I do have to dedicate a little space to first, admitting that this reservation was not entirely blind, and second, gushing a bit about the Equinox staff for so whole-heartedly endorsing my undercover modus operandi. I generally like to dine anonymously – my cover would be rather useless otherwise – but in inquiring as to whether Equinox was participating in Restaurant Week, I started an email chain that eventually led to a reservation under Mark Felt’s name. I don’t know whether Todd or Ellen (Kassoff) Gray, or another member of the staff, tweets on behalf of the restaurant, but whomever it is embraced the Deepthroat theme, and we had a fun DM exchange. Then, when C arrived a bit early, and not knowing that the reservation was under my assumed name, had a confused moment which led to the maitre-d winking and saying, “Oh…Mark Felt”. I’m sorry, but that’s just too cute.

Now, on to the food (said as a clarion call)….

Before digging in to our menu selections, we were treated to an amuse bouche of just about the most amazing ravioli I've ever tasted. Stuffed with a delicate goat sheep's milk cheese (C cannot stand any form or sheep or goat cheese, and he was loving this dish), the corn [and potato] pasta shell was simply amazing, as were the accompaniments of popped corn and lobster chantarelle mushrooms. Bliss. C and I are still talking (and drooling) about it.

Equinox’s “Friends and Family” menu ($30.10 for 3 courses during Restaurant Week, so I’m calling a spade a spade) consisted of two selections for each of the courses.  We took the lot, and switched plates halfway through each course. To start, C took on the chopped salad with figs, pancetta, and what Gray calls a quail egg “hole in a wall” (I use “toad in the hole”, but whatever you like if it tastes good, right?!). I chose the heirloom pepper soup with lump crab, pear, and leek “fondue”.  Both were really nice introductions to the meal, and the themes.  I tend to be a salad person and I do not tend to choose dishes with peppers, but I would have a tough time choosing between these two if faced with the challenge again. Figs and pancetta never go wrong, but the soup was nice surprise, a lovely flavor profile. 

As our entrees were a bit behind, we were served another mezzo of succotash with sweet corn and peppers. Again, succotash is something I do not normally care for, but it was utterly delicious. I'd attribute this to the chef's ability to pair seasonal, local ingredients so well together. This is accomplished while also building meal themes, with the same components creating so many different flavors and textures. For instance, see the multiple uses of corn, figs, and peppers in this particular meal. Top that with the number of ingredients that the Grays grow in their own garden to bring to the Equinox kitchen, and I'm pretty much in awe. 

For proteins, I chose to start with the BBQ Scottish Salmon, served with a salad of roasted corn, basil, and piquillos. C, as per usual, navigated towards the meat, a flat iron steak accompanied by pickled red onions, shitakes, and green peppercorns. Before tasting the fish, I was sure I wouldn't like it. I don't like peppers or barbeque with my fish, but I had decided to expand my horizons, and I do love the richness of Scottish Salmon. Yet again, however, this dish was a completely scrumptious surprise - the flavors meshed so incredibly well that I want to try this at home, but I have doubts as to my abilities to pair ingredients quite like Chef Gray.  C's steak, also delicious, was so perfectly tender and medium rare, that the flavors almost did not matter, but they were quite complimentary - what, can I say - there were no losers here. Repeating the first course theme, not quite sure which dish I enjoyed more, but I am certainly wanting bites of both right about now. 

Dessert was running a little slow. (We discovered that a very large party had arrived unannounced early in the dinner hour, so the kitchen was understandably struggling a bit to keep up). So, what happened? We were served a pair of dessert wines while we waited! Yay! I'm no dessert wine aficionado, but both the Muscoto and the Port we sampled were very tasty - I had to stop after a few sips though, as they were making me quite sleepy before I'd even had my dessert. The server was effusive in his apologies for the delays, but I'm not complaining. This was a great opportunity to try things I would not otherwise. Just before dessert arrived, Chef Gray stopped by the table and C reports back that he was very kind and concerned that we enjoyed our meal (I was in the ladies' room). Shortly thereafter, the chocolate dessert (a crème, with olive oil ice cream, coffee "soil", and hazelnuts) came my way, while C (a vanilla fan) got the vanilla bean panna cotta, served with blackberry sorbet, blueberries, and a cassis froth. I ended up digging into both with purpose - I particularly enjoyed the olive oil ice cream and blackberry sorbet. The frozen confections get high marks.

In the restaurant week world analysis:

Value - pretty darned high. I would pay full price at Equinox any day.

Selection - only two dishes per course, but each was superlative, so not a lot of choice necessary.

Availability - given Equinox did not officially participate in restaurant week, I like to think that reservations are quite limited, but maybe I just like to feel special.

Top scores in all categories in the restaurant week world.  In the real world, I'm going back to Equinox as soon as I get the chance - perhaps a lunch liaison soon.

** Please note that edits have been made regarding the exact ingredients on the ravioli. It takes practice to hone your craft, and I'm still a bit rusty after taking my August blog vacation.


Manimal said...

Equinox was awesome. It's jumping the line in my list of favorite D.C. restaurants. That corn ravioli - amazing. It was one of the few times I imagined I was eating a dish prepared on Iron Chef (Corn). Great stuff.

Blogger said...