A couple of weeks ago Wife informed me that we were invited to the opening party for InTent restaurant by a friend of hers that works for their PR firm. I had been looking forward to eating there and reporting my feelings on it for a while, but that visit did not exactly fit the bill. Those parties are fun but they are distractingly social, and although you have the chance to sample food there is too much going on to assess it properly or fairly. At the end of the party I left very well entertained, appreciative, and interested in returning but had learned little more than a couple of things about the place:
- The little bits of food I had were quite good. I particularly liked a monkfish mousse.
- Devoid of tables and chairs, the space is very much about varying types of stonework. It feels somewhere between a modern Greek American trying to recapture the marble glories of ancient Athens, or the dream spec house of a contractor that believes the current market is pro rock.
- The leather (or close facsimile) banquettes lining the walls of the main room are likely the most comfortable seating I have ever encountered in a restaurant.
- Francois Payard is the owner, Craig Freeman is the chef de cuisine, and Eric Estrella is the pastry chef.
All good notions, but not enough to go on to suggest or discourage friends from trying the place out. For that, I would obviously have to go back, sit down, have full servings of the food and contemplate. Having been invited to the party by a friend, I hoped to end up on a positive slant so as not to have to apologize for my opinions. Then I had the crab…
Wife and I wandered in around eight on Sunday night without a reservation, which meant we would need to sit in the front room as every seat in the back was taken. So we traded those buttery couches for café chairs, and the river stone waterfall for the backlit red marble wine wall, as well as the removable copper-colored Bedouin tent for glass doors open to the summer evening. Since the menu is the same in both rooms, a pretty easy switch except for the chairs. (The seating in back really is that comfortable).
WARM CURRIED CRAB NAPOLEAN CRISPY POTATOES Man is this dish good. The fine fingers of crab flesh perfectly married to the flavor of clarified butter, studded with diced celery and apple and stacked on long, thin crisped potato slices, surrounded by a yellow emulsion tasting lightly of saffron and curry. However it was intended to be eaten, I went with spreading the crabmeat onto the potato chips and eating it with my hands as if it was some crab dip at a bar near the shore. The lavishness of the warm crab salad on the perfectly thin, perfectly crispy, perfectly salted, just thick enough to support the weight of the crab when covered with an equal portion of the meat, potato chip was delightful. The redolence of the sum of these parts was profound. The question of would I recommend this place to a friend was answered as I finished this dish and snuck a text to Bubby that read “if you haven’t eaten dinner yet run to InTent and get the crab appetizer.”
As an Entrée I had TANGINE STYLE EGGPLANT RAISINS, PINENUTS AND PRESERVED LEMON COUSCOUS. I like dishes that combine the richness of toasted nuts with the tangy sweetness of raisins, especially when these flavors are ameliorated by the dividing texture of the small beads of couscous. The eggplant flesh favored the meaty end of the texture spectrum, while the other components of a ratatouille combined with the disparate flavors and textures of the raisins, nuts and lemon, offering sharp peaks and broad valleys in a harmony of Moroccan fragrance that encompassed the whole dish.
As her entrée Wife had SAUTÉED FILET OF DAURADE WRAPPED IN BRIC DOUGH CRUSHED POTATOES, SPICY MEDITERRANEAN VEGETABLES AND TOMATO OIL and declared it the best piece of fish she has had this year, particularly for the textural interplay between the crisp dryness of the dough and the moist softness of the fish and pulpy potatoes. I would have to agree based on the two bites she let me steal before finishing it.
For dessert we split SUMMER FRUIT SALAD WHITE BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE, SEA SALT AND WATERMELON GRANITE, little flakes of watermelon ice that perfectly fit into molars for crunching set in a nest spun of black cherries, apricots, figs, and strawberries. Even I, who care very little for dessert, was going to try one at a Payard restaurant, and was happy to find one as refreshing as this, allowing nature’s sugars to display without attempts to overdo it.
So I went in afraid I would not like the restaurant and was served
one of the most pleasing dishes I have had in a long time, with the
added benefit of Wife being delighted by one of her dishes. If there
was a downside, it was the length of time between Appetizers and
Entrées, but apologies were made early and the food showed before it
was too late. Net-net I would consider that a positive enough
experience on a restaurant’s third open night to plan a return trip,
which I have done.