Friday, July 3, 2009

James on 8th: Roller Coaster Meal in the Dark

Olives on Bread
Chateauneuf du Papes
Tortelli with Chick Peas
Veal Loin
Cheese Plate
James on 8th was recommended to me by a waiter at Per Se, when I ate there last year. Needless to say, it had a lot to live up to. After driving around for 20 minutes to find parking and nearly missing the restaurant altogether we arrived unharmed and ready to feast. The decor is very modern. There is a lot of dark wood all around. Brown leather backed chairs grace the dining room, the bar towards the entrance is a statement of modernity and youth, fitted with stainless bar taps.

The menu at James is very impressive, both in price and substance. The cheapest thing on the menu at $12 is the sweetbreads. The most expensive at $38 is the Dover Sole. I thought this was a bit high so using my phone I checked the menu at Per Se to see what a comparable fish would cost at one of the best restaurants in the world. The Tuna is $36, a whole $2 cheaper than James. Yikes, not a good start.

My Herbed Sweetbreads with Wilted Lettuce, Pickled Radish and Spring Garlic Jus came out very quickly. The Jus was brimming with diced Garlic, I could see thousands of tiny pieces floating in my bowl and I got really excited. The Sweetbreads were delightfully pungent, with flavors of gym towels and toe crust, but boy do I love it. There's no polite veneer in that dish. You know what it is, it's staring you in the face and when done right, it's wonderful. Nothing can match its distinctive flavor. It was delicious.

The second dish was split between me and the two other diners' who were with me. I regretted that later, because we concentrated on one dish and left the other two alone. We had the Hand Cut Tagliatelle with Duck Ragu, Shaved Chocolate and Orange. For $16 this is not only a bargain, but may be one of the best reasons to visit James on 8th. A truly remarkable combination of flavors. And although the Tagliatelle was slightly overdone, could have used a minute less, it was still gorgeous. Our other dishes did get eaten, but with reservation.

My Stinging Nettle Tortelli with Bagna Cauda and Spicy Chick Peas was a great idea, but failed to deliver. The Chick Peas were crunchy and I loved it, but the Tortelli was also slightly crunchy, no doubt from being left under a heat lamp for too long. A minor point, but when you're paying $15 for 8 pieces of Tortelli I would expect better. I tried the other diners' dishes and they were also completely unremarkable. The Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup with Olive Oil, Poached Rock Shrimp and Chili Oil was lukewarm and tasted watered down. The Local Asparagus with Spring Onion, Smoke Coho Caviar and Sauce Béarnaise had a slight edge over the soup and I was actually happy to put it in my mouth. The Caviar was especially tasty. And even though it was Salmon Caviar, I enjoyed it all the same.

For the Main Course I had Grass Fed Veal Loin with Fava Beans, Morels au Naturel and Watercress Leaves. The meat was exquisite. It was the other ingredients, which left me feeling like I was giving away $29 of my hard earned money for nothing. The Sauce was shy and barely drizzled on and I had to ask for more, which the Maître d' was very quick to get. But the dish felt incomplete. I felt it needed more of everything except meat, of which there was plenty. More Beans, more Sauce, more excitement.

That was the sentiment last night. We needed more flavor. In fact, the most flavorful part of our meal was the 2006 Cuvee de la Serriene Chateauneuf du Pape and my cheese plate. Which was magical. The total bill with tip was $504. It's inexcusable for a restaurant to charge so much for its food and not deliver the goods. On top of that, it was quite possibly the darkest restaurant I've ever been to in my life. For all you fellow camera geeks, I had to use an ISO of 3200 at f1.8 to achieve the crap photos above. It was more like a nightclub then a restaurant. No, the waiter at Per Se had obviously never eaten the food at James, because if he had, he wouldn't have recommended it to us.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

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