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Some readers have no patience for a nuanced critique, such as this week’s Young & Hungry review of esteemed chef José Andrés‘ latest effort, the hugely ballyhooed America Eats Tavern. For their benefit, I’ve compiled a list of what to order and what not to order based on my experience at the restaurant.
From the bar menu….
Order This: buffalo wings, $14
Not That: Maine lobster roll, $16
Why: the saucy wings are served boneless with a dab of blue cheese and pickled celery on top—an interesting elevation of the old barroom staple. The lobster, meanwhile, is served warm and over-sauced. Isn’t the Maine-style roll supposed to be chilled?
For the oyster course….
Order This: Oysters on the half shell, $14 for a half dozen
Not That: the Hangtown fry, $12
Why: Sometimes the simplest preparation is best. The fried version, served over eggs and bacon, tastes too fishy for my liking, somewhat spoiling the softly scrambled eggs. Normally, I like anything with bacon. Not this.
Order This: vermicelli served like pudding, $8
Not That: hush puppies served with homemade corn butter and American sturgeon caviar, $21
Why: Salty, cheesy, slightly caramelized on top and served with savory mushrooms, the precursor to the modern mac ‘n’ cheese might just be the most enjoyable thing on the entire menu. The hush puppies were fine. They just failed to impress. The butter tasted rather bland. The caviar is a decadent way to dress it up. But for the money, the vermicelli is a far better bet.
For the soup, salad, and sandwiches course….
Order This: peanut soup, $9
Not That: shrimp and grapefruit cocktail, $14
Why: the soup, served cold over a sprinkling of crushed nuts and a smear of house-made peanut butter, speckled with salt, was creamy and refreshing. The shrimp and grapefruit (pictured above) arrived overdressed in oil and a dense sauce that unfortunately camouflaged the flavors of the fruit and seafood.
For the meats and fish course….
Order This: Chesapeake crabcake with pickled watermelon salad, $12-$18
Not That: New England chowder with poached cod, $28
Why: The star here is not the crabcake, but the sweet pickled watermelon that comes with it, which I found profoundly interesting and delicious. The chowder arrives in deconstructed fashion, which is pretty to look at but not so impressive on the palette.
Order This: Vermont sugar on snow, $10
Not That: Pineapple upside down cake, $10
Why: the maple syrup is fantastic on its own, but turns into candy when poured over shaved ice. The edible flowers, meanwhile, caused one of my dining companions to rave about the wide range of flavors that she experienced in just a few bites of the stuff. I suspect the Dole Foods Company, which is helping to bankroll the restaurant, has something to do with the pineapple cake’s appearance on the menu. It’s not bad. The syrupy stuff is just much more fun.
Photo by Chris Shott