Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Teleport to TELEPAN and Skip CA VA for Restaurant Week

Chef Bill Telepan knows what diners want, especially discerning New York diners for Restaurant Week. They want to experience the expertise of a chef’s cuisine for a fraction of the cost, and not a careless assembly of leftovers - and they know the difference. Telepan’s Restaurant Week menu was the former, and Todd English’s Ca Va Brasserie menu tasted like the latter. Let me preface by saying that I had never dined at either restaurant prior to this sampling, so I cannot compare it to what is regularly on the menu. This disclaimer provides Chef English the benefit of the doubt; perhaps his regular menu is much more thoughtful and flavorful than the one I sampled (one could only pray).

Ca Va Brasserie (courtesy of Tom McWilliam Photography)

While the service was meticulously attentive and overtly formal at Ca Va (with the pristine smell of “corporate” permeating the air, as an appendage to a Midtown hotel), unfortunately the food followed in that sense of the generic. Every dish ordered lacked the character it seemed to promise in print. With the custom Restaurant Week choice of appetizer, entree and dessert, each category provided a selection of three. Both appetizers ordered were utterly flavorless, which will take you by surprise, as they are sublimely plated.

Tarte

The tarte provencal was a beautiful puff pastry mounded with crisp artichokes, a tomato marmalade, and goat cheese. The tarte was cold and the pastry stale, tasting as if it had been sitting on a cafeteria buffet table. Similarly, the courbine cru diced fish deceives the eyes presented in a jar on ice, colored with chopped orange melons, and all resting in an enticing juice. With each scoop, I could taste neither the sweetness of fruit nor the freshness of fish: nil.
Courbine Cru


Rabbit Penne


The entree and dessert courses were split one for one. The octopus was definitely the standout dish when compared to the penne with rabbit at the culinary level of an Olive Garden pasta dish - whatever that means for you. Heavy on the pasta and not on the sparse rabbit pieces, it sat in a puddle of plain juice. Flavor finally presented itself with the coil of well-cooked, tender octopus that sat atop satisfying risotto grains with garden vegetables. This harmonious blend got my vote, as it was the only plate scraped clean.


Octopus with Risotto


Cheesecake

Don’t be fooled by the blueberry-lemon cheesecake, which did not taste like blueberry, nor lemon! Its whipped consistency was not that of a cheesecake either. But it was dressed with blueberries and fit the sweet bill of a dessert. What you should get for your last course is the assortment of ice creams and sorbets, which are reportedly made in-house. Mango and pineapple sorbet was the perfect palate cleanser, and the creamy coffee ice cream was supremely silky and satisfies your post-dinner espresso fix.

Pineapple & Mango Sorbets
Espresso Ice Cream



Thus if you do find yourself in the tourist-laden Midtown are and feel compelled to taste Todd English, all I can standby is the octopus and the ice cream at Ca Va. For all else on this Restaurant Week menu, I wish you the best of luck.



Telepan (courtesy of Telepan)
But you do not have to flip a Restaurant Week coin for luck when transporting to the Upper West Side's tranquil Telepan. With a refreshingly professional yet relaxed staff, the air is breathable in this breezy restaurant. Another aspect that sets apart this find from the rest is their unique approach to the Restaurant Week menu challenge. Diners can choose for their three courses to consist of an appetizer, mid-course, and entree, or appetizer, entree, and dessert - though whatever you choose, the whole table must participate. And for $10 more for all four courses, you can have your cake and eat it too! This place has it right and an excellent dish selection to back it up, with six choices in each category. A true tour of Telepan may commence.

Egg
To begin, get the surprisingly light sunny-side up egg with fried green tomatoes. The yolk glistened with gooey perfection, dressing the crispy tomatoes and subtle cheddar cheese. Also, don’t miss the simply refreshing pickled beets served with a scoop of sweet beet-tinted bulgar, which had the pleasant mouth-feel of moist Japanese sticky rice.


Beets & Bulgar

Veal Tortelloni


For the mid-course, every guest should order the veal tortelloni: a truly stellar standout. So much so that it overshadowed the garlicky linguine with Peekytoe crab, which was a bit oily and had a pronounced parsley flavor. The two gorgeous pieces of home-made tortelloni encased perfectly tender veal shreds, whose meatiness was mirrored by earthy wild mushrooms. The doughy pasta was expertly juxtaposed by the crispy thin greens beneath it. The only problem: we only ordered one.

Peekytoe Crab Linguine



Striped Bass

While the tortelloni cannot be surpassed, the wild striped bass for the entree came in a close second. Thick and meaty, with a slightly pink center, it separated into fork-tender flakes with expert ease. Served with a potato gratin cube and a wonderfully refreshing green tomato tartar, the balance was excellent. The roasted trout as an entree was a bit lackluster I must admit. Though a sizable portion, the fillet (and plate) was dressed with too much oil, and the five white beans it was specked with did not make much of a contribution. With a preamble of such excellent fare, this dish was admittedly at a disadvantage. But know you can pass over this dish when thinking fish. And while it’s not included in the prix-fixe, finish off with their dark and strong espresso. Actually, make it a double.

Roasted Trout
true sample of the cuisine, which can be a very promising or very disappointing discovery. How does one proceed when Restaurant Week comes to a close? All I can say is this: If you like it, then you’ve found a gem; if you don’t, return at your own risk.