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Week in Reviews: Café d'Alsace, Sascha, Crema, Weirdness

[Kalina, 3/20/06]

1) Platt hangs out with a "toddler-addled" friend at the Upper East Side's Café d'Alsace—whose "beer sommelier" the close Eater reader will recall was met with some aplomb on Bruni's part—and finds the whole thing to be a mostly all right one-star, especially for his "restaurant-deprived" UES-living companions. That said, Platt's a little pickier than they are.

The amber-colored beer went well with the very good in-house sausage appetizers (duck, pork, or boudin blanc, sliced over sauerkraut), but less well with the frog’s legs, which were drowned in a standard garlic-and-butter sauce and tasted like some pallid Gallic version of buffalo wings. If you don’t think a dish called tartare oriental (cold salmon molded with pike) has any place in this extremely French lineup (it doesn’t), try the duck ballotine (a round slice of foie gras pâté mingled with vaguely gamy-tasting chunks of smoked duck) or the quenelles de brochet, made the traditional way, with ground pike, but served with head-on shrimp, and muffled in an overly thick white-wine sauce.
The criticism continues clichédly (wait for it...) apace at Sascha, which, as a second take on McNally's already fake take on the already over-stylized French brasserie has thrown even our most critical of faculties into a whirling (there it is) dervish of existentially-tinged meta-reviewing. We'll leave the interpretation at no stars. [New York]

2) Bruni—almost reluctantly, it seems—gives the new Mexican restaurant Crema a one-star review, mitigates any criticism by saying that the chef, Julieta Ballesteros, "is one to watch." Unfortunately, while her recipes are phenomenal and her ideas so totally sweet, they're having a little problem with the execution. And this week, Frank's feeling a little feisty, a little writerly, a little... withholding.

A chicken entree that Julieta Ballesteros serves at her new restaurant, Crema, is one of the most enticing dishes I've encountered in a while. It's also the most heartbreaking.
Now we're intrigued.
That's a lot of drama to attribute to poultry, but the poultry in this case is being put through unusually dramatic paces by an exceptionally talented chef. It more or less summarizes the story of Crema, which entrances and then disappoints you, its come-on stronger than its follow-through, and not just with that flirty bird.
Now we're really reading.
The chicken arrives decked out in many colors and layers. It's a sectioned, skinless breast, placed atop a faintly orange purée of squash blossoms and below dark, meaty slices of portobello mushroom. Over them, like a fleecy cloud at the very summit, hovers warm goat cheese.
But there's a big problem that stops you short of total surrender. At least there was both times I sampled the dish, and I gave it a second try in the ardent hope that the letdown on the first go-round was a fluke.
What is it, Frank???
The centerpiece — the chicken itself — didn't warrant all the finery coddling and swaddling it.
And scene. Exhausting. [NYT]

After the jump, the Cuozz plays stegosaurus, and the usual bloglove.

3) The Cuozz gets thematic and takes on what has become an absolute cornucopia of weird desserts.

Weird-dessert alert! Floral parfaits, herbal ice creams and eerie foams are on the march again, turning the last courses of too many restaurant meals into a "Fear Factor" climax.
Ah, the Post.
Call me a dinosaur, but I hate out-there desserts that incorporate savory and herbal elements and mix incompatible essences with lunatic abandon. So do most diners.
Examples of bad ideas include Devi's pineapple gelee with black pepper-pineapple slaw, WD-50's squash sorbet with chocolate soil, and Aix's licorice panna cotta. Examples of good ideas include Aix's new vanilla panna cotta, Dona's lemon souffle, and The Modern's lemon napoleon. A little pterodactyl, yes, but we'll concur on the celery meringue. [NYPost]

Elsewhere, The Amateur Gourmet has a typically thorough narrative of a graduation dinner at Buddakan; $25 and Under celebrates Burger Month at Williamsburg's DuMont Burger; the Village Voice guides our (cheap) outside drinking; Twenty Bucks a Day tries falafel on Hudson St.; our man Bruni comes through on the blog by taking on the fix-happy world of Zagat reviews; and Tables for Two discovers this delightful little noodle bar in the East Village called, um, Momofuku. This week, something's in the air.