When we walked into At Vermillion at 7 pm on a Tuesday, there was a buzz in the bar area. Bad press be damned, the place was hopping. We expected crickets, and so we were pleased. But we were there for dinner, and when we said as much to the polite and smiling hostess, she escorted us up the stairs. This is where they keep the crickets.
The dining room, more like two rooms separated by shimmering bars of water, is cavernous, and there were guests at only two other tables. Still, amidst the quiet, there was something peaceful and pleasing about the decor. We remained optimistic.
As we sat down, my companion asked the hostess for directions to the bathroom. She said she wasn't sure where it was "up here," and that she'd be right back. I wish I could say I lifted this story from a previous report, but, alas, I did not. It's part of the experience!
Our waiter began with a P.F. Chang's-style "Have you ever been to At Vermillion before?" routine. I zoned out after "the chef loves bold flavors" and spent the rest of his presentation wondering if there's a prize if you say, "Yes, I've been to At Vermillion many times." After sipping a too-sweet-by-half, too-creamy-by-whole sweet potato soup amuse, we started with the chef's sampling of four appetizers ($22). Today's lineup: duck vindaloo arepas, cilantro tamarind shrimp, artichoke pakoras with eggplant chili coconut sauce, and juhu ki pani puri, flour shells filled with chaat and spiced potatoes and then filled (by you) with chili mint water. The flavors were bold, as promised, but not good bold. The eggplant chili coconut sauce tasted like it came out of a pie, and the vindaloo went straight to the heat. The chili water boldly seeped out of the flour shell as we lunged forward to keep it off our shirts. I finished with the shrimp, which left me fighting a cloying cilantro tamarind glaze between courses.
The effect of this glaze on my tongue was magnified by the eternity we waited for our entrees. After disappearing for a half-hour, our waiter returned and told us it was because the whole fish we ordered was baked. "We make them to order." (!) Plausible, but we fingered the party of 10 that arrived in the private-ish room on the west side of the dining room as an equally likely culprit. They had the full attention of the staff. They also had our full attention as they hashed out some sort of marketing project. Fascinating.
Eventually, the fish ($28), a red snapper, arrived with its 16 spices. It was fine, maybe a little overcooked, and surprisingly un-bold. The ribs ($24) were coated with chili glazed blackened tamarind sauce?a deeply unfortunate doubling-down on the shrimp glaze?and accompanied by tortilla crisps on loan from Trader Joe's.
Dessert may have redeemed At Vermillion. Finally, a course that was supposed to be sweet! But we couldn't bear to stay. As the room had darkened and the dining room remained empty, a sadness had enveloped the room. There was no more optimism. We were all alone in a sea of shitshow.
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