Last Tuesday saw the opening of John Fraser's buzzy new temporary restaurant (Fraser doesn't seem to like the pop-up classification) What Happens When at 25 Cleveland Place in Soho. What Happens When is a restaurant/installation and a collaboration of Chef John Fraser, designers Emilie Baltz, Elle Kunnos de Voss and The Metrics, composer Micah Silver, and filmmaker Jeff Larson. Each month for the next nine months What Happens When will transform into a completely new restaurant: new menu, new theme, new decor, new sound, etc. After a little over a week, here is what early reviewers have to say about month one. To the early word:
The Good News: The Oyster Blog was excited to have oysters for their first course: "For the first course we had the oyster dish (obviously) and the arctic char. The freshly shucked Middle Creek Oysters, from Massachusetts, covered with a beet mignotte and topped with a sunchoke puree, rested among tender pieces of beets. Although an original concept with bold root vegetables flavors, the oyster was not distinguishable and lost its identity among the other ingredients. The arctic char, wrapped in a fennel aspic, was delicate in texture and flavor, always a sign of good execution, given the nature of this fish? So what you get is the confirmation that there is something to this pop-up craze. It allows a chef the ability to conceptualize and bring forth an ideology beyond the traditional food forward structure in creating a restaurant. And results in the collaboration of design, gastronomy and an overall birth of something new and exciting. Even if the oysters were not the highlight of the meal, there was enough there to bring us back for Fraser's brainchild #2."
The Very Good News: An anonymous Eater commenter (#7) attended a friends and family tasting: "Service was great, drinks (particularly their take on the Vesper Martini) were fabulous, and the food was generally very good with several standouts, particularly the Arctic Char and the Soup portion of the Amuse." [Eater Comments]
The Fantastic News: What Happens When has reviews from three Yelpers and is doing very well with two 5-star reviews and the third with four stars. One of the 5-star reviews from Eric W. refers to some of the food fantastic: "The food, like at dovetail, ranged from very good to fantastic. The fantastic were the potato skins came with an incredibly yummy cheese/beer fondue: if I could order a bucket full of them for superbowl sunday, I would. Also had the lamb, which was very rich and well executed, and reminded me of the lamb on Dovetail's menu. The chocolate tart was excellent, as were the amuse. Overall, the food was fantastic, especially for opening night.??The atmosphere is different than any fine dining restaurant I've ever been to... Eating at What Happens When is more like eating in an art installation than in a restaurant." [Yelp]
The Short but Sinister News: Foursquare user Jared M simply wrote "No, no, no. Great service but not worth it." [Foursquare]
The So-So News: Chowhound user JRNLMKR titles their review "what happens when was only sorta happening for me." JRNLMKR writes "We left what happens when full and having enjoyed our meal, but could have eaten much better at dozens of other places we often frequent... for much less. Based on the premise of the place I was hoping for an experience that opened my eyes, or my mind or one that took me on a journey but what I got was a perfectly adequate not very original meal. For me, that's just not good enough." [CH]
The Pretty Good News: Today, Tasting Table files a positive review: "At a meal last week, the room was a stark vision of winter, with black walls and blindingly white furniture. The speakers clicked a long-form minimalist soundscape. And the food ($58 for three courses), blissfully, was no afterthought. A complimentary trio of small bites--including haute reconsiderations of ants (in the form of cocoa nibs) on a log and onion dip--banished any whispers of pretense...The main courses, too, murmured of snowbound comforts. A stew of pan-roasted cod teemed with dill, squid and tubes of cucumber cut to mimic its seafood plate-mate. Pan-roasted lamb loin and slow-cooked lamb belly were accompanied by radishes, chestnuts and barley enriched with rendered lamb fat." [TT]