In his latest review, Pete Wells files a rare restaurant twofer on two small restaurants with big ambitions. The first is Ann Redding and Matt Danzer's Mr. Donahue's, whose nine seats make Pete Wells feel the kind of "true nostalgia," that makes one long for simpler times in a bygone era:
We’re not supposed to want to eat this way anymore. Maybe that’s why, when I got my chicken-fried pork cheeks with Swiss chard and crab imperial, I was filled with gratitude. The chard was cooked with a little garlic and lemon and bread crumbs. The crab tasted of mayonnaise and Tabasco and had been browned and warmed inside a heavy foil dish in the shape of a crab shell. I spread it on saltines from a crinkly cellophane wrapper and ate it with the sensation of having found something I’d lost such a long time ago that I’d forgotten about it.
Wells finds the porgy pairs perfectly with gravy, and the banana pudding alone is worth repeat visits. He gives Mr. Donahue's two stars.
At Ruffian Wine Bar & Chef's Table, there may be more seating, but the space is just as small. Still, Wells digs many of the dishes coming out of the restaurants kitchen. Here's the critic on some of his favorites:
Jammed behind one end of the counter, they arrange cheeses with house-made jam, warm some marinated olives that are as smoky as bacon, toast sliced baguettes for a knockout tomato chutney, plate some crisp, young radishes with bagna cauda, spread out sliced cross sections of fennel bulbs marinated simply and deliciously with sherry vinegar and fennel seeds, and plunge an immersion blender into batters that will go into the tiny convection oven and emerge as three-inch soufflés.
I had no expectations of lentil salad, but it’s one of the best things on the menu. A variety of lentils and other legumes are firm, separate, not at all mushy, seasoned with dried chiles and curry leaves, swirled with yogurt sauce, and sprinkled with crisp threads of sev, the chickpea-flour snacks.
The beef tartare disappoints, and Wells finds the profiteroles to be odd, but he still promises to return. One star.