Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oval Room - Downtown - Restaurant Week

I always approach Restaurant Week with a certain amount of ambivalence. While $35 for a prix-fixe dinner may sound like a good deal, in reality, that is more or less the same price you would have paid during a regular weekend for the vast majority of restaurants that participate in this promotion. The added downside is that you usually get a limited menu of untested dishes designed specifically for RW and, because kitchens limit themselves to these dishes, they have a tendency to mail in their efforts during RW.

However, I do find that the $20 prix-fixe lunches can still be a relative bargain if you choose the right restaurant. The Oval Room is one of those restaurants.

Getting reservations for an RW lunch at the Oval Room was surprisingly easy. The one downside is that you have to give your credit card information to them just in case you are an unannounced no-show. This is obviously unnecessary and annoying, especially considering that when we arrived at the restaurant, numerous tables were empty.

Furthermore, the service at times was a bit supercilious. The maitre d' was unfortunately a bit too stiff and curt with my party, and not particularly welcoming. I get RW brings in the bridge and tunnel yahoos and hicks like me, but a paying customer is still a paying customer and deserves to be treated with utmost respect. For a formal restaurant like the Oval Room, you are not just paying for fine food, but for a fine dining experience. Anything that detracts from that experience, especially any hints of superiority or snobbishness on behalf of the staff at the expense of the diner, ruins the food and it needs to be mentioned. On the other hand, the waiter who served us was pleasant and affable and I quickly forgot my run in at the front of the house.

The food was consistently excellent. Generally speaking, I would characterize the style of Oval Room as New American with Asian and Latin twists thrown in. I ordered pappardelle with a smoked duck ragout for my appetizer and it was exceptional. The duck was perfectly braised and fall apart while the smokiness gave an interesting twist on the sauce. My entree was a salmon fillet with cabbage and a citrusy, Asian style dressing that imparted a nice brightness and lift to the unctuousness of the fish. They also prepared my fillet to a nice rare/medium-rare, retaining its moistness. My dining companions also ordered crispy chicken with mole that was huge, which my friend absolutely raved about. While not a traditional mole sauce as found in Mexico, my friend noted that it nonetheless worked seamlessly with the various other components of his dish. My other dining companion also enjoyed her steak with tamarind sauce, though it seemed a little more conservative than my salmon dish and the chicken dish.

Desserts were fine. My toffee cake seemed a little dry for me, but the accompanying ice cream was tasty. My friend's chocolate bomb was sufficiently chocolaty and quite good. Obviously, dessert is not really my wheelhouse, but I would have both again without hesitation.

In sum, for $20, this meal was a steal. When RW rolls around next August, I will be sure to try to get another lunch at the Oval Room.

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