Thursday, February 10, 2011


The last place I visited during restaurant week was Alex Guarnaschelli's Butter. The menu highlights seasonal American cuisine, prepared using classic French techniques. The restaurant space is likewise very unique, blending elements of nature with a very downtown, lounge-like vibe. Upon entering, you are invited down a long narrow room, outfitted with lounge chairs and cocktail tables on one side, with a small, rectangular window into the kitchen on the other.

 Photo courtesy

Although we arrived 5 minutes late for our 8:30 reservation, it was in this little area that Shaun and I had to wait (along with several other parties) for our table. For an additional 15 minutes. Now, keep in mind it was a weeknight (Thursday) and our reservation was already on the later side, so forgive me for saying, but I was less than pleased. I don't think it's too much to ask to be seated at the time I specifically selected ahead of time, is it? I am usually completely tolerant of waiting a few minutes (up to ten I think is tolerable) even though I've gone to the trouble of making a reservation specifically to avoid this problem, but come on. Twenty minutes? At 8:30 on a Thursday?


My intolerance was of course exacerbated due to my growing hunger, as my dinner time got later and later. Not to mention my unhappiness with the hostesses (yes, there were two) that no apologies were made for the delay. Finally, at 8:50, we were led to our table.

But rather than head straight into this beautiful dining room...

 Photo courtesy

we followed the hostess down to a lower level known as the "Birch Room"

Photo courtesy
Covered floor to ceiling in a birch motif, the room glowed amber. To accommodate the number of diners this night, the center of the room was filled with a long row of two-top tables, all uncomfortably close to one another. It was at one of these that Shaun and I were seated. Also filling the room was a bar, another small seating area with a gaudy electric fire place, and an empty DJ booth, although based on the noise level, you would have guessed otherwise. It was exceedingly loud. In such a crowded space with underground acoustics, I had to strain to hear our server describe the day's soup over the loud music also filling the room. But at last, we were seated. And famished. 
Thanks to my unhealthy obsession with menus, I had already perused Butter's online and was fairly certain I knew what I wanted to order before we even sat down. Shaun and I hungrily eyed the diners' food around us, which was unavoidable given they were only about 6 inches away. Shaun and I quickly made our decisions and relayed them to our server. We waited expectantly, trying not to drool, as the table next to ours received a basket of bread. The minutes passed and so did our waiter, empty handed. Finally, I see a server walking toward us with full basket of warm, starchy, satisfying bread. 
My hopes rose, until suddenly, he turned and placed it on the table next to ours, replacing their now empty bread basket! After a few half-hearted attempts at getting our servers attention, we finally nabbed him and put in our request for carbs. He quickly obliged and Shaun and I gobbled down hunks of cornbread and slices of a loaf similar to a rye or thinly sliced sourdough. Along with the bread were served two types of butter, one classic, and one herbed. Both were delicious. The cornbread had a nice dense texture, a little on the drier side and not too sweet. And the rye-like loaf was also perfectly satisfying.

Once we were no longer blinded by hunger, we relaxed somewhat, yelled at each other over the noise, and before we knew it, our first courses had arrived. For his appetizer, Shaun selected a Winter Greens salad with goat cheese, pine nuts, and a Sherry Vinaigrette. After hearing my options for soup, and nixing the cream of mushroom, I chose their Butternut Squash. Imagine my surprise when my soup arrived with this accoutrement:

Popcorn! I was shocked but delighted, as was the woman dining to my right, who felt the need to address me directly to express her excitement. Please keep in mind, it was well after 9:00, the bread had not satisfied my hunger, and this woman, sitting entirely too close to me, had already started to annoy me with her loud attempts at flirting with and attempting to impress her dinner date.
"Oh my gosh! Is that popcorn?!"
(Giggling) "Wow, I've never seen that before!"
(Not amused) "Uh huh. Me neither." *Scowl*

Turning back to my own table, I quickly gobbled a few pieces of perfectly lightly buttered popcorn before dipping my spoon into the bowl of velvety orange soup. The thing about creamy soups like butternut squash is that because they're so thick, they don't really give off any wisps of steam when hot. This is unfortunate since my soup was so hot, I singed my tongue. This was a hugely disappointing oversight on the part of the kitchen. True, nobody likes cold food, but unless you've ordered hot tea or coffee, your food should never be so hot that it might actually burn you.

Nevertheless, I pressed on, happily munching on my popcorn and taking care to blow on my spoonfuls of soup. Temperature aside, the soup was lovely. It was rich and flavorful, with a refreshing orange note. It was the perfect texture, creamy and not at all grainy. The popcorn was served in its own small bowl on the side, and I chose not to put it directly into my soup; I wanted it to retain its crunch and I didn't think it would really add anything to the overall dish. Contrary to the picture above (which is not an actual picture of my soup), there was no garnish atop the soup. No swirl or dollop of cream or sprinkling of chive. This was fine, although I do think a small aroma of onion would have been a nice little touch. Shaun also enjoyed his salad, which was largely portioned (as was my soup. I ate way more of it than I should have and still left a fair amount in the bowl), and looked appetizing and refreshing.

Before our first courses arrived, I noticed the table to our right had been served their entrees almost immediately once their appetizer plates had been cleared. I was a little worried about this quick pace, so I gobbled up my soup and looked around expectantly. Our plates were cleared and the minutes ticked by. It became apparent my worries were clearly unwarranted as we continued to wait and wait. I should say that I appreciate a nice pause between courses. It always makes me uncomfortable when your entree arrives but you haven't quite finished your salad But twenty to twenty-five minutes between courses is way too long. And I know I keep reiterating this point, but by now, it was about 9:45 and I was just sick of waiting.

Shaun and I both chose Braised Short Ribs as our entree, and when they (finally) arrived at our table, we were very thankful we had. For me, it was an easy choice as the fish of the day was Salmon and one of the other entree choices was a seared pork loin, which isn't something I would order (although the sides sounded yummy. Hello skillet potatoes and roasted garlic, mmm). My other option was a vegetarian flatbread with homemade ricotta, parmesan, and Jerusalem artichokes, which sounded delicious, but not quite like a fulfilling entree. So when a double helping of this arrived at our table

we were stoked. The meat had been braised until it was incredibly tender and full of rich flavor. It sat in an equally delicious broth and was accompanied by wilted dark greens (I think Kale. It wasn't listed on the menu) and hominy. Although the menu described an olive garnish, I found none, which I for one, was very pleased about. Aside from the delectable meat, the braised greens were out of this world. They had just the right kick of vinegar to balance the richness of the meat, and had been cooked to the perfect tender texture. Supposedly the hominy was served "crispy" but mine was bloated and a little gummy. Although not unpleasant, and I appreciated the use of a starch other than potatoes, I found that after my appetizer of popcorn, the hominy was just a little much. Shaun and I also ordered an additional (and completely unnecessary) side of mashed potatoes to share, which were soft, creamy, and excellently seasoned. My only regret is that I didn't have enough room in my stomach to enjoy more of them.
When we had finally eaten every morsel we could handle, our plates were cleared and we waited for dessert. 

We waited. And waited. And waited. 
Is anyone else sensing a pattern here? In my opinion, a solid pause between an appetizer and entree is completely acceptable. But short of ordering an a la minute dessert that must be fully baked when ordered, such as a souffle, it is completely unreasonable to wait more than about twelve minutes for dessert (I know I sound anal with my "twelve minutes" but ten seemed too short and fifteen seemed too long). We were waiting for at least twenty. 

For me, dessert wasn't a tough choice. Although I generally go for chocolate, a Dark Chocolate Torte didn't sound all that appealing to me. Dark chocolate can be a little too bitter for my taste, so I was perfectly happy when Shaun ordered it since it meant I could still try a little bite. That left me with Mango Sorbet garnished with candied hazelnuts and kumquat marmalade or an Apple Crisp with Bourbon Pecan ice cream. I really love apple desserts in the fall (and ice cream all year round), and never order tropical desserts, so the latter was an obvious choice despite my distaste for pecans and love of mango.

When our desserts arrived, Shaun's face fell a little as he saw my ramekin full of apple goodness and realized he had made the wrong choice.


(although neither look that great thanks to the poor lighting 
and my refusal to actually use a camera to photograph food in public)

Sadly, dessert was the most disappointing course. Shaun's torte was dry with not much chocolate flavor. It was served with a whipped sour cream, which was inventive, but not particularly great. My apple crisp was fine, with a nice crunchy, sweet top and a generous amount of nicely cooked apples. The ice cream was also good (despite the pecans), but sadly the whole thing was smothered in a bourbon caramel sauce that was so overpowering I felt like I needed a chaser after every bite. And since it practically covered the entire dessert, it was hard to avoid. I had to leave most of the ice cream uneaten, and dig under it just for the crisp. And yes, I gladly shared with Shaun. 
So here's my overall assessment of Butter: Great food, beautifully decorated, but noisy, with mediocre service. If someone invited me, I would probably return, but I'm happy I can cross it off my list.


  1. I'm sure it is no surprise that my favorite part of this post is the popcorn exchange with your neighbor. I absolutely smiled as I read that...such a Morgan Moment.

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