Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Skeen's 5 & Diamond
Admittedly, I haven't done nearly as much legwork on the NYC dining scene as I did when I was in LA. Somehow not having any income puts a damper on dining experiences. Go figure. Additionally, I live so far uptown that whenever I tell people I'm in Morningside Heights, they stare at me blankly and reply, "You mean Harlem." Well sure enough, when I found out there was an upscale restaurant within walking distance, I made sure to give it a try.
As I mentioned, having done hardly any research into 5 & Diamond, I had only vaguely heard that some famous chef was at the helm. I noticed the young, bearded man walking to and fro carrying ingredients, but didn't make the connection until I got home. Of course I also didn't realize all the drama that has attended Chef Ryan Skeen. Regardless of the chef's personality, if he can cook, I'm coming back.
Starting with the seared scallops with morel puree, fava beans, pea shoots and sherry vinaigrette, Chef Skeen was already on my good side--beautifully seared scallops at perfect doneness balanced with a hearty, earthy morel sauce and piquant vinaigrette.
The burrata and panzanella with tomato, arugula, melted eggplant, and nicoise olive was huge for a small plate. Unfortunately, such a large dish lacked substance. With something like this, each ingredient has to be able to carry a flavor load on its own and I wasn't getting enough from each disparate piece. In short, no unity of taste.
Iowa Farms Pork Loin with white asparagus, ramps, pickled blueberries. Does food automatically taste better if you reveal the origin of the ingredients? At first, I didn't think that Iowa Farms would be worth mentioning, but apparently it is. It's good to see independent farms. Doesn't everyone hate industrial agribusinesses? The loin was indeed tender and the accouterments were clutch. Pickled blueberries were a clever way to bring in the sweet along with the tart. This dish would have been been improved by some browning however. A few grill marks would've done wonders.
The Burger. That's all it's listed as on the menu. I may not have done much research, but I at least knew this was the burger that Chef Skeen had perfected at Irving Mill. A house-ground combination of beef cheek, flap steak, and pork fatback, the flavor was much more porky than beefy. It made for a juicy burger that certainly stayed on my lips for quite awhile, but lacked the deep beef flavor of Minetta Tavern's Black Label Burger. The waiter mentioned that the chef was experimenting with chips instead of the usual fries. The chips came with a barbecue seasoning fairly typical for barbecue chips. They will leave me forever wondering whether Skeen does his fries thick or thin.
Would this be considered deconstructed cheesecake with grapefruit, meringue and tarragon? Is it deconstructed because it is a cake in a bowl with no real crust? I'm never quite sure what the term "deconstructed" means, but since so many people use it, I'm going to go out on a limb and apply it to my dessert. Having no crust, the cheesecake would've lacked that signature grittiness that all cheesecakes have as the crust gets macerated along with the cheese filling.
Having heard all the news about Skeen's issues with the front of house staff, I would note that the service tonight was clumsy and sophomoric. The waiter didn't know the food well enough; he couldn't tell me what kind of cheese came on the burger. Another table asked him what "ramps" were and he was at a loss. Normally that is not such a huge problem, especially if he just admits he doesn't know and comes back later with the answer, but two in a row reflects badly on the restaurant. I was also the only table at the restaurant for about 45 minutes and still had to wait quite awhile for my food and drink service. This little service issues can certainly be ironed out and weren't bad enough to detract too strongly from the food, but I would be hesitant to come on a busy night when the waiters have even more of a challenge to juggle.
I'll come back for the food. But I'll come back just to support these kind of restaurants. There aren't enough upscale dining options in Harlem, and since downtowners lumps me in with the neighborhood, I should do my best to support it.
5 & Diamond
2072 Frederick Douglass Blvd.
Harlem, NY 10026
$26 Pork loin