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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thing 96: Butterfield 9

The Boyfriend calls me a food snob.

And, let's be honest, he's right.

But I think there is also a level of cheapness to my snobbery as well. If I'm going to spend some of my hard, hard earned paycheck on a meal, I want it to really be worth it. My standards of great food are really different when my entree costs $28 than when it costs $6. This is what makes Restaurant Week such a conundrum.

I ate at Butterfield 9 on Friday night, and what we ate was totally great for a $30 prix fixe. But if that is the kind of food I'd be getting for a $30 entree, then no thanks.

I went with DCSarah, who is also a self-professed food snob. And we both agreed that our meals got gradually better, starting with a mediocre appetizer and progressing to a truly great dessert. We got our $30 worth, sure, but we will not be reserving there for our next full-price special occasion.

The food? We each were so excited about the oyster and scallop stew to start with that we both ordered it. Maybe we made the wrong choice? A big, white, high-walled bowl was delivered to each of us with a small ladling of stew. The effect was elegant, the stew was disappointing. In a dish who's components are oysters, scallops and beans, how do you manage to terribly over cook the scallops and oysters, and terribly under cook the beans? Although the creamy seafood sauce had all the right flavor notes, the textures of nearly crunchy kidney beans and rubbery scallops was no good at all.

For our main course, I went with the beef short rib braised in red wine, and DCSarah went for the risotto. My short rib was good -- the sauce was rich and thick, the short rib tender and easily falling apart. Sarah's risotto was good -- creamy, earthy with truffles, studded with pea shoots, though on the salty side. Finally, our dessert were delicious! A pistachio financier, a perfectly moist, buttery round of yellow cake studded with green pistachio crumbles. Now, if the entire meal had been of this quality, then yes, yes I would go back every day. But then I think of that stew.

DCSarah, besides being food snob, is a design professional, who will soon be a published author about such matters, in a real book with her name on the spine (oh, the jealousy!). She looked over the spacious, bustling restaurant from our perch near the top floor staircase and remarked that it was nice, but nothing extraordinary. There's not a whole lot of character to the place, and it reminded us a bit of Corduroy, though not nearly as bad. The color scheme is light oranges, beiges and golds, the sweeping staircase is quite dramatic and there are huge photographs of old timey stars and icons. The service was a bit rushed -- almost as soon as our cocktails arrived, so did our appetizer. Our entree was hot on its heels, and I had to ask for the wine list to get a glass of wine that would go with my short rib and the whole thing just felt rushed. Granted, we had a late reservation (9:45) and I understand that our wait staff wants to leave at some point, but we were in no danger of closing down the place.

I would love to hear from anyone who has been to Butterfield 9 not during Restaurant Week. I don't want to write off what I believe to be a good restaurant because of a poor R-week menu, so let's hear from the peanuts. At the very least, we know that it might be a nice place for coffee and dessert.

One last note -- have you guys heard of biodynamic wine? They have a special code for it on the Butterfield 9 wine list. I'd never heard of it before and when we asked our waiter, he proceeded to tell us that it involves harvesting your grapes, naked, at the full moon, while praying to Dionysus. Or something. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but it's like organic wine on (organic) steroids. Even for a self professed food snob, this seems extreme.


Sarah said...

Nice shout out there, my dear! Looking forward to our next-ahem-30 course meal ;) Hoping the peanut gallery pipes in about this place!