December 13, 2010
On December 11, 2010, Linda and I dined at Compose a small, innovative restaurant which had opened just a few days before. Our interest in Compose was piqued because we had admired the talents of its General Manager, Eamon Rockey, whom we had known when he was a captain at Eleven Madison Park. Like the Executive Chef, Nick Curtin, he is still in his 20’s and brings energy, imagination and enthusiasm to Compose.
The one-room restaurant is dominated by a complex, horseshoe-shaped counter with thirteen seats. Ten of these are used each night for those who have reserved in advance for the Tasting Menu. The other three, and about eight in the back, are used by people who reserve that day, or walk-ins, for drinks and the “Bar Menu.”
All around the counter is a channel of crushed ice which serves to keep things cold and acts as an ice bucket for wines and other drinks.
There was an ambience of energy and final preparations when we arrived at 6:30. The Tribeca location and the unusual combination of a bar and an upscale tasting menu attracts an enthusiastic crowd. There is lively jazz playing, much better than the rock and roll of some downtown celebrity chefs.
The chef introduced himself and, after serving the hors d’oeuvres, asked if we have any food allergies. While everyone gets the same menu, he will customize as necessary.
Here he is having the same discussion with our neighbors, who had just arrived.
The hors d’oeuvre was a little bowl of duck fat popcorn sprayed with thyme-rosemary oil.
This was more interesting than it looks.
Eamon brought the wine list, which is on an internet-connected iPad.
The list is particularly strong in Spanish wines and there are a surprising number of older bottles.
We ordered a bottle of
2004 Bitouzet-Prieur Meursault-Perrières
and a bottle of
1985 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Gran Reserva.
They were both excellent. During the evening, Eamon also offered us samples of some of the wines which were being poured for our neighbors who had selected the wine pairings. They were imaginative and good. Here he is showing and explaining a bottle in the wine pairings to a customer.
The amuse-gueule was
“Kir Royale”, Champagne gelée, Cassis aspic, a nasturtium petal.
The carbonation had been captured in the gelée. Nice.
The menu proper started with a
Beet Vinaigrette, Jerusalem Artichoke, Charred Onion, Pomegranate
This was an earthy starter with the vinaigrette nicely restrained.
Smoked Grape, Apple-Celery Foam, Candied Walnut, Tarragon.
There was a slice of a warm Mozzarella sphere. We were told to pick up the little bowl and slurp the whole dish like an oyster. The tiny piece of candied walnut made a surprising difference with its textural contrast.
CRUDO of FLUKE
Cucumber, Jalapeño, Basil
The raw fluke was fresh and good, nicely enhanced by the cucumber ribbons, the cucumber/basil broth and a touch of jalapeño.
Fennel Puree, Butternut Squash, Bacon, Dill, Marigold Petals
The aroma of the bacon fat in which the little chunks of butternut squash had been cooked pervaded the dish and went well with the scallops.
Smoked Paprika Oil, Bulls Blood Greens
A stone heated to 450F was put in front of us. The chef came over and put the rock shrimp on it. After he turned it, he put on a bit of smoked paprika oil and the little beet greens. This was really delicious and made me regret that there was only one shrimp.
Almond Broth, Sea Beans, Juniper Oil
I thought that this dish was disappointing. The razor clams had little flavor; the almond broth was nice, but had little to enhance.
Lemon Cream, Cocoa Butter, American Caviar, Nasturtium
The lobster piece had been poached in butter and was luscious. The garnishes went well without challenging the lobster.
Cauliflower, Oyster Mushrooms, Cocoa Nibs, Artichoke
This was a good, subtle dish dominated by the artichoke purée underneath.
We had just noticed that no bread had been served with the meal when this arrived as a separate course. It was served with a little pot of excellent whipped house-made virgin butter.
Cranberry Jam, Chestnut Purée, Sage Oil
The chef came and gave us all a lecture on how this is “The Kobe Beef of Pork,” raised on acorns in Spanish oak forests. The traditional garnishes brought out its luscious flavor. The chef must still have been getting used to his grill as the kitchen briefly filled up with smoke while these fatty pieces were being grilled. It showed that the ventilation system works well.
Hanger Steak “a la Plancha”
Market Turnips, Black Radish, Banyuls Vinegar
This was a special course just for us since we had not yet finished our red wine. The beef was full of flavor. The turnips and radish were a bit underdone, but good.
This palate cleanser was served from a soda siphon. It was refreshing and so good that our four young neighbors ordered an extra round with vodka.
“TANGERINE TWO WAYS”
Mandarin Sorbet, Cocoa-Hazelnut Soil, Crème Anglaise
Nice and finally a touch from noma, the “soil.”
OATMEAL ICE CREAM
Wild Honey Foam, Almond Cake, Elderberry Gelée
Iced Honey/Lavender Crème Brulée, Almond Crust
A tiny, fine end to a fine big meal.
After the desserts we had a good, long discussion with chef Curtin. I expressed my opinion that many of the dishes were too complicated, that most didn’t need so many ingredients. I said that I was frustrated by the small size of some of the dishes. He described his reasons and theories. He said that during his recent one-week working session at noma, he learned that the dishes there are more complicated than they seem. He thinks that dishes can get boring with the third mouthful. He explained why he doesn’t have a cheese course. We also had an interesting conversation with the major investor in Compose, Jodi Richard, a very dynamic young woman. I am sure they will also be getting a lot of input from others; we will be interested to see the evolution when we return, as we certainly will.
We enjoyed a lovely evening.