Where the menu is a few continents short of a globe
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, Jul 27, 2011
One problem with a restaurant that sets out to serve "the most flavorful items from every corner of the globe," as the gushing press release for the new 901 puts it, is the reality that your typical restaurant kitchen hasn't mastered one cuisine, let alone the world.
Lump crab pinchos (seafood-topped toasted bread), roasted duck quesadillas, Thai rice paper rolls: Just scanning the menu of the downtown project introduced this summer by David von Storch, the owner of Urban Adventures Companies (which includes Vida gyms and Bang salons), induces jet lag. And skepticism.
Friends and I walk into the restaurant that takes its name from its address and find ourselves in an episode of "Sex and the City." Glass bubbles float above the foyer. Shiny metallic banquettes dress the dining room. There are billowy curtains and a linear hearth in the back, as well as a red velvet rope surrounding a white marble table next to the kitchen. (That would be the chef's table.)
Lots of eager servers somehow don't translate into efficiency. A cocktail requested "up" comes with ice; a gimlet is too sweet. Among the snacks meant for sharing are those Thai rolls, four fat high-rises packed with chicken chunks, carrots and more, separated by limp cucumber slices and pots of peanut and ginger-soy sauces. Big in stature, the group appetizer falls short on flavor.
It takes two tries to get a bison burger, sandwiched in a sweet-potato bun that suggests dessert, cooked as requested; ultimately, the meal is most memorable for its lacy curried onions. Salmon with a fan of zucchini and summer squash is overcooked. Meanwhile, a quartet of bland spinach cakes topped with chopped tomatoes and peppers indicates similar obstacles for vegetarians on the menu. I get a kick out of the spicy cornbread that launches dinner, however.
There was one dish, served at a later lunch, that stood out from the pack. Udon noodles strewn with calamari and clams and sparked with lemon grass and cilantro might be the best of the middling at 901. If there's ever a next time for the two of us, I'll ask the kitchen to hold the mushy fish therein.