***As of June 5, 2011, Euphoria is closed as a restaurant and is only open for private events. The chef has also left the restaurant.****
Let me start by saying how happy I am that this restaurant exists again! Maybe even euphoric? (ha ha) Anyway, this is the new restaurant upstairs at the Bugg’s Temple building, previously “The Tavern at the Temple.” Several weeks ago the restaurant closed, and just when it looked like one of my favorite restaurants (for the chef and food anyway) was gone forever, it was reborn, as it were, as Euphoria. New owners, new service staff, same chef, many of the same menu items.
My first experience was a few nights before their grand opening when hubby and I were invited in to try some of the bar menu (and one of the regular menu appetizers as well). I was psyched. And thrilled to know the mussels I loved so much were still on the menu. They were the best in town. There are several repeat items as well as several new ones. And the cheese menu is still there too (thank goodness!). And you should know, if you go to eat here, you can always order off of the bar menu as well, so ask to see it. You get a lot more variety as far as appetizer choices that way (it is a completely different menu from the regular restaurant menu), and you can make a kick butt cheese plate for yourself for dessert.
So on this first night we tried two completely new things to us to start with, the sweet potato gnocchi with pork, thinly sliced brussel sprouts and Parmesan (this one is actually a starter on the dinner menu). Let me tell you, this was so good. Sometimes I find sweet potato things to be, well, too sweet. This was amazing. The gnocchi were sautéed and a bit crispy on the sides and all the flavors melded together perfectly. I would recommend this to anyone dining there.
We also tried the beef tartare. The freshly ground tenderloin and strip steak was topped with a fried quail egg and paired with very finely chopped onions and tomatoes, capers, those little tiny gherkins (cornichons I believe they are called) and mustard. And housemade garlic chips to scoop it with. Well, actually, they were really too thin to scoop it with, but great as a topper to a bite put together on your fork. The beef was excellent and the mustard really added that zip that you need with such a rich dish. I would get it again though for sure.
I had to get the mussels as they were one of my favorite things in the previous incarnation. When they first brought them out, we both thought they were off. The flavor wasn’t quite right. I then realized the smoked tomatoes that usually are a part of this dish were missing and it really suffered for it. Fortunately, I recognized the problem, and the dish was taken back to the kitchen and came out with the tomatoes. Then, it was back to par. I think because the restaurant wasn’t technically open yet and the kitchen was still getting it together (many new staffers were are told), they are just working out a few kinks. Just be sure and look for those tomatoes if you don’t see them on your mussels—they really make a huge difference!
We also tried the shrimp cocktail because it had been recommended. They are attempting to make a classic standby somewhat unique by serving it with different sauces besides the classic cocktail sauce. They serve it with three sauces—cocktail but with a sweet chili and Sriracha kick (really tasty actually), a cajun remoulade (this one didn’t really do it for me, tasted more like mustard or something), and a crème fraiche horseradish sauce (I liked the tang mixed with the heat of the horseradish). All in all, this dish was my least favorite though. The shrimp were good and large, but something about them was just a bit off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I don’t think I would order this one again.
For dessert, we were offered a cheese board (oh, hallelujah!) and we jumped at it. They have a lot of cheeses on the bar menu (and we are told even more to come) but they put it together for us. It was quite good, even without choosing it myself. They only thing I would change (besides making my own cheese choices) is that some of the crackers served alongside were savory flavored—which would be good if you are having a cheese plate as an appetizer, but when you want it for dessert, either plain crackers are best, or else something really good like raisin walnut bread thinly sliced and toasted. And some fresh fruit and nuts would really add to the experience as well. There was some chunky jam with it which was good, but just some grapes or fresh sliced apples makes for a perfect cheeseboard in my opinion. We were told that they are actually trying to go all the way with the cheese thing and actually invest in a cheese cart like you see in Europe (and San Francisco and even Chicago for that matter). In case you are unfamiliar, it is very common in Europe for there to be a large wheeled cart with many cheeses on it (usually broken up by animal type—i.e. goat’s milk, cow’s milk and sheep’s milk and then again by strength (or as I prefer to think of it, by stinkiness)). In Europe, people often have a cheese course either before dessert, or in place if it. And when you choose it, they wheel their cart around and you get to pick some yourself that they then slice up and serve with all the yummy accoutrements. The goal is to have a full cheese service on the weekends, with a dedicated cheese server! I won’t believe it til I see it, but I would be so, so happy! Bring on the stinky cheese! (I like the strong ones).
The service was so much more friendly and knowledgeable and I hope to see that continue and expand. The only service-type problem we had was the bottle of wine we ordered wasn’t very cold (which had been a problem in the past). I am going to think positive and believe it was just because they were still getting ready for the Grand Opening.
The next time we went was actually on the grand opening night. We went with friends, which was great--opportunity to have tastes of many things. It was a very cheery atmosphere and it was nice to see the place busy. They clearly had enough service staff and were on top of making sure the water glasses were full and wine glasses were topped off. We were also told there are many new servers who have come from other restaurants around the city known for their service. This is key, as service was one of the biggest problems with this place under the old regime.
The first food type thing I want to comment on is the bread. They have changed the bread service! I was mentioning this to hubby when we were at the bar, and was really hoping they got rid of the little rolls that were served room temp and were often so hard they could be substituted for batting practice. They now have nice slices of soft fresh bread (still not warm, but you can't have everything). Much better. Oh and such a cute little glass server for the butter--butter which is also room temperature and thus, spreadable!
We were served an amuse bouche of the salmon pastrami with a bit of creme fraiche and caviar. I'll be honest, smoked fish isn't really my thing but hubby loved it and everyone at our table seemed to enjoy it. Loved the plates they are using--very colorful and eclectic. The cool plate thing went on throughout the meal.
For my starter, I had the scallops grenobloise. These were outstanding. Normally I prefer the large sea scallops and these were the little bay scallops. But this was a great preparation. They were lightly pan fried with capers (love that tangy/salty thing) and teeny tiny croutons and a creamy fingerling potato sauce underneath. Add a touch more lemon, and, perfection. Hubby had the polenta with wild mushrooms and truffle oil. They were outstanding as well. One of our dining companions had the sweet potato gnocchi based on my recommendation and really really liked them, just as I did.
For my main, I had the lamb chops. First of all, can you say, enormous? The portions at this place have gotten Oceanaire size I think. The flavor was good, I really liked the dijon sauce and of course, the twice baked fingerlings (they fancy person's potato skins with cheese and bacon) and the broccoli rabe, however, the lamb itself was a little too tough. They were the big loin chops, and not the little lamb lollipops (um, the technical term being rib chop I believe) that I prefer (and which seem more tender). They were still medium rare in the middle, but they were a bit too charred on the outside. Hubby and another of our party had the suckling pig and both seemed to quite like it. My other friend had the one side seared beef, which I have had before and I know is good. It did have a more Fallish side dish-- wild mushroom risotto, and was quite well received. Seriously though, the portions are really really big. Next time, I will either split an entree or get two starters for sure.
Along these lines, another thing I noticed about the new menu was that 1) the prices went up and 2) there is a whole section of the menu which is like a steakhouse (and so many restaurants in this town). Now, I am guessing that both of these things have been done in order to ensure the survival of Euphoria, in which case, I wholeheartedly support it, as I really want this restaurant to succeed and prosper. It is a unique, non-chain restaurant with a local born chef (who has worked around the world) and who I think is doing great things. However, it does sort of bum me out that slightly under half the menu has been dedicated to steak like SO many other places around here. I mean, do people around here only want steak when they are eating out? I can throw some meat on the grill and have it come out pretty damn good. I want some complex flavors, some ingredients not necessarily so readily available to the home cook, some side dishes that layer the flavors in a way that I wouldn't naturally come up with on my own. But the dishes that aren't on the steakhouse portion of the menu all look great and all seem to showcase the talents of the chef. So expand your horizons and order those. Enough said.
For dessert, we ordered a cheese plate (natch) from the bar menu based on our own personal selections. We ordered quite a few selections and I am happy to report they were already serving them with plainer crackers and some fresh grapes (wow, are they reading my mind or what?). And as part of the dinner service, they were serving walnut bread, so I just asked for some of that with my cheese as well. Of course, if it were sliced super thin and toasted, oh the joy. But we can't have everything. I was very pleased with it. Hubby was too except that he complained about eating too much. My friend who was with us ordered a chocolate/pomegranate cake which was a tad dry I am afraid. Needed at least some creme anglaise or ice cream alongside to moisten it up a bit. And where oh where has the banana tart gone? Hopefully not away with the old owners. It was so good. They were offering a pear and apple tart tatin--next time.
The wine service was much improved (other than we didn't get a wine list upon being seated), but I knew what I wanted, so not a problem for me. And it was cold. They also serve my fave--Moscato d'Asti by the glass for dessert which made me a happy camper.
All, in all, Chef Gates is back, service is better and the food is still great. This time people, let's keep this place around!
337 West 11th Street