I was interested to check out Room Four ever since it had opened, but I hadn’t gotten around to getting there. The thing about this place that sort of surprises me is that it seems like it is flying a little under the radar—as big a deal as the opening of Recess was, it seems like Room Four has just sort of quietly opened, and there hasn’t been a lot of press. I have mentioned it to several friends-who have all eaten at Recess, and they had no idea what I was talking about. In case you don’t know either, it is the newest addition to Greg Hardesty’s ventures and is actually accessed through the same door as Recess—instead of going in the front door and turning right, you go left to a new, smaller dining area. The menu is a la carte, less expensive and they don’t take reservations. I had heard that it was easy to get in, so we called some friends and asked them to meet us. Unfortunately even at a fairly early hour (6:30), while they weren’t full, they had no tables for 4 available so we had to wait about a half an hour to be seated. The tiny room (almost a hallway) is made up completely of tables for 2, which they push together for larger groups. We did get some wine while we waited, which was nice, but it was a little frustrating that there were several tables for 2 available but not next to each other. (I would’ve happily bought a glass or two of wine for any couple willing to scootch down one table so that we could slip into a table for 4, but hubby wouldn’t let me ask any of them). My advice though is that you can probably get seated fairly quickly if there are just 2 of you—more than that and you may want to prepare for a wait.
Anyway, we eventually got seated and had already checked out the menu, so right away we ordered several appetizers—the corn fritters ($8), the mixed greens salad ($9) and the quesadilla (which was actually listed as an entrée--$13). Loved the corn fritters—there were 3 fritters to an order (ok, we had 2 orders) and they were super moist little fritters that tasted wonderfully of sweet corn, with a crisp pan fried edge. But my favorite part was the topping on them—the menu called it “avocado cous cous caviar.” It was cous cous mixed into a lightly seasoned avocado spread—sort of a milder guacamole. I loved the addition of the cous cous. What a unique way to add another texture to what was a very tasty dish.
The salad was also really good too and was a nice thing to have on what was a scorching hot night (and this place can be a little warm even with their blinds drawn) because it was cold. There were mixed greens topped with sliced roasted shitake mushrooms, thick slices of beautiful ripe tomatoes, jalapenos and a ginger vinaigrette. I liked this salad because it wasn’t necessarily something I would have put together myself, and the flavors went together really well—it had a bit of Asian taste with the dressing and the shitake mushrooms, but also great sweetness and the right acidity from the tomatoes, and a touch of heat from the jalapenos. I have always liked the thoughtfulness of flavors in Recess (and other Hardesty restaurant) salads. This one was certainly no exception.
The quesadilla was also universally enjoyed and devoured quickly (and another one promptly ordered). It was a crisp tortilla filled with Capriole goat cheese, zucchini slices and black beans. I have never made a quesadilla with goat cheese and I am pretty sure it will be happening around here soon. It was so creamy but had that extra depth of flavor that goat cheese has—tangy yet light. The other ingredients gave it nice weight and the salsa of charred tomatoes, cilantro and chunks of avocado on top were perfect. I so enjoyed eating all these wonderfully ripe tomatoes…hopefully by the time this post is up I will have a few of my own coming out of my garden.
We also all shared one of each of all the other entrées (ok, so we ordered everything on the menu except the soup because it was like 150 degrees outside, what can I say? That is the benefit of taking other people with you.) The chicken wings ($13) at Room 4 are some of the best in flavor when it comes to chicken wings. They are marinated and well seasoned and then deep fried and served on top of a fairly thick pool of blue cheese celery sauce—I really liked the sauce—a ton of blue cheese in it, but it wasn’t a really cold sauce as you usually get with wings, but a room temperature sauce which I liked—gave the wings a little more gourmet feel. There were little bits of celery in it, instead of your traditional side of celery sticks. An interesting twist. And the wings themselves were so hot (as in temperature) we had to wait a bit to eat them. While I enjoyed them, and have had the pleasure of having them before (although with slightly different seasonings I think), I wouldn’t say they were my favorite thing of the evening.
Their take on “spaghetti and meatballs” ($13) was also a good one. Normally, I would never order spaghetti and meatballs in any restaurant. To me, it isn’t exciting or overly interesting and a fairly easy dinner to make at home, so why bother? Since there were several of us and we were going to share everything, we went ahead and got it. It was different—more like papardelle and meatball. There was one large meatball, and the tomato sauce, was a super fresh one with large hunks of fresh ripe tomatoes. It was lighter than what you think of with spaghetti and meatballs and I enjoyed it because of that. The meatball was also tender, unlike most meatballs I have had in my life. Everyone enjoyed it.
The last entrée we had was the gilled cobia ($15) served in a light broth (described as chimichurri butter sauce) with zucchini, French horn mushrooms and kale. Ok, so this is the one I can speak the least to, because it was the farthest away from me on the table, and I only got about a bite before it was gone. The fish was very tender, although with a very distinct, slightly fishy taste (I think because the skin was on the fish). You have to like fish to have liked this—we all did, but it wouldn’t be a dish for someone who likes only very mild fish. It is a little firmer than a lot of other white fish as well. The veggies with it were wonderful and as I have said before, Chef Hardesty has a way with fish. It is always cooked properly and with just the right things on the side. Being served in the buttery sauce also made it even more intensely moist.
Ok, so there was only one dessert. Of course we had to order it. They were cookies. Warm homemade cookies made with large hunks of various chocolate-y candy bars. Seriously, even with as full as I was (and a bit too much wine), I could have eaten several more of these. I don’t know if they are always on the menu, but I hope so.
So to sum up, this place is such another great addition to the ever-growing group of restaurants in the City that are taking familiar dishes and tweaking them a bit to give it a gourmet spin. And in the hands of this kitchen, they are doing it with more finesse than most. The ingredients are impeccable and many of the flavors are complex, but the dishes are approachable and affordable. I have always loved Recess, but this place will have something to please everyone I think, and I know I cannot wait to return.
4907 North College Ave