elemental at gasworks

tuesday was an important night.  my best dining partner was in town for just one night, after many months of separation.  decadence was in order.  

over cocktails at licorous, we decided to endure the $25 cab ride and make our way to the condo complex that houses elemental at gasworks.  

the room is spare, and dark once the sun goes down, with only votives to guide you to your high-backed white chair (this is why i didn’t take any photos).  there are five tables, no reservations are taken, no waiting list exists, and you won’t be given any sympathy or if there is no table available.  

phred is an owner and the host/tyrant of the restaurant.  the impression he makes on diners can vary wildly from customer to customer.  some would describe his personality as dryly funny, others would tend towards cranky or unkind.  it simply depends on the way that both you and he are feeling that evening.  because his reputation so powerfully precedes him, some people enjoy his quirky rules (NO tipping!).  and many others leave infuriated, insulted, and unfed.

we arrived late enough that there was no wait (dinner is served until 12) and we were told to sit down.  two glasses of dry sherry made an appearance, and soon after phred came by to offer cocktails.  

“a negroni?  a manhattan?”

well, yes, actually, i did want a negroni.  and sure, why not a manhattan for my friend.  

we were halfway through our drinks before the subject of food came up, and phred wanted to know if we needed menus or if they should just take over.  

needless to say, we didn’t want menus.  what a relief it is to have this option.  if only every restaurant would spare me the stress of having to pick and choose.  while at lampreia, this same fellow eater and i had requested that the kitchen just send us food; we liked to share, we ate anything.  our server had looked confused and we’d ended up with two identical tasting menus (for $400).  

phred didn’t ask if we wanted to share.  we were going to share.  and we were going to drink what he poured us (i’ve never seen a physical wine list there).  which is exactly what we wanted (not that that mattered).  wine glasses came and went with ease.  we were never without wine, but we also never had more than one wine, which meant you have to hurry and finish each glass if you are as opposed to wasting wine as i am.  

i started off making guesses as to what we were drinking, but it just didn’t seem to fit the mood.  the only important consideration was whether or not the wine worked with the food – and it always did.  details like varietal or origin were irrelevant.  

the food is as unpredictable as phred’s demeanor.  we began with a cold beet and tomato soup with a scoop of some sort of cheese ice cream – like the wine, i was never sure of the ingredients of my food, and left it that way.  it was difficult to tell in the lack of light, but i have a feeling that the soup was beautiful.  i always think beets are beautiful.  

cured salmon was seasoned with sea salt and soy sauce, sprinkled with black sesame seeds.  along side was green papaya and cucumber (i believe), cut like spaghetti and dressed with sesame vinaigrette. 

blinis followed.  atop was a tartar with a hint of bacon, and a generous dollop of creme fraiche tied it all together in a most lovely way.  very mid-rare beef medallions were wrapped in what i’m guessing was phyllo dough.  white rice accompanied, speckled with bell pepper.  i can’t say i’m sure why the two elements were chosen to be on the same plate.  

this particular meal was regrettably cut short when my friend became ill (something to note – don’t have cocktails before arriving at elemental.  she was genuinely ill, though, and not yet drunk).  on other visits, however, the plate traffic is impressive.  courses and wine pairings continue to arrive far later into the night than you expect.  

it’s difficult to categorize the food.  each dish seems to have a different worldly influence, and sometimes there are multiple influences.  i frequently have a difficult time imagining the reference point used for the creation of a dish.  quite often, the quirky combinations are successful.  not always.  

what i would like to be able to say is that the high quality of the food at elemental makes the risk of facing phred’s wrath worthwhile.  i myself (and many others, elemental is usually busy), don’t take it personally or manage to avoid it because i like to let phred run my meals.  for so many others, though, without outstanding food waiting for them, the whole event just isn’t worth it.  

and yet, i can’t help thinking that that’s what phred’s hoping for.  just as customers like to choose their restaurants, some restaurants like to choose their customers.  phred’s just weeding the garden.

Elemental on Urbanspoon

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~ by patmybutter on July 5, 2008.

One Response to “elemental at gasworks”

  1. This is one of the best description of the Elemental experience I have read. You tell it like it is.

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