I remembered the bread vividly, a compact, petite loaf bolstered by a small dish of green, nutty olive oil, and framed by the rectangular slab of slate beneath it. Three petals of butter accompanied, arranged in a star on a square slab of their own, creamy pale against black. The butters were flavored, sharp, clean, clear, decisive: salted, parmesan, and toasted. Last year I was there for lunch; this time I called further in advance of my trip, and secured a dinner reservation.
And this time, although the butters were as fine as I remembered, the bread as well plated, other things proved the vivid highlights still lingering in memory: an extraordinary amaretto sour; parmesan air; the edibility of a cock's crest; and above all, the sheer humor of the food combinations. I've never found a meal so downright intellectually funny before. Indeed, although I knew that in theory it was possible to have pleasantly humorous meals, I've never encountered one in practice before.
I began in leisure, loitering on a leather-covered couch in the ground-floor bar area, surrounded by walls of glass and light and white with dark trim. I was the first one there, and, eventually, downstairs, one of the last. I was in no hurry, and what's the point of rushing good food? The better it is, the more slowly I eat. A personal-sized jar of seasoned olives arrived with a fork through its hinge. My amaretto sour eventually arrived, and it was a revelation, the sweet and tart contrast balanced out with a foaming finish which left the result reminiscent of sorbet or meringue, light and tangy.
The dining room is underground, not too large, but with well-spaced-out tables awash with white linens, each one finished with a dry arrangement of flowers and rocks trapped in ornate arrangements within spherical vases. As soon as I had settled in, an amuse-bouche arrived, a pair of small sampling dishes, to begin the tasting menu. The potato-almond velouté, finished with vanilla, was creamy smooth, tasting of marzipan, the taste of dessert to begin. It was accompanied by small dish of squiggles, headless baby squids with strands of pomelo and pea shoot vinelets, low-key on flavor, but visually engaging. The strands of pomelo, a citrus fruit, created mini-explosions as they burst under token pressure, explosions as delicate as all the kinds of squiggles themselves.
In all of the eGullet write-ups about Anthony's, no dish receives so much praise as the White Onion Risotto served under parmesan air, and with a dash of espresso powder. And it is indeed an ingenious and arresting dish. The al dente risotto was redolent of homemade chicken stock, whose robust underpinning was the secondary star of the show for me. The ethereal air, a lightweight foam taste of parmesan's essence, completely stole the show. But the espresso powder played a critical role too, its bitter touch cutting the sweet of risotto and cheese.
Although the risotto should theoretically have been the creamy course of the initial series, the second dish was all variations on creaminess. Smooth, lightly meaty monkfish hid under a tangy artichoke chip, on a warm cauliflower purée. On the same plate was a phenomenal roll of creamy, wine-like fois gras rolled in a crunchy, intriguing mix of bitter cocoa and muesli. I've never had a dinner dish remind me so much of breakfast, and in a good way, the smooth fois gras the effective replacement for milk in the muesli mix. It was nothing at all like breakfast, and yet that's where its origins lay. It was funny.
The next dish was presented as two kinds of duck, home-cured and confit, yet that wasn't right either, for a third form of duck had at least as much presence as the other two, a robust, cracker-like piece of duck crackling. The multitude of things strips of cured duck was presented in a tangle of fresh peas and pea shoots, the salady plating for the crackling and the rouillette (sp?) of duck confit. Hidden within the dish were transient bits of fruit - a piece of candied citrus, a daub of stewed prune, light touches of richness to anchor the light saladness of the overall dish.
A robust piece of John Dory stood up to the richness of its chickeny accompaniaments, from chicken roux to crackery crackling to an expected cock's comb. I had no idea this was an edible part of a rooster, and yet it is. The cooked comb - boiled? poached? - was soft, with the pudding-like density of a cooked mushroom, and tasted of the ghost of organ meats, a deep underlying echo of intensity to it, a crown-shaped outline on my plate, amber gold with dusky tips. The dish was sided with pistachio crumb-rolled pieces of firm apple; I presume the green sauce was also pistachio-based.
The last of the mains offered up variations on sweetness: tender roundels of lamb saddle on quinoa, soft paper-thin slices of lamb heart on what tasted like squash purée, and garnished with more pea tendrils, thin slices of radish, and a fun little sweet pickled onion in shades of pink. It was all soft and gentle, sweet and pleasant. I hadn't had heart before that I know of, but the taste wasn't any more intense than the roundels of more usual meat, if smoother. Throughout the theoretically savoury dishes, I worked my way through a half-bottle of chardonnay (2004 Redbank Chardonnay, Victoria, Australia), a versatile wine which worked fairly well with all the courses - and that's asking a lot of a single wine. It smelled cool, slightly floral, with initial flavors of smooth fruitiness - apples, touch of plum and pear, finishing with an oaky endurance, rich enough for a long linger, but not overpowering. Despites its floral nose, there was no trace of flower to its taste that I could discern.
Most of the mains were decidedly on the sweeter side, but this was counterbalanced by the desserts, which were dominated by tart and tangy. The first dessert was Milk in Seven Textures, tasting of clear, refreshing slightly tart milk, but otherwise a game-in-a-bowl of find the seven textures. I'm fairly sure I managed - I gave up at six, then realized I hadn't counted the ambient milkiness holding together the sections: crunchy wafer, caramelized and dense, lumpy fluffy cottage cheese-like, jellied and quivery, dense iced sorbet, and an overlaying foam. The dish was a smooth contrast to the complexities of the dessert wine recommended by the sommelier, Yalumba Muscat (Rhuterglen, Australia), a fascinating drink in tawny chesnut. Initial scent and taste was of cherries with a hint of raspberry, before settling into caramel notes with highlights of liqurice and hazelnut.
Where the wine contrasted with the first dessert, it matched with the second, the most savoury dish of the meal. Coconut parfait perched on a thin, sticky slice of black anise-rich liquorice, paired with a ball of black cardamon ice cream resting on dense caramel sauce and topped with a slender wafer of chocolate. Piquant, confident tastes rested in innocuous balls of white topped with the gentle gold of toasted caramel.
I finished off my meal with the optional cheese course, opting for the kitchen to choose five of their seven cheese offerings for me. All five - Cheshire, Golden Cross, Coligny, Durrus, and Bell's Blue - occupied the same middle range of spiciness, for all their texture and color variations, and so paired well with the sample of raisin-intense-fruity dessert wine which the sommelier offered me (Mauri La Perceptorie Aurelie, France). Afterwards, over a pot of peppermint tea, I nibbled at meltingly soft mignardise: a gentle blood orange jelly, silky smooth chocolate-rum-raisin square, and a particularly soft chocolate-rosewater jelly, coated in a dusting of metallic pink powder.
Service was highly professional and responsible, friendly in a formal way. The staff isn't as consumed by the food details as I wanted to be: my every question about further details of the dish had to be referred back to the busy kitchen, a good deterrent to asking too many questions - but still, in each case my questions were answered. I also realized, over the course of meal-related conversations that evening, how vast my ignorance of French food really is. Also, because the best restaurants hire staff with sticky memories, the restaurant director remembered me - and the only other time I ate there was a year earlier, for lunch. Note on food influences: the owner/head chef (and the restaurant director, for that matter), have worked at a number of other Michelin-starred restaurants, including El Bulli.
Much as it's fun to take myself out to dinner, the intricacies and amusement value of the food at Anthony's made me miss the dining company of C. and double0hilly, among other people. There's a great to say, to talk about, to think over in this food. It tastes good, yes, elegantly plated, yes, but there's a whole thought-provoking level to the food which demands conversation. Sometimes, restaurant staff can make up for my desire to talk about the food, to supply more information, to work through what makes it what it is. In this case, the extremely competent staff had by necessity other priorities - so I missed company more than usual. Marzipan, squiggles, classy comfort food, creamy breakfast cereal, stealth duck, sweet savories, a game of textures, and a savoury dessert - nothing was quite as expected - and I mean that in a good way - in the tasting menu at Anthony's.