Fifty South

I was originally told about this place by the owners of Ravenous, and all those I talked to made me want to try this place more.   I really wanted to like this place.  And when it’s been good, it’s been very good.  But when it’s not… well maybe I should just describe my meals there. 

I almost wonder if there are two grades of cooks in the kitchen, one for specials, and one there to provide someone’s idiot brother a job so he doesn’t violate the terms of his parole.  Their complementary pre-meal nibble is potato chips and tapenade.  I heartily approve of tapenade in general and the one they serve in particular.  I think you can buy it in jar form there and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it at the farmer’s market.  Anyway, a nice start to my first time there. And the appetizer special only built on that.  It was a couple of slices of lamb rack (overcooked from my request, but still delicious, and it’s hard to cook such tiny pieces of meat to a particular temperature) served in a martini glass over mashed sweet potatoes with some micro greens.  The sweet potato mash was a little wet for my taste, but that seems to be the normal way mashed potatoes are served up here.  The appetizer was a well thought out experience, decently executed.  It would be a perfect part of a tasting menu at a later spot in the progression.  The main course was where things came apart in a big way.  Have you even had a dish so bad that you thought perhaps you just didn’t understand the concept?  That surely they couldn’t have fucked up a culinary idea to that extent?  That’s what showed up.  I thought I understood the concept.  Salmon on wasabi-seasoned mashed potatoes with maple glaze.  Ok, I get it.  Like sushi, but with potatoes serving as the starch instead of rice.  What arrived was a gorgeous slab of fish on mashed potatoes so watery that puddles were oozing out, the entire thing drenched in maple syrup.  What, you don’t like horseradish maple syrup potato soup parfait, even if it’s garnished with salmon? 

Cooking errors showed up on my second visit as well.  I was there for brunch, but was in a more solid-food mood.  I saw some really delicious plates of pancakes, but I ordered a cheeseburger.  Remember how the lamb was overcooked?  This burger had the opposite problem.  I like rare/raw beef, but I prefer the taste of cooked beef when it comes to burgers.  I ordered this one medium well.  It came out blood rare.  No es bueno.  It was almost enough to make me finish my tasting of the place, but like I said I really wanted to like it, and I had already made reservations for a brewer’s dinner.  That was great.

The brewer’s dinner was so good, it further convinced me that there is a wide variety of skill in the back of the house.  I want to know who has cooked which of my dishes, and also their schedules so I can come over and eat when they’re working.  It started off with a (beer naturally) cheese soup.  I noticed that oyster crackers are the norm here, whereas back in Texas, their uses is uncommon.  So I’m not used to using them.  Here though, the soup was seasoned with the dulling effect of the crackers in mind, such that I found they were a nice addition, toning down the excessive (in uncrackered form) mustard flavor.   

The middle dishes could have been swapped in order, and in many cases would have, but really that’s an irrelevant formality, since there was no problem with taste fatigue.  We were presented with a twin slider plate, one beef one pulled goose.  Having never had pulled goose, I was curious as to what it tastes like.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell you, because all I could taste was the barbeque sauce mixed into it.  Still it was tasty, and the beef one was truly excellent.  This was presented sans garnish because of its early slot, but could easily have been the “entrée.”  That position was filled by a couple of perfectly cooked scallops on a rice salad with greens.  Who cooked this dish and why the hell couldn’t they have cooked that salmon debacle a couple of weeks back?  This dish was elegant, sensitive, ingredient-aware in concept and flawless in execution.  Anyone who can think of this and cook it is someone who’s food is worth eating.  The dessert was a wedge of “crepe cake” consisting of stacked crepes with a mascarpone-like layer between them, with a tart raspberry sauce.  This is one dish wherein the concept didn’t quite work.  The base “cake” was wonderfully rich, but overly dull tasting.  I’m sure that the raspberry sauce was supposed to brighten it up, but it didn’t quite succeed it its goal.  Maybe some citrus in the cheese or chunky granules of sugar scattered on top might have completed the effect.  A pleasant, mellow, but uninspiring end to a very good meal.

So there you have it.  The food ranges from wonderful to dreadful, and I only have a rudimentary strategy of “order the special” to obtain rewarding food.  I will probably be back when the farms are producing ingredients again and try to find “safe” dishes.  But if you’re in the mood to try this place, good luck.  It may pay off well, it may not.

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