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Restaurant Data - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
Restaurant Data
Yesterday we went to L'Espalier for Warren's birthday, thus furthering our slow but ongoing quest to find a replacement for the sadly closed Julien.

The quick summary is that we both liked it better than Aujourd'hui. Warren liked it about the same as he like the Oak Room, and I liked it better since I had preferred Aujourd'hui to the Oak Room, so L'Espalier is clearly the first place contended at this point, though there are a few other options that we have yet to try.

Major points in L'Espalier's favor were that the ambiance was nicer than Aujourd'hui. It was a more old fashioned setting. It was also quieter, though that may well be a function of it being a Monday night; the tables were small and close together, so it might have been noisy if it had been crowded. It felt more intimate to me. Still, not as nice as those little semi-circular sofa booths that the Julien had that let us snuggle while we ate. The service was also good, though they didn't give off the air of being career waiters that the people at the Julien did.

They scored major points with me when after I asked about what cheeses were safe for me to eat during the cheese course (there being a concern cheese made from unpasturized milk during pregnancy), they brought me a plate of fresh fruit made by their pastry chef just for me because it turned out that three of the five cheeses were not safe. This was worth extra bonus points because I have been craving fruits and fruit juices all pregnancy.

One thing I thought was particularly clever was their juice tasting option. In this kind of restaurant it's not uncommon to have the option to do the tasting menu and have it accompanied by a glass of wine with every course. I did this once at the Julien, and it was fabulous, though much more wine than I was physically able to drink. (I have this thing where I just find it hard to drink the stuff after about a glass and a half, like my body just doesn't want to let me ingest it.) Clearly any wine at all was out of the question given my current condition, and Warren doesn't drink at all. L'Espalier had another option other than just wine or nothing: juice. You could get each course accompanied by one of their specialty juices. I forgot what all of them were, except that the guava lime was very good. This seemed like a particularly brilliant option, and we both chose it. Did I mention the part about the fruit and fruit juice craving?

So, in summary we still miss the Julien a lot, but L'Espalier is currently the next best thing of the options we've tried.
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kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: March 19th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
psychohist From: psychohist Date: March 19th, 2008 06:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
As Elizabeth said, I liked L'Espalier better than Aujourd'hui. Some of my reactions, in chronological order:

- The valet parking charged up front, instead of when you got your car back. I didn't mind, but I found it a bit strange.

- We were seated by someone who probably thought of himself as the Maitre d', rather than the headwaiter. We got a nice seat. Were we supposed to tip him?

- The wait staff was very attentive, but as Elizabeth said, they didn't seem like that was their chosen career. I think the main difference was that they weren't as invisible as good career waiters are. At one point I dropped a knife on the floor; someone I hadn't previously seen instantly materialized out of nowhere, put a replacement knife in place, and then vanished and was not again seen for the rest of the evening. I guess I'm too used to places where all the waiters are like that guy, whoever he was.

- The availability of an alternative to wines was nice.

- Some of the food was excellent; some was merely good. Basically things that were prepared in advance, like the pate and the slice of salmon and lobster sausage were really excellent; things that had been immediately prepared with dry heat, such as the filet and the monkfish, were merely good. I speculated that their main chef might not be there on Monday - that had been an issue at the Julien - but there was an indication later that their chef did something special on Monday, so that wasn't it. Maybe it was something as simple as not letting refrigerated ingredients come to room temperature before cooking, but they should know to do that, right?

On the differences with the Oak Room, Elizabeth said her preference for L'Espalier had partly to do with having the multiple courses over time rather than all at once. I liked the Oak Room food a bit better, and their waiters did seem like career professionals, but I also agree with Elizabeth that separating the courses over time is nice.

There are a lot more things I miss about the Julien. It wasn't just the food and the professional wait staff; it was the ambiance. The tables were further apart, so you didn't have to keep your voice down to avoid being overheard by other tables. I enjoyed the high ceilings and chandeliers. The food was great, but the Julien would have been a pleasing and relaxing evening even without the food.

It's said that fine French restaurants are a tradition dating from the French revolution, when former chefs started found themselves out of work and started restaurants out of their own homes. L'Espalier feels like one of those restaurants. The Julien, I guess, was like dining with the nobles who employed those chefs before the revolution.
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