Monday, October 22, 2007

Telepan: Is This The Best Of The Upper West?

Lacking Attention to Detail Can Turn a Good Thing Bad

I think I know why the Upper West Side gets a bad wrap.

The fancy schmancy food isn’t very good.

Actually, let me correct that. The food can be OK. There can be good value here. There is tradition.

But more often than not, food and service on the Upper West falls short.

I don’t want to generalize this realization, as I know some UWS spots are headed in the right direction. But after a visit to one of the “best” UWS spots, I was left disheartened.

The Story Begins

My visit to Telepan was greatly anticipated. I know of the reputation, have read the reviews, yada yada. All that is fine and dandy, until I get my chance to kick the tires. That’s when I know the real score.

Well, the visit to Telepan, nice and full on a fairly busy Wednesday evening… started fine. I waited for my colleague at the bar with a nice glass of champagne, and marveled at the well appointed dining room. If “Design Within Reach” was in the restaurant business, this would be their place… trendy green paint, box lights and all. It was comfy and cozy, if not a bit bright (turn down the lights a touch?).

From there, the evening started to drift downhill, as once seated getting someone, anyone, to serve us a drink or take our order was getting to be a problem.

I’ll leave my service gripes for a moment and talk about the food.

Both my colleague and I… lovers of trying as much and many as we can, both opted for the tasting menu. This decision was a fairly high priced one for the UWS, especially with wine.. but what the hell. This is supposed to be one of the best spots in… well, in NYC. So, I’ll fork over the cash.

Here We Go.

The amuse bouche was nice, but seemingly out of whack. The mini three-taste presentation included a crispy pancake-like bread (very good), carrot soup (ok, bland) and salmon tartar (fishy and average). Hmmm.

Our apps fared better, but not by much. My fried Blue Prawns should have been reworded “Blue Prawn”… a single medium fried shrimp on a plate over a basic bean salad. Being from Louisiana, this was an average fried shrimp… the variety I would tuck into a shrimp poboy and devour for lunch. The other dish, their famed “Egg In A Hole” was better, but still lacked an oh my god moment. The brioche was delicious, the mushrooms ok.. but overall just OK.

The mid-courses looked amazing, and we had a hard time choosing. Unfortunately, both choices were bad, as both dishes disappointed. The “Cauliflower with Black Pepper Noodles” was lacking distinction… meaning the dish had no center. No buttery finish or creamy sensations… just a cream based pasta dish with very bland cauliflower. The noodles packed no punch.

The other dish, a promising lobster Bolognese also fell short. Nicely presented, it also lacked flavor and richness in a tasteless broth. I understand wholeheartedly that the chef is going for subtle and fresh here… it just didn’t get there.

Lastly, the entrees were hit and miss. The Heritage Pork plate, complete with a loin, belly, shoulder and bacon piece was tasty… alone. The collards that accompanied were a good idea, but again the dish fell out of balance as I searched for something a bit more acidic on the plate. Perhaps a bottle of pepper vinegar for the collards would have done the trick. That aside, I like this dish…

The other dish, the organic lamb, was just plain overcooked. When asked if a rare piece (uh, maybe a juicy cut that is also tender?) could be found, the answer was just… “no”. Not exactly the answer you are looking for when you spend good money on food you believe will be expertly prepared.

And You Are Who?.....

Which brings me back to the service on this evening. It was nonexistent. The dishes we never presented by the server, but rather the busboys, who really knew nothing about the dishes. Our waiter stopped by on occasion if we flagged him down, otherwise we were on our own. There was no “how are things?” or “can I get you something”… it was gone with the plates and here comes the next course.

As far as the wine is concerned, going with the tasting was a mistake. Our sommelier seemed very knowledgeable… which is good, unless he is making two fairly informed wine connoisseurs feel like kindergarteners. Even when presented with wines we weren’t particularly fond of, we were told why they were great, and he poured. Shame shame.

Note to Telepan patron: We could have done a much better job from the list, and actually enjoyed what we drank.

And last?

Dessert was dessert.

I hate writing this blog, as I love living and eating on the Upper West Side. I love my corned beef from Artie’s, I love the steak frites at Nice Matin, I love my flat sesame bagels from Tal. There are good eats in our neighborhood… and a few institutions that can present terrific meals.

But on this evening, Telepan wasn’t one of them. Was is good for the UWS? I guess so. Can it compete on the level of food and service with a joint down in the village. Uh, no.

But I guess that’s I don’t want to give this area a bad wrap.

I mean, this is the Upper West Side.