What is it about restaurant reviewers that make them discuss the architecture and service before the food? I suppose they could be on to something—most people go to restaurants for the "experience," not because they want good food—but they are abdicating their duty to educate the world about the glories and wonders of food. Maybe I'm just an optimist, but I think that some of the public actually goes to restaurants to eat.
My Take—Interesting Menu, intermittently Executed
The food at Commerce is fairly good. The menu is interesting with many well-conceived options. The execution is, however, sometimes flawed. By and large, though the only global comment on the food that I might offer is that the seasoning is uneven (principally in the appetizers, which seemed an odd habit). The winter vegetable stew provides the best example of this split personality. Winter vegetables with a poached egg is a lovely idea and quite appetizing on paper. We had visions of turnips, collard greens, perhaps, with a deliciously runny egg. The egg was nicely poached, but the entirety was woefully underseasoned and a bit undercooked. What was particularly odd about the lack of seasoning was that most of the other dishes that we ordered were energetically spiced, though some had their own flaws. For example, the pasta with odd things (again a lovely idea of innards) was slightly spicy, but the tomatoes included were quite uncooked—an almost fatal flaw. The other dishes that we had were nice (calves liver, roasted sweetbreads and the roasted chicken for two) and quite worthy of a repeat visit. But enough about the food—on to the reviews!
Frank Bruni—From a Speakeasy to a Showboat, April 30, 2008, NY Times
I'll give Frank a C+. He only spends 3 paragraphs before beginning to talk about the food, which is about average, and he had some reasonably apt things to say about Commerce. However, his complaint of "rankling dissonance" not permitted by a "frenzied atmosphere" could easily be directed at his overly flowery prose. Even ignoring that particular foible, there is plenty of grist for the mill. To begin, for the life of me, I cannot understand how sweet potato tortelloni with hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds are an "homage" to Italy; there is nothing Italian about sweet potato and pomegranate seeds are hardly a traditional Italian ingredient. Along the same vein, Spaghetti Carbonara is not supposed to have a peppery charge—Cacio e pepe is another roman pasta with which carbonara should not be confused. Finally, just because it may be hard to sell so many main courses for two does not mean they should not be offered. "Culinary quor[a]" aside, I like the individuality and options that joint dishes allow.
Restaurant Girl—Trying too hard can be trying, April 15, 2008, NY Daily News
RG gets an incomplete. Unfortunately, none of the dishes that she tasted were available when we went. However, the 3 paragraphs on history and the "chintzy plastic" coverings of the menus simply follow the trend of reviews that seem to consider everything but the food the most important subjects.
Jay Cheshes—Old-world comfort and new-money decadence make strange bedfellows, April 2-8, 2008, TONY
Jay gets a C. While his 4 introductory paragraphs outnumber his 3 food-related ones (including one dessert-based), those 4 have more insightful information. In the former, I found out that Grange Hall had only been around for a decade and that restaurant critics and art critics are not one and the same; in the latter, I found out that food makes Jay happy. The notes on chicken and caviar reveal that Jay's expectations controlled his enjoyment of the dish—one wonders if the menu had not mentioned caviar and/or foie gras whether Jay would have enjoyed the dishes more.
Adam Platt—Commercial Appeal, April 27, 2008, New York Magazine
Adam gets a B+. Only 2 paragraphs pre-food (though they are quite long), but a third was hidden after the first food-related paragraph. There was a reasonable amount of information about a variety of dishes and the general bent of the kitchen and the restaurant itself. A slight ding on the grade for confusing bacon with guanciale (and improperly pancetta) in the carbonara, but much love for recognizing that the "Visigoths from across the river" ruin restaurants. Too bad we don't have the Alps to protect us.