There is fear embedded in the paradoxical thought of tasting refined comfort food. When your childhood noms go through the refinement filter, bad things can happen to beautiful memories.
Walking into the posh Muse hotel, one might find the comfort is a poor choice of descriptor. With that said, the lounge area is spaced nicely, with plenty of breathing room between tables and a clear view of the crowd. With a drink in hand, you slip into the easy state of mind that promises a good night out on the town. Their drink menu apparently has gone through a renaissance. The line-up is loosely based on mythological tales, or more accurately, the scorned goddesses who rain mischief on the heros. Mine, based on Calypso, had citrus infused vodka and chilli soaked pineapples. Any embodiment of Calypso should perhaps have a bitter bite, but the fiery temperament went down lovingly.
Given Chef De Francesa’s many travels, I was expecting a rich blend of Caribbean and European flavors–but in usual New York custom, Japanese flavors prevailed in the end count. The token island item was a generous serving of plantain chips, which came with a chilli chipotle sauce. I find something utterly irresistible about plantain chips straight up, but the sauce isn’t half bad either.
The night would continue on with NIOS’ extensive bar food selection. The plantain chips were followed by a seafood fry, a duet of calamari and crab fritters. The calamari was as good calamari always is, crisp and perfect with a bit of acid (yuzu aioli). As for the crab, I liked the soft, almost ambiguous texture–moist, and undeniably crabby.
Next up was a tuna tataki. Tataki means to “hit into pieces” and yet this delicate tuna showed no sign of abuse. More accurately, tataki is seared, marinated, and thinly sliced, in this case finding a final home on a bed of enoki mushrooms. A strange contrast of textures, but went together nicely with the ginger soy.
If you read us regularly, by now you know that C.S. and I are fanatical about octopus. At NIOS, the octopus had the regular depth of flavor, but was not as exciting as I would have hoped. Octopus can make me happy or it can make me euphoric–there is definitely potential for more taste bud bliss.
Then came another serious addiction of mine, duck. I generally find duck more scrumptious when eaten warm, but served cold with manchego was a nice change. The sweet smoked flavor was nice with the semi bitter frise. I still think to raise the temperature, but to each their own. Also, more manchego please!
For le piece de resistance, we were faced with a most glorious sight: poutine. Not just any mess of cheese and fries and gravy, but one loaded with braised pork. For those who suffer the great misfortune of not knowing what poutine is, it is a masterful mix of french fries, fresh cheese curds, and gravy. Its conjectured meanings are many, but most generally I believe poutine refers to a mess. While it may not be a dish for all, it certainly brings back memories of living in the cold, bleak, yet wonderfully homey town of Ottawa. Give it a try, if not this interesting spin, order the classic, which NIOS also serves.
Finally, full on cheese and plantains, we savored a sweet end with maple bread pudding. Had the chef come out with a beaver tail, I may have burst out in the Canadian anthem. A satisfying end to a most interesting meal.
Chef De Francesa has served beaver tail (a pastry, not an appendage) during the holidays, which pretty much guarantees that I will return. In the meantime, NIOS seems to be finding its voice in lounge dining. With its inspiring drink menu and quirky line up of pseudo comfort food, I am looking forward to where this transformation will shape its role in the theater district.
From the notebook: Interestingly our 2nd poutine related feature within a month, and did you guys know there’s a twitter-bot that automatically retweets everything poutine related! This meal was complimentary, and we were not obligated to write, nor did it affect our views of the experience.
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