The kitchen is part of the dining room, separated from high-top tables in the back by a long work table; the chefs also deliver each dish, a nice connection for diners who like to meet those preparing their food. When we sit near the kitchen, we can see the chefs place mushrooms in a bowl of soup with tweezer-like tongs and sear pork chops; at the end of the night, they pop open cans of Lionshead beer as they sharpen their knives. It’s almost as if we’re at a friend’s house — only we don’t feel obligated to help.
The staff is exceedingly gracious, greeting each guest with a glass of champagne and bringing out little bowls of warming gingery fish stew on a bitter night. They may even let you swap items between menus if you ask nicely — and vegetarians who give the restaurant advance notice will get a customized tasting menu. Glasses of fermented kombucha tea are paired with the citrus course; on another visit, we all get a shot of Lillet with Fernet foam.
Like almost all the chefs in the kitchen, the knowledgeable sommelier also hails from L’Espalier, and she switches up the wine pairings beautifully as she goes: a crisp Austrian gruner veltliner for the carrot dish, a French grenache-syrah blend with the duck, and a Spanish Amoroso sherry for the date cake.
As fussy as the food may sound, it’s a highly unfussy experience. Need a clean fork? Just reach into one of the drawers at the table and grab one. Some chairs have sheepskin on the seats; some don’t. Hip-hop, electronica, and ’70s rock play on the stereo. L’Espalier this ain’t.
Nor is it Café 47. I still long for a comfortable neighborhood hangout, but this high-concept, stripped-down new kid on the block is definitely growing on me.