I’m a big NBA fan. (Stick with me here. I promise this post is about food.) I’ve watched countless basketball games on TV, and had a jim-dandy time of it. Then one day, my partner scored us courtside seats, and I had the opportunity to see the game in a whole new light: it was all sweat, muscle, and reflex.
Last night, we sat courtside at Canteen. (Okay, no more crappy sports analogies after this.) I had the counter stool closest to the kitchen, where I could watch every move that Chef Dennis Leary and his assistant made. My order went in and then poof! There it was being assembled. I felt like a kid at Disneyland. Promise me, Dennis, that you’ll keep it small. I loved feeling like a conspirator. The waitresses, the chef, the two adorable guys sitting next to us at the counter—we were all in it together.
The menu was stripped down to the bare essentials. Four starters, four entrees, four desserts. I took a quick glance down the page and was relieved to see a vegetarian dish listed as the very first entree. I asked our waitress if that was always the case, and she assured me it was. They scored big points for that. (Shit! Does that count as another sports analogy? Mea culpa.)
Sadly, there weren’t any pure veggie starters, but I’m sure I could have ordered the Tuscan Kale Soup without the beef crouton or something. Instead, I started with the Escarole and Artichoke Salad with anchovy butter. (I’ve yet to cuddle up and make friends with an anchovy, and as far as I know, they’re in no danger of going extinct. So why not?) The salad arrived with a fried dollop of mystery on top in the shape of a bloated Hershey’s Kiss. I poked my fork into it and discovered the melty-gooey anchovy butter inside. Trust me, it tastes way, way better than it sounds. The salad’s dressing had a perfect tang that matched the salty goop, and I have to say, I was surprised by how much I liked it.
My girlfriend had the Rockfish Ceviche with avocado, grapefruit and shiitakes—which arrived with a little surprise of its own. The grapefruit came in the form of sorbet that actually looked like glistening chunks of poke sitting atop the rockfish, and the shiitakes were shaved and fried. So the cold, cold, tangy sorbet melted on your tongue with the smoothness of the avocado, all met with the little, bitty crispy bites of shiitake. Diabolical!
Next up, the Hedgehog Mushroom Tart with herb vinaigrette and spinach. Let’s just say the man knows how to make puff pastry. It was flaky and buttery, but miles away from greasy. And the mushroom fabulousness was perfectly seasoned. But most of all, I was jumping for joy at having the opportunity to order something that I was genuinely interested in eating. With only four entrees on the menu, you know that some thought went into the dish.
I also had the good fortune of tasting the Flounder roasted in brown butter, with curry, hazelnuts, celery root and crab. I’m thinking about writing a new R&B ballad dedicated to Canteen’s curry. It was that good. Something with a lot of “oooh baby” and bad double entendres about the nasty things I want to do with that sauce. Sometimes curry can weigh a dish down. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) This stuff, however, was nothing short of wings on a plate.
It was about this time during the meal when our waitress came over and said, “The chef wanted me to ask if you’re okay with the music.” Seriously? They were playing Echo and The Bunnymen. I could not love Chef Leary any more than I did at that moment, unless I suddenly turned straight and started dating boys or something.
But on to dessert. We shared the Chocolate Vacherin (aka, heaven in a meringue sandwich) and the Vanilla Souffle (heretofore referred to as “Oh My Fucking God That’s Good”). I’m out of superlatives, people. Just make a reservation, okay?
Looking back over this post, I have to ask myself, was it really as good as all that? Or was I charmed into submission by the intimacy of the space? The thing is, there are a TON of perfectly decent restaurants in this city within the same price range. But it’s been a really long time since I’ve tried one and thought “I can’t wait to go back.” Canteen, I’m yours.