Graham Elliot | Restaurant review
The eponymous chef has moved Andrew Brochu into the limelight.
The night I learned the name Andrew Brochu was the same one I ate meaty smoked oysters at Kith & Kin: It was a homey dish, satisfying and rustic. I never could have anticipated that over the next two years, I’d watch this dish develop. Next it was at EL Ideas—Phillip Foss’s scrappy prix fixe, where Brochu landed after Kith & Kin’s abrupt shuttering—the oysters tucked into delicate agnolotti and played against the heady flavor of horseradish. Nearly a year later, I sat down to the tasting menu at the revamped Graham Elliot, where Brochu was recently brought on as the executive chef, and set before me was a smoked-oyster mousse with mignonette gel. There was no oyster in sight—just its essence. To the average diner I think it would have been an intriguing few bites—more a promise of what was to come than a statement in its own right—but to me, it was as if Brochu was peeking out reassuringly from the kitchen and whispering, “Hey, guys. It’s me.”
It’s a testament to Graham Elliot—the man—that Brochu’s voice came through that clearly from the meal’s onset. When Elliot (then Bowles) opened his eponymous restaurant, it was as though he’d built a physical manifestation of himself: Every detail from the servers’ Converse sneakers to the music on the stereo was an outgrowth of the chef’s outsize personality. This applied, of course, to the menu, which bore Elliot’s signatures—Twinkie Caesar salad, Pop Rocks–coated foie gras—even as it slowly morphed from a bistro-ish format (appetizers, entrées, desserts) to one focused on prix-fixe menus (a $95 tasting and $145 repertoire are currently available; a few of those courses are also offered à la carte). Simultaneously, its chef, heralded at Avenues as a culinary whiz kid, skyrocketed to a level of celebrity that makes becoming a Top Chef cheftestant look like competing on Chopped. In the midst of all this change, you could forgive the general public if it had a muddled perception of the restaurant. Was Graham Elliot the chef or not? Was this an everyday restaurant or a special-occasion one?
With the appointment of Brochu, the answers to those questions are now clear: no, and the latter. Which leaves only this question: As a fine-dining spot—a place where the mood is serious to the point of drab, the music so quiet as to be inaudible, the service formal and the bill mind-bogglingly high—how is Graham Elliot? To tell it from the tasting menu, it’s impressive. Or at least it begins that way: To taste—I mean, even just to look at—the pea soup (a puree poured over cigar-like rolls of Spanish ham, pea tendrils and sweet little flowers) is to experience the freshness and brightness of spring. Brochu pairs tender lobster with lobster sausage and a sauce with enough acid to counter the dish’s richness. And even the chef’s playfulness feels thoughtful: Sheets of pasta come with an egg yolk surrounded by Parmesan cream; mix it together for a carbonara that’s both elemental and enticing. And a pre-dessert cheese course of Délice de Bourgogne (a creamy, Brie-like cheese) ice cream matched with the flavors of peanut butter and jelly is a charming play on the childhood favorite.
But aside from the “cheese” course, the second half of the meal disappointed: The two entrée courses featured unremarkable proteins (slimy redfish, squishy chicken) and off-putting flavor combinations (tough root vegetables and capers with the fish, blueberries and noxiously bitter edible flowers with the chicken). And desserts played it very safe, hewing to familiar flavors (chocolate, coffee, doughnuts) in likable but unmemorable ways. So maybe Brochu showed too many of his cards up front. In any case, he’s got the cards.