To celebrate the end of a semester apart, my parents and younger brother accompanied me to Marigold Kitchen, a restaurant I’d clamored about since my first visit a year back. We arrived on a Thursday, with a reservation for 6:30; the dining room emanated a demure hum. Barely audible music wafted above homey tables lit by a simple blue (Ikea?) candle.
Minutes after settling in with a glass of Pellegrino, our
server arrived with an amuse bouche: a spoonful of crusted and baked goat
cheese with two pomegranate arils (the individual seed-containers of the
fruit). The spoonful was a perfect pair, first mildly sweet then goaty (nothing
like baked brie). I sat back with smug anticipation – Marigold was going to win
credit card holders parents.
After what seemed like 20 minutes of menu deliberations – I was charged with menu interpretation, though even Uni custard was new to my ears – we ordered and readied for what proved to be an incessant wait. Service was a tad off all night. Later, despite our shooting hands and nodding heads, a trio of waiters attempted to whisk away with my mother’s last sliver of cake. The final waiter was successful, but moments later he returned the plate bashfully. If nothing else, the excusable slips provided conversation during the down-time.
First to arrive was my appetizer, consisting of two crostini: a Seared Foie Gras and a Duck Rilette. Each was placed over a crispy pumpernickel biscuit (full molasses flavor) and a stewed apple slice. The crispy crunch of the bottom disc provided the pillowy and salty Foie Gras with texture contrast and an equally puissant flavor. The three nibbles of Seared Foie Gras toast were the highlights of the night. The duck rilette, a scoop of stripped and pulverized mallard that looked like a spread, was also a sheer delight, especially when combined with the thin molasses cracker and dipped in the thin honey streak running alongside the plate. My brother enjoyed, or at least was intrigued by, the Taylor Bay Scallops: three tiny shells held thin coins of scallop resting above an Uni custard and topped with black trumpet mushroom strips.
After a belly-readying break, four entrees were laid down at
each respective tablemat. In a lapse of dining acumen (due, of course, to the
gourmet abeyance known as college food), I chose the Seared Scallop dish with Oxtail Tagine and root vegetables. The
scallops were cooked exactly the same as the foie gras, and the texture of the
two meats was nearly equivalent on my tongue. (And, call me crazy, but most
scallop entrees taste the same everywhere.) The dish held none of the flair
expected from a Marigold selection. I expected the oxtail might be the star
accoutrement, but the strips of pork-tasting-tail felt misplaced on the plate –
strewn between the scallops. The couscous studded with diced root veggies was a
tasty if uninteresting preparation to side the seared scallops. All said, I
enjoyed the dish ruefully.
My brother’s $30 Strip Steak (entrees from 24-30 this season) looked like a better selection, with a colorful smear of sweet potato and a wedge of creamy and crisp pommes au gratin – a beautifully conceived version of a wintry selection. Another fall/winter tease was the Squab Breast and Squab Ravioli, sided with a Chestnut puree and Rose-petal jus.
Dessert was a “yes” all around, because, save for my two
courses, none of the plates were belly-busters. While the fruit’s season has
passed, seeing the word “pear” and “fritter” in the same sentence intrigued me
enough to opt for the dessert: Fennel-poached
Pear and Pear Fritter, with Sage Ice Cream. The poached pear was a tad
soggy, and overpowered by fennel, but it was still pleasurable to eat the
peeled pear in its entirety (any core nuisances had been removed). The warm
pear fritter was the size of a golf ball, and contained an aromatic grind of
sugar and pear and spice. The sage ice cream rivaled any gasp-worthy herb
simulation at Capogiro. Another dessert, the Warm Chocolate Cake, was
more akin to a fallen-soufflé than a cake. Layer cake or not, the rich truffle
center made the cupped-palm-sized dessert just enough to satisfy. For some
contrast, a Black Walnut Tuile
arrived on the plate, wedged in between the cake and Sesame Ice Cream. All five dessert selections (not including a
$9/15 cheeseplate) appeared to have the same theme: concentrated flavors in
tiny packages. Not too exorbitant or sweet, the desserts are meant to complement
the meal before it.
Though I left Marigold without the mouth-altering experience I’d hoped for, the meal was wholly satisfying. Every plate combined unique and familiar preparations with seasonal flavors, mostly to laudable effect. The Foie Gras and Duck Rilette was perhaps the best appetizer I had all year, thanks to the unexpected but perfectly suitable sweetness underlying both preparations.
Location: 501 S. 45th St.
(reservations accepted: 215-222-3699)