The Pool Strives to Deal With Its Famous Dining Room

The Pool’s problems don’t include the ingredients, which are spectacular. The sweetness of chilled spot prawns under a few drops of olive oil made me shiver with pleasure. A trio of flash-seared Hokkaido sea scallop, Pacific mackerel whose skin had been peppered and griddled, and raw amberjack under tiny cells of finger lime suggested that Mr. Torrisi could run a stunning sushi restaurant.


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My eyes rolled back in my head whenever I ate sea urchin. In one appetizer, it is arranged on griddled pretzel bread with mustard oil and tiny cubes of green apple. In another, lobes of it are layered into an iced bowl to be eaten, with crème fraîche and chives if you like, over blini, hard-cooked eggs, toast or, my favorites, creamy potato halves roasted in duck fat. (Caviar and trout roe are served the same way.)

Mr. Torrisi’s approach is to be lavish with punctiliously cared-for seafood and to outfit it sparingly. A beautiful illustration is the cured king salmon, two long, intensely flavorful strips served with a single potato dressed with mustard, shallots and dill. Another is any of the whole fish. The skin on turbot caught in Portugal is seared to a satisfying crackle on a plancha and served with a simple lemon vinaigrette. Like the Dover sole, it is lifted from its skeleton by a slim captain (they’re all slim) who performs the surgery wearing a Tom Ford suit.

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One night five captains in five suits filleted five sole for five diners at a table next to mine. It looked like a scene from “Ocean’s Eleven” that didn’t make the final cut.

But some of the more elaborate dishes are underwhelming. I don’t know how striped bass with banana peppers and “mole spices” can be dull, but it is. Coconut-orange vinaigrette sounds like a terrific sauce for lobster, but it added very little except sweetness, which the lobster didn’t need. Chopped gazpacho ingredients over a puddle of actual gazpacho was both too complicated (why not just serve gazpacho?) and too plain (the cucumbers and tomatoes didn’t shine with flavor).

This is all a huge improvement on what prevailed in the last years of the Four Seasons. But it doesn’t make you feel as if you are in the hands of one of the city’s best chefs, which Mr. Torrisi is, I think. Even at its best, the food rarely rises to the technical brilliance or boldness of, say, the green curry mushroom mille-feuille or the Vietnamese-flavored chicken legs he put on the menu at Dirty French. If his cooking at the Pool had some of that swagger, what’s on the plates could live up to the best parts of the original architecture and help make up for the renovation’s mistakes.

This is exactly what happens when Stephanie Prida’s desserts arrive. Ms. Prida, who until a few months ago was the pastry chef at Manresa in Los Gatos, Calif., has a knack for combining flavors that seem to get more interesting as you go along, like a crème brûlée with shaved plums and bitter almond ice cream under a squiggle of reduced sherry vinegar, or coconut parfait and fluffy pink-grapefruit mousse sandwiched between the thinnest possible layers of matcha sablé.

Bottles of Chateau d’Yquem going back to 1811 are kept in a glass wine room just off the entrance to the Pool, where they cast a beautiful amber glow that the servers are fond of pointing out. Enjoy it as you walk in, because this is as close as you will get to a dessert wine of any kind unless you are ready to spend at least $95, the price of the least expensive glass.

The wine list is full of wonderful bottles, but its most noteworthy feature is its breezy lack of concern for normal budgets. Out of dozens of sparkling wines, more than 30 are priced above $1,000. Just one is under $90. This is quite a pinch to put on customers who are already paying between $39 and $74 for main courses.

The Grill/Pool bifurcation extends to the dining room staff. In the Pool they are reserved, poised, deferential and seem to have been directed not to show any warmth or wit. Compared with the talkative, jokey characters in the Grill, who are ready to flambé something at the drop of a hat, the servers in the Pool are cardboard figures in tailored suits.

Major Food Group has no fear of going over the top. So I’m reluctant to suggest that the Pool needs more personality and drama — these guys are capable of stocking the pool with live sharks if they thought it would help. But the restaurant needs something, because at these prices, what might pass for restraint and simplicity can start to seem like a sophisticated heist.


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