Tuesday, August 19, 2008

South African disappointment at Braai

This evening, the bro and I ventured to Braai, the new South African BBQ restaurant from the owners of Xai Xai. Since I like Xai Xai a lot and any new restaurant in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood is intriguing, I checked out the menu online and there seemed to be some interesting vegetarian selections. So early in the dinner hour, the two of us arrived at the almost painfully empty restaurant.

Needless to say, we were seated immediately-- and were given a somewhat awkwardly comprehensive choice of tables, which resulted in a table near the open floor-to-ceiling window/wall. The restaurant itself is very pretty-- long and thin, partially subterranean, and decorated in a browns and tans. The ceiling is thatched with straw, a nice effect.

The well-decorated interior

We looked over the menu, which was divided into sections with untranslated titles I didn't understand ("Istatah"; "Mini-Sosaties"). There was an interesting selection of salads and quite a few meat dishes. We settled on our food choices and decided to skip wine. N.B.: In a somewhat bizarre turn of events, especially since the owners own a wine bar a few doors down, the wine list is very short and offered in either half or full bottles. The only wines by the glass were two "special" house wines recited verbally. This seems like a bad move to me... not only because wines by the glass are often some of the highest-margin wines but because it would be a good opportunity to allow diners to sample some new, interesting South African wines, which maybe they'd continue to drink should they visit Xai Xai. Hmmm...

Anyway, we placed our order, and soon the bread basket arrived. It was a cone of entirely unremarkable thinly-sliced white bread with a small bowl of olive oil and a bowl of some sort of nut/spice mixture. The mixture, which was mainly sesame seeds, was tasty, but neither the bro nor I could figure out why it was served with the bread. You couldn't really dip the bread in it... if you sprinkled it on top, it would fall through the bread's holes... In the end, I resorted to eating it straight with my fingers. Not sure if that was the intent.

Bread with weird stuff

Soon the appetizers arrived. The bro had ordered Mutton-Wors, or lamb sausage with roasted sweet potato and baby bok choy with a yogurt-guava sauce. It arrived in a cute little pot with a skewered, coiled sausage on top and as such was exceedingly difficult to eat. How do you cut the one intact head of baby bok choy in the deep, almost spherical hot pot? How do you incorporate the sausage without the sauce splattering everywhere? No idea. Overall, the bro said that while no sausage is going to taste BAD (it's like pizza in that respect), he's had plenty of sausages that were lots more flavorful. He said he wouldn't recommend the dish or get it again himself.

Cute but impractical... like Manolos

I ordered the mushroom and three bean salad (and that only... and it was brought out with my brother's appetizer. I didn't specify otherwise, but they didn't ask, either). I requested the tasty peri-peri cilantro dressing on the side, and the first version arrived with the dressing on it (they quickly took it back and made a new one). The main salient point about this $11 salad is that it was tiny. Like, pitifully small. There were about a half-dozen beans (of the string bean variety... a disappointment as I was expecting the kidney-bean-esque family of beans) and a few shreds of something fried and crunchy on top. The highlight of the salad were the roasted shittake mushrooms, but unfortunately there were only about three silver-dollar-sized mushrooms in the entire salad. All I can say is, come ON people-- if you're going to charge eleven dollars for a salad, make it substantial. At least throw an extra handful of mixed greens in there to give the impression of volume.

Extra points if you can spot the salad

Once we were done (I ate verrrry slowly to make the salad last), the bro's entree arrived. He had ordered the Venison, which was a grilled venison steak accompanied by roasted sweet potato, eggplant, caramelized onions, and mushrooms. They hadn't asked how he wanted the venison cooked, and it arrived on the well side of medium. I ate a bunch of the veggie garnishes after the bro was done, and they were definitely flavorful; he pointed out that the venison itself was too peppery. While this was certainly the best of the three dishes we ordered, as the bro put it, it wasn't something he'd ever crave.

Crowned by a lychee... interesting

So all in all, we were pretty disappointed. The place is nice to look at and certainly uncrowded, and the food is okay, but it's definitely overpriced. The service wasn't spectacular, and they didn't execute the one special request we threw at them (dressing on the side, at that). We wouldn't return For the money, there is an infinite number of better places to spend your appetite. Or-- for that matter-- just make your way down the block to Xai Xai. It far surpasses its two-Offset-Spatula upstart sibling.

329 W. 51st Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues

1 comment:

Niki said...

That spice mix served with the bread looks like dukkah. You're supposed to dip your bread in the oil first, then into the mix so it adheres. Very popular here in Australia.