Sunday, September 7, 2008

Braving the storm at Zoe

On Saturday night, the dining quadrumvirate ventured out into Tropical Storm Hanna to check out Zoe in Soho. While the meal had its highlights, if you're ever in a situation where it's raining more than an inch an hour and you're considering traveling 60 blocks downtown to eat at Zoe, I'd counsel you to re-evaluate your dinner plans (and possibly your life priorities. But that's a whole different blog).

We arrived sodden and hungry at Zoe and were confronted by a deserted restaurant. Not surprising-- who the hell goes out in weather like that? Seriously!-- but nonetheless, at 7:30 on a Saturday night, it's a bit disconcerting to be eating in a nearly empty restaurant.

We settled into a booth by the bar and were given menus and drink lists. While we waited for WH to arrive, JT and the bro ordered glasses of wine (including a very delicious riesling, highly recommended by my brother). When WH arrived, she ordered one of their specialty cocktails, with a name like "sour cherry surprise" or something like that. After we all took our obligatory sips, the consensus was that it tasted like melted candy, or perhaps a slightly stronger version of the fishbowls at Porky's.

Testosterone in a glass.

JT and the bro started with an order of calimari. It wasn't a huge order, but it came on a large pedestal, which made it seem important. The calimari (which wasn't just the traditional rings, but some serious octopus-y bits as well) was pronounced delicious, heightened by the Asian dipping sauce served alongside. The bro ventured that the dipping sauce might be even better than the traditional marinara.

You can't see it but this plate is actually about a foot off the table

While the boys munched fried sea creature, I was hankering for some bread. None came, so I asked a runner if they had a bread basket. They did, and he brought us one. Perhaps the reason why they aren't so forthcoming with the bread is because it's just not that good. It's a half-hearted selection of bland and somewhat stale white bread and very thinly-sliced, oily focaccia. Even the decent olive oil that eventually arrived didn't save this bread basket. Not a winner.


But onward and upward-- and on to the entrees. WH had ordered the grouper, which came with asparagus, oyster mushrooms, and parsley potatoes. I tried the mushrooms and the potatoes, both of which were very good, and WH liked the fish as well. There was also a respectably decent amount of all the veggie garnishes, which is a nice touch. Now we were back on track.

Good grouper, with lots of yummy garnishes

The bro selected the burger, with the addition of cheddar cheese. It came on a large brioche bun, and the burger seemed well-put-together with a coating of thoroughly melted cheese. With the help of a bit more ketchup, the bro devoured the burger and offered his approval. I took care of the accompanying pickles, which were very, very lackluster. At first I couldn't even determine if they actually had been pickled-- they tasted like cucumber slices with a hint of dill.

Notice the good melt on that cheese... and the un-pickled pickles

The burger also came with a large cone of fries. The cone was presented in one of the more hilarious pieces of tableware I've come across in a while-- it was basically a bouncy slinky that held the fries in the middle. Seriously, it bounced. The fries themselves were hot and well-cooked, but they were... heavy. They had the skin on and were very thick-cut, so each fry was a real undertaking. Among the four of us, we couldn't finish the whole cone.

It walks the stair without a care!

JT had selected the sausage pizza, cooked in Zoe's wood-burning oven. The pizza, with spicy andouille sausage, mixed peppers, caramelied onions, and "aged sonoma jack cheese," was larger than the "seven inches" our waitress claimed it was going to be, which was good, because JT is a growing boy. The crust was thicker than I had anticipated, but JT definitely enjoyed this pizza.

The wood-burning oven's best

My own selection was the roasted summer vegetable salad. When I asked questions about this dish before ordering it, the waitress described it as "well, it's not like it's just raw cooked vegetables." Ooookay. I sort of wish it WERE just raw cooked vegetables, simply for the sake of seeing what raw cooked vegetables are. In any case, it was a small cylinder of various types of vegetables (leathery eggplant at the bottom, red onions, zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes), and though it was flavorful, it was really oily (despite my request for "easy on the oil" when I finally threw my hat in the ring and ordered it). The small dollop of goat cheese on the top sort of felt like an afterthought. The salad tasted good, but after eating it, I was a bizarre combination of not-quite-full and feeling-slightly-sick. I wouldn't get it again.

Well, it definitely wasn't raw cooked vegetables

On to the desserts. WH and I abstained (also weird for me, but again, the fries and oily veggies weren't sitting so well), so JT and the bro carried the torch. JT ordered the s'mores, which the waitress pronounced the best dessert on the menu. The s'mores (or, rather, s'more), was small. Very small. Turns out it was pretty much a brownie covered in caramelized fluff on top of a thin, cookie-like rendition of a graham cracker, all accompanied by basically a tablespoon of chocolate ice cream and some cookie crumbs. While it tasted good, it was pretty unremarkable, considering the whole point of s'mores is absurd indulgence.

Grown-up s'mores. I guess.

As a side note, WH ordered a double espresso, which came in a far-too-large cup with a spoon the size of a shovel. Zoe could definitely benefit from an investment in some proper espresso-ware.

But the cute biscotto is a nice touch

The bro, however, struck a winner with his choice: the strawberry shortcake sundae. Now HERE was a dessert. It was a tall glass stuffed with strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, bits of cake, and balsamic-tinged strawberries. Strawberry shortcake is my brother's favorite dessert, and he said that this dessert was the best dessert he's had in the history of this blog. I thought it was very good, but I'm not as huge a fan of strawberry shortcake as he is, so I'll let his evaluation stand.

Gooey and wonderful

Zoe was... okay. Some of the food was very good, but some wasn't (bread as a case in point). The service was definitely on the below-par side par-- even beside the waitress's erroneous dish descriptions, the runners were constantly clearing dishes before people were finished, which was EXTRA annoying in a restaurant where we were one of four tables and they clearly wouldn't need our plates and silverware for other customers. Plus it's just weird to be in such an empty restaurant on Friday night. It's worth noting that the restaurant has a good soundtrack, and my guess is when it's hopping and bopping, Zoe is a fun place to be, but I'm not sure the food is worth going back to test that hypothesis. For the occasional winner (calimari, burger, pizza, and definitely sundae), I'll give Zoe three Offset Spatulas, with the caveat that you might like it more than I did.

90 Prince Street, between Broadway and Mercer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i agree. i've been to Zoe and it's definitely just average.
would NEVER trek through a storm to be there.

although, i've had the s'more, and I agree with the waitress, its one of the best on the menu. actually a good portion, after a big meal.

also, did you notice the hawking owner? a bizarre desperation i suppose...