Sometimes restaurants are frustrating. I'm not talking about frustrating experiences, like when you have a reservation and still have to wait 45 minutes for your table-- I'm talking about restaurants that are mentally frustrating, that are difficult to get a handle on. Print is one of those restaurants.
So far, AV and I have been to Print for drinks and for brunch. But we still hadn't given it the dinner test. So on Saturday we wandered over, sans reservation, and were seated at the high communal table running the length of the front part of the dining room.
Our waiter was right out of central casting, with a French accent and a slightly flustered manner. He asked us if we had a show to get to, and we said no. He plied us with drinks menus before we could even see the food offerings; we declined drinks, since we were so hungry. Finally we chose, and we tried to order, quickly realizing that asking him questions about the food or size of the portions would only lead to confusion. So we just ordered and went on with things.
A runner brought over a basket of bread, explaining that there were multigrain rolls, olive rolls, and ciabatta, along with housemade butter. There actually weren't any olive rolls, for the record, but there were slightly warm versions of the others (and four pieces of bread in total, so extra points for not sticking us with the dreaded three-for-two-people situation). The multigrain roll was pretty much what it looks like-- hearty and filling, not the best roll I've ever had, but fresh and tasty and stomach-filling. I appreciated all the seeds covering the top, which provided both sustenance and entertainment during the long waits between courses (more on that coming up).
The first course arrived within a reasonable time. AV had ordered the polenta with wild mushrooms, ramps, and mascarpone. I thought it would be like the polenta and mushrooms at L'Artusi, which was one of the tastiest things I've eaten in a long time. Well, Print's version wasn't quite as earth shattering (and the portion was about a quarter of the size of L'Artusi's), although it was creamy and delicious. I took one bite successfully, and upon sneaking a second bite I ended up with a bit of grit, ostensibly from the mushrooms, crunching heart-sinkingly between my teeth. Ick.
But it's a good thing the polenta was hearty, since our entrees didn't emerge for about 45 minutes. I suspect our orders might have gotten lost, since one our waiter checked in with us about 42 minutes in, the food emerged shortly thereafter. There were no apologies for the wait, not even really an acknowledgment of it.
What eventually did come out was quite good, in fairness, if incredibly small. AV's goat cheese gnocchi with pancetta, asparagus, ramps, and pea leaves was delicious but could be consumed in about three aggressive bites. Oh well, more room for dessert!
My beet and goat cheese salad was the biggest portion of anything we'd ordered. There were lots of tender beets forming a blanket for a tangle of greens. Some walnuts scattered around provided crunch, and there was the stealth addition of some citrus segments (not in the menu description) that didn't really add much. The goat cheese, two tiny crusted dollops off to the side, added heft to the two or three bites that were lucky enough to include some cheese. Again, if only Print were a bit less parsimonious with its food, this could be a great salad.
At this point we were both pretty geared up for dessert. We both chose what was described as "frozen hazelnut parfait, Argyle Cheese Farmers maple yogurt mousse, espresso syrup, warm grappa candied chestnuts." I ordered mine without espresso syrup, but AV asked for his with. While waiting for the dessert to emerge, I anticipated, well, a parfait-- something layered in a glass. What eventually arrived was most definitely not a parfait. Neither of ours had espresso syrup, leaving AV slightly disappointed, but we dug in nonetheless. And we were pleasantly surprised. There was a huge scoop of what was something like hazelnut semifreddo, not quite ice cream but not quite mousse, cool and creamy and absolutely chock-full of crushed hazelnuts. This was paired with a big dollop of tangy yogurt mousse, which offset the unctuous sweetness of the hazelnut mixture. The syrup at the bottom of the bowl added a necessary extra flavor to cut the hazelnut richness, although one bite of the actual chestnuts confirmed that I don't really like chestnuts. Furthermore, oddly, this dessert was huge. We could have easily ordered one to share, as we were both full about halfway through. Needless to say, I finished mine anyway. Once we were done with desserts, our waiter brought the check without us asking, noting that he wanted to make sure we got to our show. Um, we'd already told him we weren't pre-theater, and in any case it was about 8:15 at this point, meaning that ship had sailed either way. Again, there was nothing comped for the extraordinary wait-- not that there necessarily should have been, but without even an acknowledgment of it, it would have been nice to get some sort of gesture.
So what's the deal with Print? It's a nice restaurant to be in, and the food is good, on balance. But the portions are really tiny, and they're expensive. Our meal, which included three appetizers, two desserts, and no drinks, came out to almost $60 before tip. The service leaves quite a bit to be desired as well, and the kitchen still has a few quirks to work out (grit in the mushrooms--?). But almost in spite of ourselves, we had a good time while we were there. Would I go back to Print? Probably not for a full-fledged dinner, but probably for a drink and a cheese plate, or perhaps just for dessert. That means Print rightfully earns three Offset Spatulas, with hopes that with time it improves.
653 11th Avenue, at 48th Street