Thursday, December 23, 2010

Watch your mouth at Elsewhere

After a last-minute summons last Saturday evening, I skipped out into the frigid night to meet JR at Elsewhere. It's the newest entry into the Hell's Kitchen dining scene, provided by the folks behind House of Cheese Casellula.

JR had gotten to the restaurant just before me, and apparently the host had told him there was a waitlist. I looked around the nearly-empty restaurant and asked the host how long the wait was; he said there was a table in the indoor garden area that was available immediately. Um, okay? We'll take that. Right then.

So we sat in the indoor garden, which was actually quite lovely. There's a big (real) tree, and although the patio-furniture-style tables were slightly rickety and a bit obnoxious, it's nice to have a bit of the (faux) outdoors in the city.

We ordered from the not-quite-friendly but not-quite-rude server, and our drinks arrived promptly. JR went for a glass of red. Since it was still early in the night, I went for a glass of water. Oh, and the menu notes that Elsewhere only serves water upon request. Sure. I get it (I'm actually very pro-conservation), but it struck us both as unnecessarily standoffish and/or a bit holier-than-thou to state it like that on the menu. How about just having your servers ask tables if they'd like water? That gets to the same end without the whiff of alienation.

Anyway, how was the food? The menu has options of various sizes, from "share these" to "smaller" to "larger." We chose a couple of the "share these" and one "smaller" for my meal.

The first bite to arrive was the horseradish popcorn. It looked innocuous enough, and upon first bite, it was actually rather bland. I expected a salty, spicy punch of horseradish, but it actually manifested itself in a rather creeping heat that soon filled your mouth. It was one of those things that kind of grew on you after a couple of kernels. One warning: this popcorn is absolutely, positively drenched in oil (or butter? it tasted more like oil). I had maybe a quarter of the bowl, and without going into too much detail, I'll say that that quarter bowl haunted me for the rest of the night... if your stomach is not used to really heavy, greasy foods, this will throw you for a loop. Consider yourself warned.

If you look closely, you can actually see the oil

On to lighter things. JR ordered the Dilly chili green beans, which were pickled haricots verts with a chili kick. And when I say kick, I mean "roundhouse to the taste buds," because a few green beans in and JR was positively tearing up and groping for water across the table. These little buggers were spicy as hell.

Fire in the hole!

I thought I'd escaped the fiery torment, but turns out my own selection--"baby beets, horseradish cream, chestnuts"-- was incredibly spicy as well. The little beets tasted almost pickled and were quite delicious, with an assertive vinegary bite; the horseradish cream was really mild, providing only the heat from the horseradish and very little additional flavor (it made me yearn for the tang of the traditional goat cheese accompaniment). As far as I could tell, there were no hazelnuts in this dish, only a showering of parmesan. It was an interesting take on the traditional beet salad, and on balance it was enjoyable. Plus, it cleared out my sinuses.

Also surprisingly spicy

So, I suppose it's time to rate Elsewhere. To be honest, I'm a bit torn. I really, really wanted to like the place; I wanted it to feel welcoming and warm and... well, like a big ol' cozy sweater. But it didn't. With their confusing door policy, the whole no-water proclamation, the aloof service, and the food that kicked you in the mouth, the experience was a little... aggressive. In your face. That's about it: Elsewhere is in yo' face. Would I go back? Sure, I'd give it another shot, but I doubt it will ever become my go-to neighborhood hangout. For that, Elsewhere gets three Offset Spatulas and a watchful eye towards the future.

403 W. 43rd Street, at 9th Avenue

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