Friday, October 17, 2008

Dish, Hartford, CT May 2008 Grade: C

Amy and Joanne write...

We made plans to go to a relatively new, upscale restaurant that both of us were dying to try. We decided to do it between our birthdays (this was back in early May). The place is called Dish and is in Hartford. It opened to some rave reviews, which is why our outing was so very disappointing. Here’s the dish on Dish.

Don’t let the funky industrial d├ęcor at Dish trick you into thinking the entrees are worth ten dollars more than most are at Hartford’s reliable Max Downtown. Your palate will know the difference. If it ever recovers from the butane taste. More on that in a minute. We were seated in the back of a mostly empty restaurant, with one of us overlooking UHart’s Senior Housing. Not much of a view. After ordering plain old tap water and a bottle of wine, we perused the menu and chose our meal. Our starter would be the “Surf and Turf Dumplings,” described on the menu as “Maine lobster with ginger-lemon aioli, and short rib of beef with natural jus,” for $14. We received three of each dumpling, served on a platter with two dipping sauces. The dumplings were encased in a dry, gummy wrapper that was hard to bite. The lobster ones had a nice amount of chunky lobster but nothing else, and the definitely needed the lemony flavor of the aioli, which lacked any hint of ginger. The short rib inside the others tasted and looked more like pulled pork, and were dry, so they needed the dipping sauce which was more like A-1 than natural jus. Not a good start.

What promised to be an interesting accompaniment to the Pan-Roasted Halibut entree—a brick of watermelon, flavored with fish sauce, then grilled and pressed—tasted like a butane Jolly Rancher. A sparse amount of springy mache was mixed with tinny-tasting mandarine oranges that seemed straight from a can. Not the arugula and clementines promised on the menu. However, the halibut was nicely cooked and, thankfully, left alone to proffer its mildly sweet flavor. Pricey, though, at $32.

Deconstructed plates seem to be a mainstay at Dish. The Maine Lobster Pot Pie was a deconstructed mess. Mushy, overcooked lobster swam in an odd-flavored heavy sauce the color of a burnt sienna crayon. The “seasonal” vegetables of carrots, potatoes and onions belied the fact that it was almost June. A thin oval of undercooked puff pastry rested on top with no apparent purpose other than decoration. The amount of lobster was certainly not the 1.25 pounds as promised on the menu, and for $34, it's not recommended.

Dessert, of which we forget the official name, resembled the aftermath of an explosion of chocolate covered strawberries. And tasted worse than it looked. After pushing our spoons around the “chocolate soil” on which the strawberries rested, we wondered where the requisite gummy worms were hidden. The berries were supposed to have been infused with honey, and if they were, it was barely so. The sauce on top was described as a chocolate sabayon, but it was quite thin and tasted of coffee. Strange cubes of “vanilla gel” looked like mozzarella or tofu cubes and had no taste whatsoever.

The highlight of the meal was the “Dish Bread,” a foot-long crunchy loaf filled with garlic herb oil and Boursin cheese. Yes, it was tasty, but what decent restaurant can’t put out a good garlic bread? We also enjoyed the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, at $38, the one decently priced item on our check.

Service was at best perfunctory. Our server felt the need to explain what “deconstructed” meant, but when asked questions, merely restated what was said on the menu. Without many other people to serve, our server should have given us much more attention. Instead, water glasses remained empty for up to ten minutes and dirty plates sat for what felt like ages. We never knew her name, for the only conversation that did take place involved our placing an order and her thanking us for it: Amy: “We’ll start with the dumplings.” Waitron: “Thank you.” Joanne: “I’ll have the halibut.” Waitron: “Thank you.” Amy: “I’ll have the lobster pot pie.” Waitron: “Thank you.” Then off she went. Strange indeed. When we received our bill, we realized we had been overcharged $3 for what we are now referring to as the “dumb-lings.” The explanation was that they had just changed their menu, which only means their prices are going even higher! Then, rather than split the bill in half onto two credit cards, Waitron added on a random six cents each. Was that a split bill charge? If so, we certainly expected it to be higher. Our opinion, go to Max Downtown. You’ll spend less and leave happier, and likely, with leftovers.

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