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Other concepts, however, need to be reworked. For instance, I loved the idea of the complimentary trio of spreads, which comprises chickpea, white bean, and honey butter varieties, and fresh, yeasty breads that precede the meal. But the candelabralike contraption that holds the assortment is bulky and threatens to overwhelm the small two-tops, which are constructed of a mosaic tile that echoes the back wall of the kitchen. Though she was obviously trying to be helpful, our server wanted to place the apparatus on another table nearby so we could have more room; we had to point out that we would then have to get up out of our seats every time we wanted some bread or butter. (Not to reveal my age by paraphrasing Pink Floyd, but hello, is there anybody in there?)
Execution, too, requires a second look. Salads such as the Napa Valley shrimp salad lack cohesiveness. It read well enough -- roasted lemon-dill shrimp, toasted pine nuts, Granny Smith apples, baby spinach, and romaine, all drizzled with balsamic syrup and chive-scented extra virgin olive oil -- but the reality was a plain pile of greens barely tossed with a couple apple slices and a few bland shrimp. The balsamic drizzle was nonexistent, and we had to request a side of salad dressing twice before it appeared. Likewise an appetizer of roasted stuffed artichoke needed some integrity, tasting like nothing more than three ingredients -- lump crab, Asiago cheese, and an artichoke -- placed serendipitously on the same plate.
Of most import, though, is the quality. When Michael's Kitchen functioned as home-meal replacement, a mediocre pantry and cost-efficient habits served their purposes. When they have traveled in a car and are consumed an hour after they were prepared, tough corn-on-the-cob (which in Jersey we'd politely call "cow corn") and gluey mashed potatoes (which are as far from the billed "smashed" as Idaho is from Florida) can be kindly overlooked. But when a lobster martini -- two baby tails poached in vermouth and Dijon mustard and served in an oversize glass -- is too rubbery to comfortably chew and brick oven-baked shrimp in a scampi sauce have a watery texture that suggests they have been frozen and thawed repeatedly, patrons are bound to complain. Our biggest concern was the wild mushroom-and- filet mignon fettuccine, which despite a tasty tomato-red onion demi-glace, tasted spoiled and on the verge of rancid.
If you do encounter a disappointment, don't despair; turn to dessert. Here is where the Kitchen might be better called the Oven, given its assortment of pastries, including an almond-coated apple tart that was as wonderfully heavy on the cinnamon as a vamp is on eye makeup. Frothy coffee drinks and dairy concoctions in kaleidoscopic sundae glasses also finish a meal with both warmth and cool class.
Speaking of class, Blum plans to institute a course called "The Cooking Class Theater," an interactive cooking compendium complete with wines for $75 a person in September. Though I might suggest he perfect his menu before teaching it to others, I have to admire the guy's ambition and note that on determination alone Michael Blum may just make it out of the kitchen and into the dining room.