By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Any resemblance on this menu to something somebody might actually cook in her respective country is purely coincidental. I have no problem with that if ever a restaurant had an excuse for whimsy, this one does. But not all the kitchen's experiments are successful they tend to rely on primary flavors (sweet, hot, sour) the way the décor relies on primary colors. The tendency to lean on the same flavors over and over is even more pronounced in the entrées. Carnival in Rio chicken ($13.95) is smothered in a goopy sauce of "passion fruit and cachaca" the sugarcane liquor obviously doesn't cut the passion fruit; it kicks it up into a full-blown candyfest.
Our favorite entrée was the tiny Pharaoh's Treasure lamb chops. There were at least half a dozen of these, cooked a perfect medium rare, drizzled with an assertive, herby yogurt sauce and cradled in a bed of fluffy, large-grained couscous studded with raisins. Delicious. Bangkok grouper ($18.95) came as a generous broiled fillet doused with fresh ginger, a side of fragrant jasmine rice, and steamed broccoli, the "daily veg." The grouper was delicately flavored and fresh, but like several of our other dishes the steak, the chicken skewers it was slightly overcooked and had lost its juice. And while I applaud the healthful values of plain steamed broccoli, I want to be wowed when I'm dining out; a little bit of herbed butter and sea salt would have gone a long way, especially as the broccoli came with every entrée.
Surf and Turf on the Barbie ($25.95) wasn't up to Barbie's exacting standards, especially at this price. A desiccated old skirt steak, with a decidedly off flavor, was paired with barbecued shrimp (these too tasted like they'd seen better days). Still, the sweet potato fries that came with them were completely divine crisp, salty, and savory. A mountain of these with, say, a Mayan Mojito ($8.95) would be heaven itself.
We split on desserts: red velvet cake ($4.95) and cookies with milk ($5.95). For some reason, you're supposed to state your desire for cookies when you order your entrée, as if the cookies had to be fattened, slaughtered, skinned, and roasted (a good cookie takes time to prepare, ya know?). Anyway, the cookies chocolate chip came out hot, along with four of those mini milk cartons you used to get at school (Jones seems to adore details like this.) It's cute. And everybody but me devoured the cookies and pronounced them wonderful while I secretly nursed my evil opinion that they were a disgrace to the upstanding reputation of cookies everywhere. I want Jones' chef to skip down the road to Rhythm Café, taste its chocolate chip cookies, and figure out what he's doing wrong. I also want him to look up Paula Dean's recipe at foodnetwork.com for red velvet cake and follow it to the letter with no substitutions.
Verdict? What comes out of the kitchen is still uneven, but I predict Jones who's clearly a maniac for detail will get it right. He may have to pare down the menu and offer more appetizers and fewer entrées. Or he may just need to refine some of his ideas, tone down the sugar, and avoid overcooking his meats. But with a concept this snazzy and a fare that's already more than fair, this hipster is going places.