By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Are you catching the drift? At Four Rivers, the ingredients of each dish are distinct, as individual as human personality. You're as far from the green/red/or massaman curry sauce dumped on chicken/beef/or pork variety of Thai restaurant as it's possible to get and still inhabit the same planet. Which restaurants in these parts can you name that bother to source du Puy lentils? Or order their pork from Niman Ranch or their beef from Wolfe's Neck farms or insist on line-caught fish? The pink shrimp in that mixed seafood soup ($10) come from Key West and the mussels from Prince Edward Island, and the fish is the catch of the day and in this case, that "of the day" is no euphemism.
There was a pause between courses while we drank our wine (a Les Jamelles French pinot, $33) and our sake (a cold, refreshing, milky Gekkeikan, $28) Four Rivers has excellent wine and sake lists. The first entrée came as a copper pot set over a flaming chafing dish. The waiter set this down without incident. That copper pot was filled with roasted spice-rubbed duck breast ($26). Another flaming dish at the other end of the table held wok-braised monk fish ($25).
I'd won the coriander cumin marinated rack of lamb ($32) by default, since we agreed somebody should order it but nobody wanted to. The lamb turned out to be the smash hit of the evening baby chops set over a pool of fragrant, delicate massaman curry with yukon mashed potatoes, chick peas, pearl onions, and... blueberries! The berries were a stroke of genius, their wild sweetness a fine foil for the salty pink meat. Something similar was happening with Amy's double-cut pork chops ($30); a pretty package of toasted sticky rice, set alongside, came wrapped in a banana leaf and pinned with a decorative bamboo skewer. The pork was bursting with sweet juices that pooled in roasted rice powder and lime dressing, and the rice had an earthy, satisfying crunch. Susan's whole fried snapper looked like a sliver of golden moon fallen to Earth, shaped into a crescent that brought the fish fully and energetically alive, ready to leap off the plate. Its moist white flesh was heavily infused with lime, fresh Thai basil, and roasted tomatoes.
The boys were having trouble eating from their flaming raised chafing dishes, which should have been removed during service. In a restaurant where everything is exactly right, only the service was wrong not because our server was anything less than willing but because he hadn't been trained. This lapse needs to be attended to immediately as Four Rivers gets busier, it's only going to get harder for the servers; they need to study now for their lives. Our waiter knew nothing about the cooking he gamely tried to make recommendations and identify ingredients but got it all half wrong. The owners should sit down with their servers and their menu and drill until it's all second nature. When asked for recommendations, don't tell us what's "popular" (the lobster, the lamb) tell us instead what's unique. There's so much here to work with.
Unique: the monkfish ($25) braised with holy basil and wild ginger in green curry. Accompanied by hearts of palm and baby Japanese eggplants, sauced in the creamiest of coconut curries, this is an amazing use of monkfish, a difficult fish to deal with anyway, in a dish that seems quintessentially Thai yet unlike any curry you've tasted (the pointed heat of the ginger is remarkable). Unique: a crab cake ($12) flavored with a sweet-and-sour hot red curry, served with corn and cucumber relish and sweet chili aioli. Unique: venison loin ($33) served in a Thai restaurant at all, with sweet potatoes and jasmine rice. Not unique: A pan of overly fatty duck breast ($26) with grapes, lychees, and pineapple that needs to be thought through again.
Desserts were as graceful as the final stroke from a calligraphic pen. Sorbets and ice creams are homemade and artfully paired with finger-sized banana spring rolls ($10, with caramel ice cream); Kaffir lime leaf flan ($10, with lemongrass sorbet and a cardamom crème fraîche that has an almost cheesy consistency); chocolate ganache cake ($10, with Earl Grey ice cream); a trio of sorbets lychee, mango, raspberry all endearingly strange and refreshing. We topped these off with sweet ice wine and a glass of muscato.
My heart's out, my hat's off, to the Four Rivers for all its verve, its guts and style and imagination, its poignant eco-friendliness, its rare beauty. This is the first restaurant of an almost insanely talented couple. In a just world, a restaurant like this would meander on forever. May they go with the flow.