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13 September 2011

Tonight's Episode: Simple, Modern, and Unexpected

           Okay, I totally stole the title to the post from Tristan's own website. It's not my fault they branded themselves so well. Tristan is such a vibrant, modern restaurant. Situated in the French Quarter Inn, and convenient to the Market, it is no wonder tourists love Tristan. Tasting the food shows why it is no wonder the locals love Tristan.
          First things first, Tristan is a beautiful restaurant. Post modern design and clean lines dominate the space. The open kitchen faces directly onto the dining space, with one of the more interesting bars in the city above and behind the seating area. I only have two complaints. One would be the car headlights shining directly into one side of the restaurant as they pull into the valet stand outside. The other would be the ADD Muzak. The music jumps every genre and age. The inconsistent, annoying, and at times inappropriate music has no place in a restaurant of this quality and price.
           While we came in for Restaurant Week, and the pressed pork belly was calling my name, we both ended up ordering from the regular dinner menu. Before I get into that, I would like to talk a little about the menu. For restaurant week they have a 3 course for $30 menu, with $15 for wine parings. This is, of course, a limited time menu. For their regular menu they have an a la carte section, and a 5 or 7 course Chef's Tasting Menu. The 5 course is $55, plus $25 for wine pairings. The 7 course will run you $75 plus $35 for wine pairings.
         To start the dinner, the chef sent out a wonderful amuse of a lemon gel. As to what else was involved in this little dish, I couldn't tell you. The description rolled right over my head. All I know is that it was tangy, tart, and tasty.
          For an appetizer, The Girl chose the Sweetcorn Soup ($7) with blue crab, aleppo chili, and mace. This creamy bisque-like soup delivers on almost every front. Rich and lovely, but would have been better if it had been served at a warmer temperature. That being said, I think The Girl would have been happy to have another bowl.
         My appetizer is the reason I switched from the Restaurant Week Menu. I have an unhealthy obsession with sweetbreads. If I ever end up on death row, my final meal will be sweetbreads and bone marrow. Tristan's Crispy Veal Sweetbreads ($11) with hay-smoked potato puree, salt & vinegar spinach, and mustard-coffee jus may be the best crispy sweetbreads I have ever tasted. The potato puree is creamy, smooth and about as tasty as any version of mashed potatoes I have ever had. The spinach was bright, vibrant, and damn I wish I had more of it. They were so good that even that anti-spinach maven The Girl found them tasty. The star, of course, were the sweetbreads. The breading had a mild seasoning that compliments the creamy yet firm meat. The crust was just crispy enough that you could mop up the puree and not worry about it becoming a soggy mess. These sweetbreads are so tender and flavorful that I am at a loss of words to describe them. They did give me an idea, though. Crispy sweetbread breakfast biscuit. You'll never order another chicken biscuit.
       After the appetizer came a tasty intermezzo of a red grape sorbet. As a palate cleanser, I could think of nothing better. Bright and tannin rich, this cool little dollop tastes exactly like a frozen red grape.
       For an entree, The Girl stuck to the appetizer menu and chose the She-Crab Ravioli ($12) with Jonah crab meat, sweet onion puree, and pickled shallots. This is a fairly small dish for the price, but is loaded with flavor. The sweet isn't overpowering, and the meat is beautiful. The only complaint would be the ravioli itself is a little toothy and would have been better served with a more tender pasta
     For my entree, I went with the New England Scallops in Two Preparations ($28) with pearl pasta, mussels, and a Calabrese broccoli butter. The first preparation of the scallops is a traditional sear. These massive diver scallops have the perfect caramelization on the faces, while the center remains natural and tasty. I would have liked perhaps a little smoked salt on top to round out the flavor, however. The second preparation involved whipping the scallop into a mousse, and then poaching it into a dumpling. This gives them a mozzarella texture and an egg custard-like flavor. I'm glad they chose to pair two of each preparation, as the dumplings could get too sweet fast. I don't want to sound too critical. This is an absolutely wonderful dish that I would order again.

      The Girl hasn't been feeling great, so she skipped dessert. I decided on the Chocolate Pot de Creme ($8) with cherry sherbet, almond tuile, and tangerine argumato. I'm glad that The Girl didn't order this, since she is a chocolate purist. For me, this dessert is money. The chocolate is finished with fleur de sel and has a very rich, complex flavor. The almond tuile gives a fantastic crisp element and adds much needed texture. The cherry sherbet is mirrored by a cherry-almond salad. What a fantastic dessert!
       Having already purchased tickets to next year's BB&T Wine+Food Festival's Perfectly Paired Dinner at Tristan, I was overjoyed to see how damn good it was. The fear I have going to a restaurant that embraces the more modern style of cooking is that they sometimes let technique and gimmicks get in the way of what matters: the taste. Tristan avoids that trap with a deft hand and a firm grasp of when to let the ingredients speak for themselves. I think The Girl will even let me take her back.

The Scores:
Ambiance: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Food: 9/10
Value: 3/5
Overall: 20 out of 25 A great modern restaurant that delivers the goods without the gimmicks

Tristan on Urbanspoon

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