compose: a gastronomic marathon

remember compose restaurant? you know, the place where i  first met the lebne tart?  well hubs and i were so impressed with out experience with their bar menu that we went back to the restaurant earlier this week to partake in its 10 course tasting menu. let me just say that the experience did not disappoint!  however, i’d caution anyone contemplating the experience to budget at least 4 hours for the experience. hubs and i got to the restaurant for a 7pm seating and did not leave until 11pm. moreover, while we made it to the very end of the menu, we actually ended up skipping out on the freebie 3rd dessert that the chef was in the process of preparing (i think we probably mortally offended the chef but one of us needed to get up 3 hours later, plus we just didn’t have the endurance to go on).   i don’t think we were alone in that sentiment.  our fellow diners started to get up, walk around, stretch themselves out about 2 hours into the meal.

now that i’ve gotten that out of the way, let me also caveat that the pictures i took of the dishes really don’t do them any justice.  (rather than lug my DSLR to the restaurant, i decided to bring my point and shoot.  i’ve tried to clean them up the best i could but well, still not the same as the DSLR. sorry!)  okay…here we go.  compose is located in a tiny space, maybe about 1,000 square feet, on Worth street, including the bento box kitchen.  for me, part of the fun of eating there included observing all the intelligent design features implemented.  in addition to hidden storage behind their elegant wood panels, they had all sorts of neat gadgets, like this mini-pad thingy that shot up high pressured water with which to wash the glasses.  their rather extensive wine list is stored on an ipad that gets passed around to diners.

the center of the restaurant features a u-shaped bar, which seats about 10-12 people a night for their tasting menu.  the experience is a bit like eating a momofuku ko or joel robuchon. there are a few cocktail/loungey type seats along the sides of the restaurant where customers are seated to partake in the bar menu — you can make a reservation same day for the bar seats; reservations for the tasting menu are accepted up to 1 month in advance.

compose restaurant is as much about their inventive cuisine as it is about their  drinks.  they take great pride and care in their cocktails, using special japanese-style ice cubes, freshly made tinctures, and molecular gastronomy type techniques.  for example, i ordered an arnold palmer — which they made by freshly brewing and then chilling the iced tea, and freshly squeezing the lemonade.  they also added a massive sprig of mint for freshness.  among the many drinks that hubs ordered, he got one that had hints of a smokey orange — basically some whiskey type of alcohol that they sprayed with a smokey essence.  totally new and innovative in my book. there was also a margarita like drink that they somehow imbibed with pine essence.

we were given a copy of the night’s menu upon exiting the restaurant — which i found incredibly helpful!  i did take pictures of every dish, but not every picture came out due to the technical limitations of my pocket sized camera.

before the tasting menu began, the chef served us a bunch of amuse-bouches not indicated on the menu: (i) a small bowl of popcorn cooked in duck fat — delicious, (ii) a tiny cube of tri-coloured jello on a steel toothpick, which packed an incredible amount of intensity; it was fruity with an alcoholic spike, and beautiful at the same time, and (iii) a tiny morsel of potato topped with american caviar.

baby beets: not pictured.  these were incredibly well done.  i don’t usually like beats, but i quite enjoyed these.  i think the paring with pomegranate essence contrasted quite well with the earthiness of the beats.

oyster: i don’t believe this actually made it onto the menu  but it was an oyster of some sort.  you slurp it from the bowl.  beautifully presented, although i didn’t really feel either way about it.

crudo of fluke: the fluke itself really didn’t taste like much.  however, the smoked grapes paired with this dish really made the plate noteworthy.  yes, the grapes really do taste smokey.  if memory serves me correctly, this was the first dish where i started to note the chef’s exquisite usage of salt.  he has a special talent of adding salt in just the right moderation to bring out the flavors of the dish.

butternut squash soup: not pictured. incredibly smooth and rich. one of hubs’ favorites of the evening.

diver scallop: scallops were light poached, and almost tasted raw.  i thought the scallops were perhaps the most brilliantly cooked scallops i’ve ever eaten–totally tender with not a bit of stringiness.  the butternut squash cubes were somehow imbibed with the flavour of bacon.

rock shrimp: this was hands-down hubs and my favorite plate of the evening.  first you’re presented with an extremely hot stone placed on a bed of pine leaves.  then, the chef comes around and places a maine sweet shrimp on the stone.  a few months later, he flips the shrimp with tweezers , squirts some paprika instilled oil onto the shrimp, and tops it with a microgreen.  you skewer the shrimp with a fork, and omg, you pop it into your mouth for an unbelievably succulent experience.  i actually think, they should open up a restaurant where that shrimp dish is the only thing served.  i would be their best customer.

maine lobster: how pretty is that green frond?  by itself, the lobster — again perfectly cooked, tender, with not a bit of chewiness that can sometimes inflict over-cooked lobster tail–displayed the chef’s mastery of shellfish.

update: i almost forgot the really special thing the chef did with the dish.  the lobster is nestled in a cocoa butter sauce…yes, cocoa butter.  it actually tastes like lobster with white chocolate notes. totally yum!

potato chip onion bread: not pictured, not on menu.  we were a piece of onion bread covered with potato chips alongside homemade creme fraiche butter.  the bread came fresh out of the oven — and as such had all the joyous qualities of freshly baked bread.  that said (being the self-professed carb connoisseur that i am), i thought the bread was a bit salty, and that it would have been just mediocre had it been served at room temperature.

poached egg: not pictured.  yes, perfectly poached eggs are delicious; however, the roasted cauliflower puree acted as the true stand-out in the dish.  incredibly intense, it needed to be consumed alongside the richness of a poached egg.

pork belly: we were told that this was a new dish that the chef decided to debut that evening.  roasted pork belly bits had somehow been manipulated into a block, then sliced, covered with a tuile (i believe it was paprika flavored, but i don’t recall), and served alongside red cabbage.

apple & pine: we were served two desserts. the second one, oatmeal & citrus, is not pictured.  i have the same reaction to both desserts.  they were exquisitely composed, beautiful to look at, with a lot of painstaking effort. that said, it felt that they were too much a thinking person’s dessert, and at the end of a very long meal, all i really wanted was something simple, pure and delightful — like their outstanding lebne tart — to contrast with complexity of the 10+ dishes that had proceeded in succession before.

eating at compose is an honour.  i’ve been thinking about this metaphor for a few days now, and i think the closest comparison would be like watching a young itzhak perlman — someone who blows you away with their raw talent,   technical mastery powers and niagara strength creativity.   with the passage of time and experience, it all coalesces into something transcendent.

77 Worth Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 226-1444

4 responses to “compose: a gastronomic marathon

  1. I am way behind on my blogging, and just now catching up. Wow. What an amazing post. Tremendous report and review. My jaw was on the ground reading this. Thank you for this and for all the detail. Feel like I have almost “experienced” the dinner/evening. The photos are great…even though you didn’t have the DSLR. The slight noise/grain gives a feeling of actually “being there”–if that makes sense. Love the way you start with the cocktail and progress. Brilliant! Compose is now on my short list.

  2. Did you see this was written up in yesterday’s NYT? You should have Julia’s job. Much better write up and I read it here first! 🙂

    • tomatointribeca

      Thanks so much! I did read Julia’s review and am now eagerly awaiting the formal review of the restaurant. I wonder how many stars it will be rewarded!

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