by Elissa Karg
“Let’s pretend it’s our anniversary,” I suggested to the co-diner as we walked to Cuisine, a four-month-old restaurant in the shadow of the Fisher Theatre. It’s a fine place for a celebration, and also attracts a bustling theater crowd.
Inside, the 1920s house is simple but elegant. There is a full bar and seating both upstairs and down. The tables are swathed in white linen and the color is provided by cobalt-blue water glasses.
Chef and owner Paul Grosz was executive chef at the Whitney for 10 years. His French-American menu is ambitious and creative, sophisticated and memorable. How about chocolate sorbet flavored with habeñero chile peppers? It’s reminiscent of Mexican mole, spicy and chocolatey simultaneously. Grosz says, “I like the way you taste the pepper right away, then the sweetness, then the coolness of the sorbet. I like playing with textures and temperatures.”
We began our dinner with a cold charcuterie plate ($7.50) featuring three types of pâté, along with fingerling potatoes in a creamy dressing and tiny gherkins and pickled onions. My salad ($8) was lovely: slices of peaches, pears and apples with tiny leaves of frisée (a feathery, peppery lettuce), all drizzled with red currant puree and studded with candied walnuts. There are seven other “starters” including “The French Breakfast” — a sunny-side-up quail egg with smoked salmon and osetra caviar — and shrimp poached in carrot-lavender broth.
There are only 10 entrées: six fish, one duck, one game, one beef, one vegetarian. The co-diner ordered bouillabaisse ($22). Here it was a classic presentation, perfectly executed, full of fish (bass, halibut) and shellfish (mussels, shrimp, lobster and scallops) in saffron-rich tomato broth, accompanied by a garlicky rouille. I loved the roasted swordfish ($26) accompanied by a fabulous lobster risotto. I can’t speak highly enough of the creamy risotto topped with lobster meat so sweet that it took me by surprise. Swordfish can be a dry fellow, but the lemon-lime butter sauce obliterated that problem. Luscious! I wanted it to go on and on. (Portions are on the small side — alas, not enough for a doggy bag.)
Pastry chef Kevin Kearney offers a marvelous chocolate tasting (all desserts are $7) with the habeñero-chocolate sorbet, a white chocolate mousse, a chocolate crepe filled with wild raspberries, and other selections that can vary. I had a wonderful hazelnut marjolaine filled with three different mousses.
If there is a problem with Cuisine, it is in the front of the house. I was miffed when I overheard our server describe the specials to other tables that he hadn’t presented to us. He failed to offer us the cheese platter, which we noticed on the way out (an assortment of nine cheeses is $14). When I asked for a glass of water, he sent a bus person to the table with a bottle of mineral water cradled in each arm. It seemed too obvious an attempt to sell up. I was also taken aback to note that the tea ordered by the co-diner was $4.50. For that price, you might as well have wine.
Although the building is not wheelchair accessible, there are plans to install a wheelchair lift by Christmas.
(Eats: 5 stars, Experience: 4 stars)
Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.