Thursday, June 02, 2005

Review: Chachama Grill

This restaurant made its debut in the Zagat ratings this year with a gaudy food rating and allegedly reasonable prices, so we decided to check it out. It is quite good, but has its problems.

From 5-6 it offers a fixed-price of $35 per person for "any" appetizer, entree, and dessert. We arrived at 6:30, so missed the cheap eats. And our menus included the day's "specials," with those entrees probably averaging at least $30--so I suspect the early birds don't get to order from the "specials" menu.

I started with the pan-roasted quail. It was accompanied by a powerful red-wine sauce with a peculiar soy-sauce-like saltiness. It may have been nothing more, in fact, than highly-reduced red wine and soy sauce. The sauce was so strongly flavored it somewhat overpowered the quail. Presumably to lighten the dish overall, the plate also included a small salad of arugula with walnuts and roasted pears.

The wife had the "Oysters Rubio" (named after the chef). They were also quite good--though the sauce in the center of the dish--presumably a yellow pepper puree--was not great and, really not necessary.

For the entree I had a rack of lamb with, I believe, the same sauce served with my quail. It matched better with the lamb, since the gamy lamb could stand up to it a little better than the quail. The lamb came with a side of some kind of layered potato item (lasagna, casserole, whatever you want to call it). But it had the earthy, heavy flavor of olives, and was topped with a tapenade. I don't like tapenades or olives, so this side didn't particularly appeal to me, though the wife liked it.

The wife had the "surf and turf"--a huge lobster tail with filet mignon. The lobster tail lacked the sweet flavor of fresh lobster, and could have used some melted butter. The filet was wonderfully cooked and adorned with another strong red-wine sauce, though different from mine.

Then came desserts. This is the restaurant's biggest problem at the moment. Not only is the dessert menu boring (the appetizer and entree menus have some interesting choices), but the execution was poor. I had the napolean. Their version is simply layers of crispy phyllo dough and whipped cream with, on that day, fresh blue berries and strawberries. It was fine, but nothing special. My wife had the chocolate mousse. This was possibly the worst mousse we've both ever tried, and she couldn't even finish it. It seriously had the density and weight of hard chocolate ice cream.

While the early-bird special is a good deal, after tax and tip the bill came to $170. It was only after we left that it occurred to me "Why the hell did I just pay $36 for a rack of lamb?" And my wife's was $38. You can get rack of lamb at many top Long Island restaurants for often $25 - $28. So, the early bird special is good, but the restaurant makes up for it in the "specials" menu.

On a side note, while the decor was nothing special, there was something to catch the eye. Our waitress looked very much like the lovely Liz Cho of channel 7 news. Out of respect for my wife, I drooled only slightly. Even when the waitress was serving our dessert coffees and got some foam on her chest, I didn't offer to remove it for her.

Chachama Grill is a good restaurant that could be very good. It doesn't yet have the nuance and precision of flavors that the Louis XVI's, the Panama Hatties and the Mirabelles have. And it needs to work on its desserts. I wouldn't give it quite the high rating that it gets in Zagat, but only a couple points below.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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