134 Reade St., New York, NY (TriBeCa)
Oh, Marc Forgione, I have to say that you were one of my greatest disappointments in 2010. You run a well-received Michelin-starred restaurant and you recently won Iron Chef, yet somehow you fell flat on Friday night. Maybe I built you up in my mind; maybe I allowed anticipation to run rampant ... but somehow I don't think this was my fault.
A basket of bread came out, accompanied by butter. It was warm and delicious, so we didn't have any complaints there. Then the appetizers arrived. The first dish, a bowl of Widow's Point mussels, was abhorrent. It was a slap in the face of all the chefs who coax magic from our bivalved friends. They were the smallest, saddest mussels I have ever seen, and they were huddled against one another in a beefy brown broth - yes, I said BEEFY. I took one mussel, and I was done. I never wanted to experience that taste nor texture again. I do mussels better than Marc Forgione.
The other two dishes - oysters topped with bread crumbs and a sauce, and a bowl of succulent agnolotti - were tasty. Especially the agnolotti, which appeared as firm pillows of pasta cradling a lightly poached egg in a bowl of broth. Break the egg, swirl the yolk, and voila - deliciousness.
Then the entrees arrived. I had ordered the pork, but the menu did not specify whether it was pork belly, pork cheeks, or pork tenderloin. It certainly did not even hint at the overly vinegary, mustardy pool of watery liquid that a pile of shredded white cabbage was sitting in, nor the small balls of potato that were far too firm (undercooked) and starchy to be enjoyed. I think the fatty pork was pork belly. But the outer rind on the pork had been caramelized to the point that it was sticking in my teeth like Laffy Taffy. Unfortunately, there was so much vinegar and mustard in the dish that the fumes were actually stinging my nose. Since our server had apparently disappeared, I decided to eat the meat and leave the caramelized rind and the sad cabbage swamp on the plate.
Meanwhile, the hubs ordered a delicious dish of veal and bone marrow. The veal was rich and tender, while the marrow - served in a bone with a tiny spoon - was far more gelatinous than I thought it would be. Granted, the marrow had cooled a bit by the time I garnered a taste, but still ... I was expecting something rich and decadent, like a foie gras or a pate. Not gelatin.
Finally, we wrapped up dinner with a pecan pie bread pudding, which was warm, gooey and delicious.
Knowing that most reviewers adore Marc Forgione, I was positive that I had missed something. So I scoured the reviews online. Most people loved their experience, but every so often, someone had an experience similar to mine. Apparently Marc often hits home runs, but when he misses ... man, does he miss. Every photo looked about 10x more delicious than my meal, and I am kicking myself for not taking photos of the caramelized pork hovering above the vinegar pool of sadness. Sigh.
Sadly, the mussels set a bad precedent for the meal, and the pork followed suit. I won't be making a return trip, Marc Forgione.