If I could stay up past midnight every night (or any night, for that matter), and I had a bottomless stash of cash for cocktails and a somehow even more bottomless tolerance for thumping club music, I may have never left Lumen that one time I set foot inside. Such a sleek, refined space, I remember thinking. If only I could order a roasted chicken.
That’s why I walked into Duchamp—which is owned in part by the guys behind Lumen—with two sets of crossed fingers. Right away, it was evident they had gotten it right: Rows of smooth, blond tables and clear Lucite chairs beckoned. There was a good wine list, and even a chicken dish. This time I thought I actually might never leave.
Instead, I left in a fog of confusion. I had questions. Why would a chef resort to using winter citrus like grapefruit and oranges in a beet salad when he could have used something seasonal—cherries, say—instead? And: If I know that you can’t serve unseasoned gnocchi with unseasoned ricotta and not have the whole thing taste like paste, why doesn’t veteran chef Michael Taus? Also: If I knew just by looking at it—and then confirmed it later by tasting it—that all that breading on the fish and chips would overpower the skate wing’s flavor, why would Taus send it out that way? And why doesn’t he know that, as gorgeous as the lemon tart is, the crust is soft where it should be crisp and flaky?
I had no answers, and furthering my confusion was the fact that for every questionable dish there was a well-executed one. There were the sweet duck rillettes that I spread on bread with abandon and the delicately smoky salmon tartare I shoveled into my mouth (ignoring as best I could the undercooked blini). There was the “steak and eggs,” a humble but nevertheless satisfying steak with a small bacon-studded quiche on the side. And a pile of crispy chicken wings coated in a sauce that wavered intricately between sweet and peppery. Finally, there was the braised pork shoulder: It was served with a spoon, ostensibly to catch the ragout, but it turned out to be the only utensil I needed to eat it. Obviously, these dishes were good for my meal, but bad for trying to figure this place out. Every good dish made the bad ones that much more inexplicable.
But at the end of my last meal there, as I cracked through the glassy crust of the créme brûlèe into its intense vanilla flavor, clarity slowly set in. The incomparable patio, as sleek as the dining room inside, took on an orange glow as the sun started to set, and I found that I was swirling the wine in my glass but not drinking it. I hadn’t forgotten about the kitchen’s mistakes. But as I put off polishing those last sips, it seemed silly not to admit it: I wanted to stay.