On a recent weeknight my companion sat in the dining room at Quince, where there was a fire burning, lit candles on every table—and not a single other person in the entire place. Being served in an empty restaurant is awkward no matter what the room is like, but in the living-roomlike environs here, the server’s formalities seemed especially unnecessary. When he presented a bottle of the wine I had ordered a glass of, I wondered why he was bothering. Nobody is here to see him do it, I thought. Then I remembered that he was doing it for me.
The mix of homey room and serious service is a trademark of Quince, a restaurant that manages to be both casual and high-end without coming off as confused. It has to be that way, because even though the room is no longer operated by Henry Adaniya, and it is obviously no longer called Trio, its history has not evaporated. With Tramonto, Gand, McClain and Achatz all getting their big breaks here, any chef worth his spaetzle would feel a little honored to take over this kitchen.
I hope that’s how chef Andy Motto feels now, because he’s a great chef, and though his food may not be as revolutionary as some of those other guys’, it is nevertheless very, very good. I recognized his liquid cauliflower ravioli from Old Town Brasserie, where Motto was last stationed. But I ordered it again anyway, because the thick pasta pockets burst with lush cauliflower puree, and if Motto wants to make it his signature, I’m not going to complain. Likewise, you’ll hear no complaints from me about the halibut, which was plated on melted leeks that dripped with butter, but was still light enough to counter all that richness. The lamb and Wagyu plate was also substantially decadent, but the meats were cooked to such delectable textures that it would have been impossible to ruin them.
Motto’s expertise with proteins is often the thing that carries his dishes. His artichoke and quail salad is a bit disjointed, even though all the elements are tossed in the same smoky vinaigrette. But the juicy quail on top of the salad makes the thing worthwhile. Likewise, the octopus is tender enough not to need a knife—though, happily, the savory flavors on this plate needed no saving in the first place.
After so much deliciousness, it’s a bummer that the service can lean toward snotty (something I experienced on a night when the room was busier), and that every dessert I tried was a disaster. The chocolate tart, the malted vanilla ice cream, the bread pudding—they all had good flavors, but the thick, gummy mouthfeel made me want to spit them out. Motto needs a dedicated pastry chef to fix those textural issues. If and when he gets one, the only word to describe Quince will be smooth.