You want to enjoy a place like Compose. Buoyed by the recent success of chef's-table restaurants like Brooklyn Fare, this new Tribeca shoebox---a few stools around a bar---serves one long and elaborate tasting menu, with just one seating per night.
But while Nick Curtin, the 23-year-old kid in the kitchen, gets points for audacity, his food is too precious, derivative and short on thrills to merit its exorbitant price tag (the prix fixe runs $120 per person).
From a kitchen stocked with cutting-edge gadgets, he dispatches 16 or so minuscule courses each night. But the chef, who in his short career has cooked at Perry Street and Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar, is simply too green to pull off a spread this ambitious. Like Marcel on Top Chef, he trots out technique for its own sake, adding liquid nitrogen and foam to little effect.
The sleight-of-hand cookery kicks off, as it might in Spain at El Bulli, with a "molecular" cocktail---a Kir Royale in gelatin form. Knockoff? Homage? Either way, it's denser than it should be. Then out comes a potato, the tiniest Greenmarket pebble, topped with a speck of crme frache and a few grains of caviar. More tease than amuse, it's cute but almost too small to taste.
Fresh mozzarella run through a chemical gauntlet has the texture of a jiggly egg yolk. "Slurp it down like an oyster," the chef tells us (he doubles here as an occasional waiter). It's a fun little bite, the first of the evening.
Butternut-squash soup seems an awfully conventional detour, but there's foam on the top, an extraneous puff of aerated chestnut. The next course also eschews the fancy footwork---a wisp of raw salmon with vinegared potato chips. It's fish-and-chips. Get it? And it's as lovely as top-shelf sashimi, but where's the drama? Ah, there it is. Out comes a sizzling stone, surrounded by pine-needled branches, the superheated black rock releasing their woodsy aromas. A single sweet shrimp gone in one bite is dropped off to sizzle---perfumed, but not flavored, with pine. Committed gastro-tourists may have seen this concept before: Chicago. Alinea. 2008.
And there, curled in a ball, is that Thomas Keller's butter-poached lobster? The cooking method's the same one the Per Se chef pioneered, but the texture (mushy) and flavor (like a salt lick) both fall short. And there's the egg cooked sous vide the one that experimental French chef Pierre Gagnaire is said to have invented in Paris. Shouldn't there be a discount for these recycled techniques?
Dessert spans four more miniature courses, all pretty tasty---citrus sorbet on a bed of chocolate dirt, oatmeal ice cream, a dollop of crme brle. These sweets might be a fine end to a supper-club meal in a Brooklyn apartment, but like the rest of the food, they're not nearly polished enough for such a pricey and cerebral full-service restaurant. There's something to be said, of course, for youthful exuberance---Paul Liebrandt was already killing it at just 24---but not every young talent is so precocious. Curtin, like his food, still needs some time to grow up.
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