Part of the fun in a multi-course tasting menu is the interaction with the staff and the education of the elaborate process behind the final product. And at nearly every single fine dining spot we’ve been to, the staff is happy to engage with customers that show an interest in learning about their work at a deeper level.
Perhaps the best example of this was at Enigma in Barcelona where Chef Oliver Peña finished dishes in front of us at the Barra room chef’s table while describing the process in great detail. His enthusiasm and love for his work was overflowing, and he even met us after dinner to give us a package of raw ingredient he mentioned earlier.
Now I understand that cooking and talking simultaneously is a skill, and I don’t expect all chef’s tables to be nearly that engaging. When eating in a dining room though, I do expect fine dining servers to have an understanding of the dishes and to engage with the customer. When you are paying this much for meal, it’s not just about the food. Alinea in Chicago is one of my favorite examples of a spot that excels at creating a playful, magical feel to the evening.
Dialogue restaurant is a tiny 18-seater, hidden away behind an unmarked door in an upstairs mall food court. The only giveaway is perhaps the bottles of vinegar peeking through the high window. The adventure of finding the restaurant, along with Chef Dave Beran’s pedigree (Alinea and Next) built my anticipation for a fun and delicious night. Upon finishing the meal though, my dinner mates and I agreed that Dialogue restaurant was weirdly cold from a service perspective, and food execution missed the mark, despite the process.
The main sommelier Jordan avoided our table after a handful of dishes in, because he clearly didn’t want to be bothered by my husband’s questions about the process. One of his final responses before he disappeared was an insincere “Cool!” in a laughably high-pitched voice.
Thank goodness Jeremy took over and happily spent the rest of the evening chatting with us. Other than Jeremy though, the wait staff were not that interested. I also had a clear line of sight to the chef’s counter, and Chef Beran looked like he couldn’t be bothered as well. It was all very unwelcoming and unpleasant, despite cheerful Jeremy.
The food was similarly disappointing. The heavily Japanese-influenced, seasonal California menu consisted of 21 small courses. I appreciated the creative ingredient combinations and technique, yet felt an overall lack of warmth and cohesiveness in the finished dishes. Other than the simplest dish – truffle milkshake – no dish compelled me to crave more. Half the meal was also oddly sweet (and I usually love sweet and savory). The wine pairings were unremarkable. Unsatisfied, we had a second dinner back at the hotel.
One of the better dishes was a cucumber and mint salad. Wonderful depth, nice brightness, and a lingering punch of garlic.
Course five featured camomile, lemon, honey, and sesame in a sweet, dessert-like dish. But dessert this was not, and it was rather odd to have this course so early on.
The next dish of fennel ice cream and fermented peach was promising with fun temperature and texture contrast, but also marred by an overly sweet shiso powder.
Next came shots of buttered movie theater popcorn in liquid form, and who doesn’t like buttered popcorn?
Sadly the corn shot was followed by a corn nugget that was the worst offender in the overly sweet category.
I’m not sure I’ve had any type of mochi with roe, but I enjoyed this new combination…though you guessed it, still a little too sweet!
The seared foie gras was a bit on the iron-heavy side for my taste, though I did like the sauce which reminded me of a bright Thai curry.
“Yuzu Glass” had nice presentation and technique, and the fermented yuzu powder was a tangy punch in the face (in a good way for me, though not for my dinner mates).
Honeynut squash is a sweeter, optimized butternut squash. This dish balanced the sweet squash nicely with savory onion.
It seems like you can’t have a tasting menu without caviar these days. Sadly the sweet chestnut and onion puree overpowered the premium osetra caviar. It was also weird to not eat caviar from a mother of pearl spoon.
Pheasant was one of only two meat dishes. I enjoyed the smoky depth of flavor and preferred the leg (hidden in the photo) to the drier breast.
Following this was a course with black walnuts, which had a strong funk that wasn’t my favorite.
I do enjoy wild mushrooms in creamy grains, and I liked the bright contrasting notes in the mushroom farro dish.
Unfortunately for me, one of my least favorite meats – squab was the second meat course. That oat cream black truffle rillette hit the spot though.
As mentioned, the first dessert of truffle milkshake was the winner for me! I would gladly have seconds or thirds.
The other desserts were delicious, no complaints about the sweetness here! I also enjoyed the interesting and lingering menthol note in the second dessert.
I liked that Dialogue restaurant introduced me to many new ingredient combinations I hadn’t seen before. I would not come back here though because I didn’t feel appreciated or respected as a customer.