What happens when a high-end caliber chef of a well renowned restaurant leaves the comfort of his conservative and classy Upper Westside post, only to open up a new joint in the trendy and hip Soho neighborhood?
The chef is John Fraser of Dovetail, and his new establishment is What Happens When, one of the first pop-up restaurants, the newest trend in the ever changing world of dining. With a known life expectancy of nine months, an interior design and menu contrived to change on a monthly basis, the concept is successfully created with a mindset of continuously keeping the New York City diner entertained.
What Happens When opened its doors last Tuesday and after several attempts, we scored a 7pm dinner reservation on Saturday night. Not our ideal time to dine, but regardless, we left in agreement that a new reservation must be made as soon as the menu and decor changes again come February 25.
Intentionally designed to resemble a restaurant still in the construction phase, there are hooks in the ceiling which hold wires leading to the lightbulbs hanging above each table. Instead of having the traditional glass or porcelain encasing the light bulbs are placed above cut out recipes used to subdue the glare of the light. Rather than having the silverware placed out, there is a hidden “serve yourself” drawer on one side of the table. The writing on the walls, and outlines on the floors, give the appearance of a blue print stage of production. There a two randomly placed ladders, and a bar that looks like it can be rolled out of the restaurant and into the backyard of your next catered party. It has a prix fixed menu, and for $58 one has the choice of an appetizer, an entre and a dessert.
We began with the dirty martini from their cocktail list, presented with an elderflower rather than olives and a vodka gimlet, both served in old fashion style glasses. Our first taste of what this meal would have in store came by way of the cheesy pizza dough garlic knots, and amuse bouche trio. Instructed to eat the three components in the progression of left to right, the first bite was their take on ants on a log, followed by a creamy onion dip, and lastly a split pea soup with truffle butter. Although the truffle butter was not prevalent, the soup was silky and smooth.
For the first course we had the oyster dish (obviously) and the arctic char. The freshly shucked Salt Pond Oysters, from Rhode Island, covered with a beet mignotte and topped with a sunchoke puree, rested among tender pieces of beets. Although an original concept with bold root vegetables flavors, the oyster was not distinguishable and lost its identity among the other ingredients. The arctic char, wrapped in a fennel aspic, was delicate in texture and flavor, always a sign of good execution, given the nature of this fish.
For entrées, we had the Cod and the Lamb Loin. The cod, as described had a very strong taste of dill, potentially overpowering for someone who does not favor the herb.The lamb loin, for lack of a better word, rocked!. Although served with a steak knife, the meat was so tender and delicate, that it simply seduced our palate. A top notch dish. To conclude our meal, we were presented with a dessert cart, exhibiting the three options. We opted for the mascarpone cheesecake topped with roasted hazelnuts, and the Meyer lemon bavarian, a slightly creamier and less gelatiness take on a pana cota. Both light and incredibly satisfying.
So what you get is the confirmation that there is something to this pop-up craze. It allows a chef the ability to conceptualize and bring forth an ideology beyond the traditional food forward structure in creating a restaurant. And results in the collaboration of design, gastronomy and an overall birth of something new and exciting. Even if the oysters were not the highlight of the meal, there was enough there to bring us back for Fraser’s brainchild #2.
What Happens When
25 Cleveland Pl
New York, NY 10012
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