By Patricia Calhoun
By Mark Antonation
By Patricia Calhoun
By Cafe Society
By Gretchen Kurtz
By Mark Antonation
By Cafe Society
By Kristin Pazulski
Big Q, little q, what begins with Q?
How about some grown-up answers to the childhood chant? Quaint, quirky, quality--they all describe the exquisite Q's.
Qualms? Chef/owner John Platt admits to several. The restaurant's sous chef when it opened in 1991, Platt took over the place two years later, when Q's founder Dave Query decided to move on. And last fall, Platt moved Q's out of its little 45-seat original spot in the Hotel Boulderado and into a big space downstairs, formerly Teddy Roosevelt's, where the dining room holds 110 and a breezy, fetching patio has room for 100 more.
"Having a family, I was starting to think it was time to move into a more financially rewarding situation," Platt says. "The other Q's was just too small to really be that. But it was more intimate and more controllable, so this has really been a challenge."
One of the challenges was that in assuming the larger space, Platt also had to take on the hotel's room service, which meant adding breakfast and handling requests from 160 rooms. Another hurdle was remodeling Teddy Roosevelt's in a way that would preserve the integrity of the ninety-year-old hotel yet still give Q's--an operation independent of the hotel--its own identity. A few coats of paint brightened up the place considerably, and Arch11, fast becoming one of the premier design companies for local restaurants, gave it a more cosmopolitan feel while retaining the historic atmosphere.
The food, however, is contemporary all the way. Platt, a CIA man who also has a degree in hotel/restaurant management from the University of Connecticut-New Haven, credits his culinary know-how to considerable experience in kitchens on both coasts, including more than three years in a California Ritz-Carlton; he credits his wife, Sabrina, with making it possible for him to have two kids (ages five and two) and still work fifty to seventy hours a week.
His work pays off, and diners reap the dividends. Since Query left, Platt has made Q's menu entirely his own, creating a roster of eclectic dishes full of clever ingredient combinations that not only taste great but are at times visually stunning.
On our first visit, we wanted to try every appetizer--true to their label, they sounded so appetizing. But the kitchen was out of crab, so the tian of crab, smoked trout and salmon roe was not an option. Instead, we sank our teeth into a shrimp spring roll ($9 for two), a crunchy, chewy delight packed with crustaceans and enhanced by a hot-and-sour mango broth; a salad of shiitakes, daikon and carrots sat on the side, along with a smattering of cellophane noodles and sweet-edged pickled ginger. Another appealing salad, this one grapes and watercress, came with the torta of Boursin and potato ($7). While the torta's pastry was too crisp and hard to penetrate with a fork, once we got past it we found a center of steamy, melted triple-cream cheese imbued with herbs. By far the top appetizer, though, was the seared Hudson Valley foie gras, which was barely cooked in order to leave the silky texture, sided by an intense, bacon-smoky bread pudding, and served with a peach reduction whose tart sweetness provided the ideal foil for the rich, rich dish.
Platt's obvious forte is his ability to combine rich ingredients with simple ones, keeping the individual flavors intact but connecting them in a way that makes sense. The best example of this was his vegetarian entree of spinach flan, roasted artichokes and red potatoes, carrot puree and grilled asparagus ($15). This was a culinary marvel that presented each item cooked to the ideal point where it released its unique essence but also tied the disparate tastes together with a parsnip-shallot coulis. I could have eaten an entire casserole of just the flan, which was light, creamy and packed with spinach.
While the veggie entree was deceptively simple, the ricotta raviolis ($15) were just the opposite. Homemade ravioli pasta had been pleasantly overstuffed with ricotta, then tossed with a chunky mix of wild mushrooms, smoked dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and Asiago for a hearty meal that would go over just as well in the middle of winter. The lamb loin ($22) was another dish that satisfies both the soul and the appetite: The tender, beautifully grilled meat came with a fine burgundy jus; the robust lamb-shank risotto and roasted-vegetable ratatouille that arrived alongside were comfort-food city; and a dollop of saffron aioli lightened things up a little and offered a welcome, richness-cutting garlic bite.
Q's emphasis on such sides shows Platt's commitment to making every component of the meal matter. An order of hoisin-glazed ahi tuna ($20), for instance, brought a medium-rare, sweetly glossed fish, accompanied by a crunchy potato cake that contained just enough onion to make its presence known, along with creamed spinach and gingered golden beets. The sweet, meaty beets were incredible, almost worthy of entree status on their own.
When I returned on a solo visit, I tried to go lighter and make it through to dessert--but that proved to be an impossible dream. For starters, I couldn't resist a bowl of potato leek soup ($6), which not only boasted an optimal consistency--not too thin, not too thick--but was flavored with prosciutto and fried leeks and floating with puffy, filling gnocchi. Prosciutto reappeared in the Bibb lettuce wedge salad ($6), which also featured crunchy, fresh vegetables and a creamy, basil-strong dressing. And while I'd ordered the lightweight-sounding Creole-spiced mignon of Atlantic salmon ($19), the piece of fish was a heavyweight, covered with a delicate but ardent lobster demi-glace that made it impossible not to scrape up every last bite. The side of crawfish, corn and barley succotash was another concoction too delicious to resist.