Stoic & Genuine 1701 Wynkoop Street
Aside from the name, everything about Stoic & Genuine shouts seafood. In the raw bar, oysters and crab legs glisten on ice. Emerald-glass floats, salvaged from fishing nets, fill a case by the hostess stand. Light bounces off mirrored panels like moonlight on silvery water. Sand fencing wraps around the ceiling, and oversized shutters hang over the windows in front, the ones that would let in sea breezes and the squawking of gulls if we were near the ocean. But what, exactly, are those earth-toned shapes painted on upper sections of the walls?
As we sat at a banquette popping fried surf clams, sipping wine and watching the action in the open kitchen, we debated. Were they meant to be sand at low tide? Abstract coral? A rocky beach? Re-entering the small, narrow dining room after a trip to the loo, I finally understood: They were part of an octopus, with tentacled arms interrupted by twelve-foot windows. Sometimes you have to take a step back to see what's really going on -- and that's as true for this restaurant as it is for the wall art.
See also: Behind the Scenes at Stoic & Genuine
When Stoic & Genuine opened in early July, expectations ran sky-high. This wasn't surprising, considering it was the first venture from partners Beth Gruitch and Jennifer Jasinski since the latter had nabbed a James Beard award for Best Chef Southwest. Those expectations were pushed to the exosphere when the restaurant, which had been the last to sign at Union Station, became the first to open -- this despite a concept change from Mexican to seafood. As the beneficiary of the city's pent-up excitement about a makeover to rival the Ferry Building in San Francisco and New York's High Line, Stoic & Genuine has done a banner business, doubling projections the first few months. You can already see the same changes afoot in LoDo as in Manhattan's meatpacking district, as revitalization ripples out from this new anchor of energy.
But urban renewal and a nationally acclaimed chef are only two parts of Stoic & Genuine's big picture. The city's best-known fish houses -- Jax, Ocean Prime and McCormick & Schmick's -- are a stone's throw away. The pair's other restaurants -- Rioja, Bistro Vendôme and Euclid Hall -- are within walking distance. So when Jasinski explains that Stoic & Genuine grew out of "thinking about what do you want to eat in town that's not already here," you know she was thinking about more than oysters and composed plates of sole. After all, the last thing a restaurateur wants to do is cannibalize her own business.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, Jasinski and chef de cuisine Jorel Pierce created an all-day menu of dishes from coastal communities -- not just the East and West coasts, but the Pacific Rim and Europe, as well. With a large selection of raw-bar items, small plates, sandwiches and à la carte sides, as well as a small section of hot, entree-sized dishes, meals take less of a starter-main-dessert format and resemble more of a graze. The menu feels quirky, as though you're at a seafood-inspired Euclid Hall, and while this might disappoint some Rioja-loving guests (not to mention people looking for sea-based comfort food), it fits the casual way that many diners eat today.
The best way to build a meal is to scan the menu and order the first thing that catches your eye. Chances are it's a small plate, and you'll wind up ordering several more before you're done. Oysters are a must, not just because of the selection from both coasts, but because of the sauces they're served with. In addition to complimentary mignonette, horseradish, cocktail sauce and lemon, granitas can be added for $2.50. I don't suggest them for the creamy Kumamotos from Washington or WiAnnos from Massachusetts; to me, that's like putting ketchup on caviar. But neutral varieties benefit from such icy blends as tarragon-cucumber and lychee-sake. Purists can always drink the granitas instead; most flavors are offered as boozy beverages, a fun touch that Jasinski borrowed from her wedding.
Another must is the crab-mango salad, a dish that fans might recognize from Jasinski's cookbook, The Perfect Bite. With an intriguing mix of flavors and textures -- tempura-battered shiso leaves, creamy avocado, slick mango and tatsoi -- and a generous tangle of Dungeness crab, the salad can work as a main course. The same can't be said of the other salads, which are served in small bowls without protein. Pair the broccoli salad, with slices of apple and avocado and a yuzu-sesame dressing, with another plate with an Asian profile, though, and you'll have a winsome meal. Two of the best options: the hamachi sashimi, with smoked and raw pear, sliced grapes and a slice of Riesling-pear gelée that playfully mimics raw fish in color and texture; and the flash-seared scallop, with a subtle panna cotta made of lemongrass-infused coconut milk, plantain crisps and pineapple compote. But the salad of roasted squash and bok choy was strictly catch-and-release: Both times I tried it, the delicata and butternut squash swam in oily agrodolce. Keep reading for more on Stoic & Genuine.
One cold, rainy night, we were looking for a heartier second course, something hot rather than chilled, cooked rather than raw. "I've had everything on the menu, from top to bottom, so if you have any questions, ask me," said our server. Like all staffers at this restaurant, he has passed written tests and undergone regular tastings, and his knowledge paid off. The clams he recommended were fantastic, straight out of Southern Europe, bobbing with sliced chorizo in a spicy broth of Pernod, tomatoes and fennel. Just as good was the bacon-wrapped halibut over chowder. Also available by the bowl, the "chowder" -- listed in quotes on the menu -- was neither Manhattan nor New England style, but a delicious blend of surf clams and Bangs Island mussels in a light corn-and-wine based broth. "I know when I read a menu item and it comes out a lot different than what's in my head, I might start off being disappointed," says Jasinski, explaining those quotation marks. But the lamb burger needed more than quotation marks to stave off disappointment; the strong chorizo spices overwhelmed the lamb, bufala mozzarella and romesco -- not to mention my friend, who called it quits after eating less than half.
There are no quotes around the lobster roll, a classic Maine preparation with celery-spiked aioli, butter lettuce and a buttered, split-top roll. Nor is any explanation needed for the fluffy Parker House rolls or the cornbread, which comes out shaped like mini-ears of corn. Several desserts, though, could have used not just explanations, but apologies. Described by servers as pie in a Mason jar, the lemon meringue pie came out in a glass jar the size of a half-pint, with far more meringue than lemon. The chocolate pie wasn't pie at all, just a sliver of chocolate buttermilk cake in a jar mostly filled with cream. And the creamsicle tasted of peanut butter and Oreo, with none of the orange and vanilla promised in its name. Much better was the chocolate bread pudding, moist and rich on the inside, toasty on the outside -- just as the dish should be.
There's a lot to wrap your arms around here -- so perhaps the best way to experience Stoic & Genuine is to leave any expectations at the door. That way, you won't come in expecting Grand Central's Oyster Bar or surf and turf, a "catch of the day" or a wide selection of hot, fish-based entrees. (On my last visit, the bacon-wrapped halibut was the only one.) You shouldn't even arrive expecting a seafaring version of Gruitch and Jasinski's other restaurants. Instead, you'll be ready to take a step back and see Stoic & Genuine for what it actually is: a hip spot to eat impeccably sourced seafood -- some elegant, some casual, much of it served on small plates -- and quite a catch.
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Select menu items at Stoic & Genuine: Fried surf clams $9.50 Oysters, each $2.50-$4 Dungeness crab-mango salad $17 Hamachi sashimi $12.50 Flash-seared scallop $12.50 Steamed clams $23 Bacon-wrapped halibut "chowder" $24 Lobster roll $19.50 Broccoli salad $6 Lamb burger $14.50 Chocolate bread pudding $7
Stoic & Genuine is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. For more information call 303-640-3474 or go to stoicandgenuine.com.