Review: The Journeyman

Serious seasonal eating that's well worth the effort
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  September 14, 2011
3.5 3.5 Stars

Main courses were a small but fairly normal-looking combination of sliced rare steak, a "gougere pancake" (flat cheese pastry) where the mashed potatoes would go, and a half baby eggplant with a miso glaze. (One of the chef-owners is Singaporean, and Asian influences are well assimilated at the Journeyman.) The herbivore central course was an extraordinarily decorated plate of ricotta gnudi (cheese dumplings), but pan fried for some crunch, scattered on a platter with dots of purple-red pureed bell pepper, sliced disks of kiwi-lime jelly (a little too subtle), and tomatillos candied like raisins.

We had added a cheese plate ($12), such as might be in one of the seven-course dinners. Our night it was thin shaved Pyrenees, a sharp, aged, nutty cheese with microtome sheets of honeydew and four small cubes of cantaloupe marinated in absinthe. Absinthe cantaloupe could get really popular.

The dessert on all four dinners was the one flop of the evening, a triple treatment of plums that foundered on the poor state of stone fruit this year. The greengage sorbet was agreeably sharp, but the brûléed Santa Rosa half plum was clearly under-ripe, even with the chocolate-caramel sauce, and a long rectangle of yellow plum mousse was tasteless, unlike the similar slice of hazelnut cake next to it.

The Journeyman has fascinating cocktails, draft beers, ciders, wines, and a collection of bitter aperitifs and liqueurs, and the pairings allegedly have all the frisson of the food combinations, but we economized with a bottle of 2009 Roagna Dolcetto d'Alba ($11/glass; $40/bottle). This one was still a little astringent, but very drinkable, with burnt-cherry aromas. There are also fabulous teas and tisanes served properly weak and loose-leaf in individual pots. One of cascara ($5), which are dried whole coffee berries, was so light it just tasted like straw. But a hibiscus tea ($5) was as full-bodied an herbal as any rooibos (also on the list), and holy basil tea ($5) has a strong mint-clove flavor you won't forget. Among the most expensive caffeinated teas is a Formosa pouchong ($14), a style on the black-tea side of oolong, here showing a wonderful peach-like aroma.

Service at the Journeyman, even with only 36 seats, is by necessity lingering. It takes sushi-chef attention and detail to produce any of the above plates, even with many ingredients prepared earlier and needing only the final decorative presentation. Our server was game to explain everything, naming dozens and dozens of ingredients over two and a half hours. She was attentive with water and rationing out our bottle of wine, and removed and reset so much flatware I began to imagine vast dish-washing lines behind the scenes. Despite the intensity of attention one might pay to the food and drink, other (younger) customers seemed to be able to use the Journeyman for ordinary dining out or drinking and dining as a party. I'm not sure I want to eat so seriously so often, even if I could afford it, but the seasonal menus might well bring me back several times a year. Yes, I could have gone out for a hamburger afterward. No, I did not.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at robtnadeau@aol.com.

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