TASTY MOLECULES The food at Journeyman is inventive chemistry-set fare — but actually delicious.
There are no journeymen at the Journeyman. The trio behind this restaurant are clearly master craftspeople in the combination of molecular and locavore gastronomy they are doing.
And no journeyman restaurateur this side of Portland, Oregon, would put a fine-dining establishment in a converted garage in an alley, which is where you find the Journeyman. The food is the kind of chemistry-set stuff I usually admire more than enjoy, but almost everything we tasted here was worth the Zen-meditation effort of refocusing on small portions of unusually cut or processed foodstuffs. If the height of our meal in early September was a salad of heirloom vegetables, one must add that each bit was handled in its own way, from a slightly balsamic chunk of Black Krim tomato to a long, squared-up strip of cooked yellow carrot.
The menu — sheets of wine and food options on a clipboard — changes weekly, and, although there are many things to try here, there are only six possible menu choices. There is an herbivore tasting menu and an omnivore tasting menu, each in three courses ($39), five courses ($65), or seven courses ($85). They will pair up beverages for another $25, $45, or $65, respectively. We did three- and five-course dinners, cheese and charcuterie a la carte, and a modest bottle of wine. With three complimentary "amuses bouches," it was a long evening, featuring a few bland-outs but a high quotient of memorable surprises.
We started with an opening amuse of "blueberry-basil bubbles." Imagine a flattened black super-ball in a soup spoon. Pop it in your mouth for a gush of amazingly synergistic flavors. We added charcuterie ($5 per item) and got well-made servings of country pâté and lean, slightly nutmegged "liverwurst," served simply with toasts of the one house-made bread, a crumbly multigrain (which also came with softened salted butter on a black slate rock).
Both three- and five-course dinners included the heirloom salad, with a buttermilk-basil dressing. Each item in the salad was remarkable: the above-mentioned tomato and carrot, a single ripe husk tomato "ground cherry," shavings of unusual cucumbers, a sheet of richly flavored summer squash, a piece of yellow pepper.
The five herbivorous courses included a corn custard topped with foam, full of fresh blueberries and micro herbs. The omnivore course was a few cubic inches of fluke (summer flounder), fresh and sweet on three kinds of watermelon: a fresh rectangle, "compressed," and pickled rind. This was followed on the vegetarian five-course by eggplant agnolotti, a stuffed pasta not much bigger than tortellini with fresh eggplant stuffing, a single slice of slightly pickled eggplant, and a tablespoon of a sweet eggplant caviar, along with small lobes of wild sulfur polypore mushroom topped with something that looked like shaved cheese and tasted like rice paper. The next dish on the omnivore course was razor clams with some kind of translucent jelly strips or noodles — this dish was too fast and subtle for me to get much flavor impression, except from the rich toasted hazelnuts.