High on Mt. Olympus, the gods were knocking back goblets of ambrosia. Mighty Zeus, his voice like thunder, wiped his lips and said, "This ambrosia is good, and all, but not as delicious as the turnip bisque they serve at Element 112."
Then bright-eyed Athena, warlike and wise, responded, "Yes, and their bread pudding is even more divine. And we should know."
The bread pudding ($8), which well deserves this immortal praise, is entirely unlike any bread pudding you have had before. A small disk of dough is lightly fried on both sides, like French toast, and topped with vanilla ice cream, exceptional maple syrup from Michigan, and house-made hibiscus syrup. Every bite is such mouth-watering perfection you will wish you could have more.
This dessert is like the restaurant's menu in miniature: created with immense talent, executed with precision, devised with innovation, and a clever eye toward reworking familiar dishes. And sometimes not quite enough food.
Only open for a few months, the small but wildly ambitious Element 112 has already leaped to the top of the ranks of local restaurants. No one else is making food this modern, no one else is experimenting with new ways to cook it, and few if any are making it better.
The limited and ever-changing menu (six entrees and five appetizers, as of this writing) allows the kitchen staff to concentrate on perfection. For instance, it would be impossible to improve the silken turnip bisque that is so favored by Zeus and is currently being served as an amuse bouche. The fresh-baked bread, often overlooked by restaurants, is also worthy of the gods, served with salted butter made from cream churned from their own cow.
That's the kind of attention to detail that is so pervasive in this restaurant, instilled by its young, well-traveled chef, Chris Nixon.
The absolutely marvelous dry-aged beef tenderloin ($43) is first cooked sous vide and then grilled, resulting in a remarkably satisfying and filling filet, meltingly soft, with a delicate beef flavor. Superlatively tender, it is served swimming in a rich Yukon Gold potato puree, with a couple of roasted young carrots and an irresistible bordelaise sauce.
Very nearly its equal is the turnip ravioli ($26), served with bay scallops, black garlic, winter vegetables, and a handful of fava beans. Despite the number of ingredients on the plate, the dish seems effortlessly balanced. Highlighted by the creamy turnip filling in the ravioli, it is a symphony of unassertive flavors, with nothing overpowering the others. Even the peppery taste of some nasturtium blossoms stood out. Other restaurants use edible flowers as decorations or the fun kick of knowing you're eating flowers, but here they are used for their flavor.
One way to judge a restaurant is by its roasted chicken, and the entree here ($24) is an overachiever. It was like a better version of chicken: chicken 2.0. Brined in saltwater and then cooked sous vide before roasting, it was unusually tender and juicy, though pushed to the edge of acceptable saltiness.
The one misstep we had was a wild-caught monkfish ($35), just barely done, served with mushrooms that had been dehydrated and reconstituted and tasting like nothing. Though the fish was adequate, the meal was disappointing, considering the rest of our experiences there (it is not currently on the menu, but the menu changes every few days, depending on what is freshest).
In contrast, the Nature's bounty farm egg appetizer ($8) was simply sublime, and a grand example of the chef's magic. It begins with an egg poached in its shell for six minutes, then shelled and rolled in crispy panko crumbs that gave a bite to the barely runny yolk and the succulent white. Pickled red onion brought a glorious note of acidity, calmed by buttermilk and highlighted by the salty crunch of potato chips that tied the whole dish together. It's just a few potato chips, but the dish wouldn't be the same without them.
The room is chic and sleek, a mixture of blacks, whites, and grays, with ultra-cool lightbulbs hanging above the uncovered tables. Service is uniformly impeccable, with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable wait staff ready to answer any question. It is possible they guessed they were being reviewed, but the service looked top notch at the other tables as well.
The prices are higher than most folks around here are accustomed to paying ($16 for four small oysters? Really?). But if you can afford it, it is worth it. Dinner at Element 112 truly is food for the gods.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org
Element 112: *****
Address: 5735 Main St.
Category: Fine dining
Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations are suggested.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average Price: $$$$
Credit Cards: Yes
Web site: element112restaurant.com
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