Dishes that are new, different, unexpected are like catnip to restaurant reviewers. So I had to tamp down my excitement as I read the dinner menu at Butterwood Sweet & Savory, set in a richly appointed space below ground level in the Hotel @ the Lafayette. ¶ The menu is a crazy quilt of offerings that mixes Asian, American and other cuisines together – sometimes on the same plate. Not just one or two wild cards – two thirds of the menu, across starters and entrees. ¶ Grilled romaine salad you see elsewhere. But not with chipotle onion rings, warm churros, rum-cured tomatoes, queso fresco and green goddess dressing. (Executive Chef Scott Donhauser said he’s about to update the menu with simpler versions of most dishes.) ¶ On this night, foie gras doughnuts with Jamaican coffee crema dipping sauce ? Yes, please. “Seafood trio presented in dessert forms,” starting with octopus and squid ink “Oreos”? Not tonight, dear.
So after an unusually long read, we started ordering. The foie gras doughnuts ($12), lobster corncake ($19), soy-chile poached filet topped with beer cheese crouton ($16), crisp duck leg with coconut flan ($13), charred lamb with beet marmalade ($17) as starters.
Asian spare ribs ($25), pork mignon ($24) and lobster meatballs ($29) were entrees, along with “Three Feathered Friends” ($24), a sesame chicken breast, duck eggroll and quail egg soup.
The bread basket offered three kinds of freshly baked dinner rolls and “chicken wing bread,” which was cheesy, tinged with baked-in hot sauce, and slightly burnt on the bottom. Another gratis starter was lobster bisque shooters, creamy, aromatic seafood soup with chunks of lobster that we finagled, unashamed, from the bottom of the shot glasses.
After we ordered, I noticed that the nightly special included a free margarita with each entree or pizza. Duty called, and we ordered regular (lime), strawberry and spicy margaritas.
I enjoyed the six foie stuffed doughnut holes, liver richness contrasted against bitter coffee. No other takers.
The lobster corncake was a resounding hit, a moist patty with more lobster chunks and a corn salsa with crunchy kernels, plus highly crispy shoestring fries of yuca, a potatolike tuber. The chile “pearls” did taste like chile, making them worth corralling onto our forks. The slab of avocado “marble” tasted like straight avocado, good enough for me.
Soy poached filet was tender and livened with dark Asian flavors, and it wore a melted beer cheese crouton that connected with the beer marinade. The soy jus was salty, and we skipped it.
Charred lamb featured three lamb rib chops, well-crusted and served atop delicious, nutty watercress pesto, watercress and candied chopped beets. It was an engaging combination, though a chore to get all the flavors on one fork.
Crispy duck leg was tender, with well-rendered skin, but not crispy. Neither was the accompanying “banana-lime-curry” spring roll, making me wonder how long parts of these plates had to wait for other parts. So many parts. I enjoyed dipping tender duck in the mango sauce nonetheless. There was a decent coconut custard in there, too.
The spare ribs were tender and well-seasoned under their sesame seed coat. Pickled carrots were an excellent foil, vinegar cutting the fattiness.
The pork mignon was advertised as coming with pork belly “Cracker Jacks,” green tomato mostarda, chipotle-chocolate-coffee polenta, local red and yellow tomato salad. Its complications didn’t pay off in taste, a criticism tablemates aimed at other dishes.
Any polenta subtleties were overwhelmed by chipotle heat. The pork belly was well-cooked and tender, but the candied popcorn topping was soft. The mostarda underneath it all needed more acid to make itself heard. The simple tomato salad on the side? Delicious.
Cat’s chicken trio offered moist chicken breast in a piquant sweet glaze on decent fried rice, and a vegetable- and duck-stuffed egg roll, which she enjoyed. A ramekin of quail egg soup was perched on a little tea light warmer that said “trying too hard.” (Would it get cold otherwise?)
My lobster meatballs were well-seasoned comfort-food spheres, crustacean-flavored, but the lobster disappeared. The risotto’s rice was tender but not mushy.
Dessert offerings include the entire Butterwood bakery display case, which runs almost the width of the dining room, with pastries, cakes and other desserts available for inspection before purchase.
We took a stroll through the mostly empty room, did a little window shopping and came back with a mango-coconut bombe and a Belgian chocolate pyramid (both $7.39). The bombe was a light summer cake that tasted mostly of coconut. The pyramid, mousse on a chocolate cookie base, was a resonant chocolate treat.
Butterwood’s adventurous options will engage open-minded eaters, even if some of its attempts fall flat. I applaud Chef Donhauser’s fearlessness and hope his ongoing editing of his menu and its plates broadens the restaurant’s appeal further.
Butterwood Sweet & Savory: 7 Plates (Out of 10)
Butterwood Sweet & Savory: 7 Plates (Out of 10)
Inventive menu choices often hit the spot at Hotel @ the Lafayette restaurant.
WHERE: 391 Washington St. (www.butterwoodsweetandsavory.com, 652-0131)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and small plates, $5-$19; sandwiches $9-$14, entrees $24-$39.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.