My sister in-law lives with her boyfriend in NY, on the upper west side. I lived in NY for a while too, and worked there on and off for years. My favorite thing about the city is the food. There’s a lot of it, a lot of different kinds of it, and a good bit of it is really good stuff.
So we went to stay with my sis in-law and went out to Telepan, which just opened in 2006. Reservations are highly recommended, though they aren’t walk-in hostile either. They have a wonderful bar, with an adjoining area with a few tables that they reserve just for walk-ins.
Getting back to the bar, I have to say I was pretty impressed. The service was friendly, and the bar was a great way to take in the rest of the atmosphere, which was really comfortable and unpretentious, which pretty much describes our whole experience there. While the wine list will serve well all but the snobbiest tasters, I was esepecially impressed by the list of beers they make available. I was planning on having wine, but couldn’t pass up the 750ml bottle of Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale, which was excellent, and at that size, easily lasted from pre-dinner drink to just before coffee.
Telepan serves American food that’s anything but boring. The four of us all had the 4-course taster menu, which allows you to pick an appeteizer, a mid course, an entree and a dessert for about $50. The taster portions of the 4-course menu (along with a couple of other random complimentary servings of bread and finger foods) left us all stuffed to the gills.
I had the winter vegetable and bread soup to start. Any time I’m in a restaurant with a menu full of unique items, I like to see what they do with soup, because soup is often neglected and left to be ordinary by run-of-the-mill places. If you run a restaurant, and you’re not targeting the early-bird crowd, please stop serving soup that comes from a 5-gallon bucket. Telepan did not disappoint. I loved it. Winter veggie and bread soup was robust and very flavorful, but not at all heavy. I also got to try the gnocchi and the stuffed shrimp, both of which were also wonderful. Everyone was all smiles, and the service continued to be nothing short of fantastic.
My mid course selection was the Lobster Bolognese. It was very good, and the portion size was perfect. A small lobster tail perched atop a small nest of pasta and a very nice bolognese. Not that heavy crap you get in Italian places shoved into repurposed diners in Jersey that say “Italian” right in their name. This was really nice bolognese. Though I say the portion size was perfect, I really felt like it was a tease. It was great.
My main course was the dry-aged sirloin. I almost ordered it medium, then caught myself, realized I was in the city and not being served by a chef who was working at Red Lobster three months ago, and changed to mid rare. It was prepared absolutely to perfection. It was very tasty, and the brown gravy was skillfully prepared. I think the *cut* of meat could’ve actually been better, but it was certainly very good, the chef did the best that could be done with it, and sourcing consistently fabulous *anything* in a restaurant is non-trivial. Suffice to say that I did not feel at all, at any time, ever, that I was not getting my money’s worth.
For dessert, I had the red wine pear with chestnut cream, and a double espresso. Usually, I order coffee, because I’m not a fan of the back room espresso machines in most “family” restaurants. You know the ones: they use the same terrible beans they use for regular coffee, but charge you three times more money, and it tastes terrible. Telepan, I’m happy to report, has good espresso.
The dessert really just made it to “ok”. I really would’ve been shocked if the dessert blew me away, because dessert at any restaurant where it costs less than $25 just for dessert is often not mind-blowing. In fact, dessert even over $25 is often not mind-blowing. Maybe I’m just not a dessert guy. I will say this: the pear was good, and the chestnut cream was fantastic. I loved that. I just expected the flavor of the pear to be nicely complemented by the wine, and didn’t find that flavor to be there.
I really want to point out that one of the things I feel I’m paying for when I go to restaurants that are $25-$35 a plate is the service. Great service can make up for a lot of other things, or it can destroy the experience at a restaurant with great food. Telepan didn’t have much in the way of shortcomings, food wise, *and* the service was truly excellent. Everyone we interacted with at Telepan, from the Maitre D’, to the bartenders, to the waiter, bread server and bus staff all gave off an air of pride in the place and in their work, without giving off snobbish vibes or being completely robotic. It’s that rare balance that reflects back an image of a restaurant that is world class, but still unassuming and modest. The city has a way of destroying that comfortable feel in restaurants as they age. I hope this doesn’t happen at Telepan.