dining room at Silo 1604 is one of the city’s most effective restaurant spaces, especially at dusk, when it’s possible to experience the change from light and transparent to inner-focused and dramatic. For all of its sleek surfaces, the place is also acoustically comfortable. All of this sets the stage for a sophisticated dining experience, one that is, by and large, fulfilled. A good place to start is the wine list, one of the better documents in town. Keep it handy as you look at the menu, weighing your options back and forth. Should you be open to a French or even a Spanish selection, you will make the sommelier, Travis Perrenot, very happy; it’s his list, and he’s proud of it. Better yet, ask for his advice on matching wine to menu items. (Redoubtable Dining Companion and I tried putting cocktails and appetizers together, but the drinks list isn’t as welcoming. A Cucumber Kaiparasohka with vodka, lemon, simple syrup and cucumber almost worked with the oysters, but the Kaffir Clementine was both bland and bitter.)
You’ll have to make up your own mind regarding the food — though we can help here: The chicken-fried oysters aren’t a signature item for nothing. Yes, the oysters themselves seemed smaller than usual, leading to a case of more crust than mollusk, but the ensemble, including spinach and mustard hollandaise, was as rewarding as it always is. We liked less the seared yellowfin tuna. The presentation was handsome, but the fish itself lacked flavor, leaving the crunchy seaweed salad to shoulder the load — that and a requested extra serving of wasabi mayonnaise. The arrival of a roasted beet salad was cause for both approval and alarm: There were both red and golden beets (the approval), but they had been cut into tiny cubes and seemed decidedly secondary to the greens nestled in a radicchio leaf (the alarm). Turns out that there was cause for modest concern; the essential earthiness of the beets didn’t come through, though the creamy Humboldt Fog goat cheese was a welcome counterpoint. By this time, our 2007 Vaqueras from France’s Rhône Valley was opening up nicely in anticipation of the entrées. (So were we, for that matter.) They appeared looking splendid; especially impressive was the cider-braised Kurobuta pork shank, a beauty that had been brined for 24 hours, then slow braised. It was, as a result, holding onto the bone only by dint of sheer stubbornness. The green chile “mac & cheese” had been appropriately set off in quotation marks, as there was orzo standing in for the expected pasta. But it fortunately didn’t cross the too-cheesy line, making it a reasonable companion to the rich and robust pork.
The highlight of the evening, however, was the impeccable five spice duck. It may have become almost a cliché to serve this combination of rare breast and confit of leg and thigh, but when it is this well done, bring it on! is the only appropriate response. The five spice flavoring was appropriately subtle, the breast was impeccably cooked, and the contrasting confit nicely filled out the flavor profile of the plate — so much so that we almost ignored the bedding of couscous with dried apricot and almonds. The sautéed haricot verts didn’t go unnoticed, however; they were classically crisp and a welcome player. The wine was happy, we were happy, all was right with the world. And then came the announcement that a new pastry chef had been hired. My last experience at 1604 had included one of the city’s best desserts; this did not bode well. It was a gamble, but we took it, there being a little wine left in case we needed to compensate for a disappointment. Not to worry. The chocolate tart, cradled in a crisp hazelnut crust and drizzled with salted caramel, was masterful — right down to the crème chantilly sprinkled with cacao nibs. Sigh of relief, sighs of pleasure … and the remaining wine could be a sort of celebration instead.