DEC 1,2013 – I’d finally moved into the city, got settled and built a place to talk restaurants. With all that out of the way, it was time to drop into somewhere new. The early word from Eater on Piora was relatively good, Pete Wells’ had provided his semi-endorsement and it was close to my new apartment. Here are my impressions.
We dropped by for dinner pretty late on a Friday and immediately noticed the dramatically lit garden backdrop. I don’t usually take much notice of the room, but as focal points go, this was one of the more impressive ones I’ve come across. OK, onto food and drink…
First to the table came the barbecued octopus with fermented pepper, basil and pine nuts. I was really looking forward to some strong fermented flavor to contrast with the smokiness of the BBQ, but found only the latter once I tasted it. My guess is the “hot and deeply funky” gochujang was toned down following the NYT review, seeing as that description far from suited my version of the dish.
The carrot dish arrived next, complete with plenty of crushed pistachios and yogurt base. It was a mix of carrots that were either (1) cooked in their own juice, (2) pickled or (3) cooked in ham fat if I remember correctly. The mix of all three created great balance and intense carrot flavor that definitely worked for me.
Between the appetizers and the entrees, we also wanted to sample the bucatini with dungeness crab, black garlic, maitakes and chili. Our server gladly offered to split a portion, so we each indulged in a buttery, earthy pile of noodles complete with a hint of crab. Very comforting dish that left you wanting more (especially after a 1/2 portion), but will say I didn’t pick up any heat on the plate and thought it was a bit shy on the seafood.
My entree was an absolutely perfectly cooked square of trout — crisp top and all — topped with cauliflower and nduja over what I suspect was a pear and cauliflower puree. Texturally, I was very pleased with the elements for crunch, the flaky fish preparation, and a creamy puree beneath it all. The tastes married well, and it made for a solid dish.
The second entree, a juicy slice of duck served alongisde farro and a jujube (a Korean date not to be confused with a gummy) sauce, finished the savory portion of the meal. I would chalk it up as another comforting dish, but without a standout flavor or memorable element. As a diner that wasn’t familiar with the jujube, I was hoping a sauce like this one would offer up something stimulating, but instead I think it fell short, only exhibiting a mild sweetness.
We ended the night on a satisfying note with dark chocolate tart, fresh raspberries, raspberry sorbet, a yuzu foam and pistachios. The dish made good use of pairing tart fruit and bittersweet chocolate, closing the meal with both freshness and some indulgence.
Piora was both delicious and unspectacular. Most dishes had a satisfying element whether it was a smoky char, crispy skin or tart sorbet, but in most cases I found myself expecting flavors that were never quite present. I think it’s a good sign that the intention behind each ingredient makes the dish concepts really attractive on first read, but my hope is that through some continued tinkering the menu hits its stride and delivers on its potential.
Best Bite: Carrots