I was very excited to hear that the much anticipated Tailor would be open during my week in New York. I even made a reserve several weeks to the date, just to play it safe. I never had the chance to sample Sam Mason's dessert creations at WD-50 while he worked there; but from what I had read and from experiences I'd heard, they were very tasty. At Tailor on the other hand, I found my experience relatively lackluster with some courses leaving me, quite frankly, confused. Tailor had no sign, label, or anything else to indicate that this was the new home of Chef Mason. In fact, the windows were frosted which made it a bit more difficult to confirm if this was indeed a restaurant. I found the approximate location of about where 425 Broome should be and in a brave leap of blind faith, I opened it. One point for me; it was indeed Tailor. The other person in my party had already arrived, and the friendly maître d' told me that if we were ready to be seated, I could go downstairs to get her. The restaurant was two floors with the downstairs being for drinks (it was where the bar was) and the upstairs for dinner. The atmosphere was light and casual, which made things comfortable. We proceeded upstairs and were seated.
The menu was very simple, clearly laid out, and contained a digestible number of dishes -- an absolute breath of fresh air as restaurant menus should not be novels. The menu was separated into two sections: sweet and salty. Three sweet courses could be chosen for $30, and any three courses (sweet or salty) could be selected for $50. On the back was an eight course "Cocoa Tasting Menu," where each of the eight courses featured chocolate in some way. The tasting menu seemed curious; but so did many of the courses on the a la carte side. What to do ... what to do ... both menus, of course! I opted for the tasting menu, and three of the courses from the a la carte side. While the waitress did think I was crazy, as did the surrounding tables of hipsters casually listening to my order but pretending not to, this seemed like the best of both worlds.
I started with the first course on the cocoa tasting menu, squid salad, cocoa croutons, and mint. An interesting combination, indeed. The squid was slightly fishy, and it was this fishy taste that conflicted very strongly with the chocolate. The dissonance was startling.
Next up, chocolate gnocchi, brussel sprouts, and lime purée. The presentation of this dish was varied in terms of color: a mix of brown and green with yellow streaks. The chocolate gnocchi by itself, though slightly soggy in texture, was pretty good. I appreciated Chef Mason's integration of sweets into traditionally savory courses. It was the lime purée, however, that completely assaulted this dish. Way too sour. And aside from color differentiation, what were the brussels sprouts doing here? They seemed random to me.
The highlight of the meal came with the third course, foie gras terrine with peanut butter, cocoa, and pear. This was absolutely wonderful: balanced both in terms of texture and flavor. I believe this dish's success can be attributed to the fact that chocolate was not detectable -- only the nutty peanut butter which paired beautiful with the foie. What a creative, and well-executed idea. Perhaps things were looking up.
Unfortunately, things dropped back down again with the fourth course, chocolate-miso cod with cauliflower puree and argon. The cod, for all intents and purposes, lacked flavor. But aside from that, cauliflower and chocolate? I understand creativity; but not at the expense of flavor. These two items clashed intensely.
Next up was a course which sounded to have much potential: duck and eel terrine, chocolate consommé, and sweet mango. Another disappointment. While the lukewarm duck terrine was served with a perfectly sized portion of eel sitting on top, what really set this dish off was the chocolate consommé. There is absolutely nothing attractive about adding chocolate to beef stock, period. Each bite of the duck terrine, no matter how carefully I tried, seemed to mix with the consommé. It was awful. The greens, other than for color differentiation, had no place in this dish. The mango was so inundated with the chocolate broth that its sweet tropical flavor turned dull, rendering it ineffective.
The sixth course, beet ravioli, cocoa caviar, orange, and tarragon was actually pretty decent. The presentation was very nice, particularly the contrast between the black cocoa caviar and the deep red thinly sliced beet. I would have liked a larger portion of this, as it was bite-sized.
From glancing at the menu, I was pretty sure my next course would be my favorite: butternut squash cake, cocoa sorbet, walnut beads, and maple. While I found no dissonant flavors in this dish, the butternut squash cake was firm and dry, as if it had been sitting around a little too long. The best part of this dish was the combination of the walnut beads and maple -- the sweetness of the maple with the saltiness of the walnut went together very nicely. It's unfortunate that the texture of the cake was so off -- this dish had potential.
Next up was the last course on the cocoa tasting: soft chocolate, sesame ice cream, mole. The sesame ice cream was delicious. It was sweet enough to refresh the palate, yet nutty enough to not be cloying. The soft chocolate rectangle had a very mild flavor which was quickly overtaken by the mole, which was too strong and distracting. The presentation of this dish was again very well composed, with a thin chocolate crisp lying diagonally across the white sesame ice cream.
By this point the tasting had officially finished. And like any other normal person with an average appetite, my second tasting was about to begin. Tailor chose to complete the cocoa tasting in its entirety before severing the additional meals so as not to interfere with the pre-set progression. I didn't object since my three additions were from the sweets -- nothing wrong with a little extra dessert. The first dish was a warm peach with tomato foam, ricotta purée, and black sesame caramel. The tomato foam destroyed this dish. It sounded great on paper as I imagined the sweetness of the tomato similar to a cherry. Unfortunately, this actually tasted like tomato, a little too strongly -- it was not sweet, at all. Nor was it appealing.
The next course was the most beautiful of the night, a rum braised banana with mustard ice cream and brown butter cake. I've had mustard ice cream before that I'd enjoyed very much -- mainly because the flavor harvested the spice from the mustard seed without the actual vinegar taste. This tasted like vinegar. No good. This dish too had so much potential -- rum braised banana with brown butter cake is a fantastic combination -- why ruin it? And why was there a savory vegetable leaf floating on this dish?
The last plate of this eleven course tasting was definitely one of the better courses, blueberries with black olive cake and yogurt sorbet. This combination sounded a little strange at first; but, it did indeed work. The sweetness of the olive went beautifully with the slightly salty cake. However, for some reason, this was topped with a lime foam that pummeled everything on the plate -- way too concentrated and tart. And again, why was there a green leaf on my dessert plate?
The end of the meal was marked with a satisfied stomach and two sugar-coated beet pâte de fruits, also disappointing. The taste of beets was too strong -- I couldn't tell if this was a petit four or an amuse, my stomach was confused.
The presentations of these dishes were very well-plated. Each dish had a pleasing diversity of color and texture. However, this was done so at the expense of taste. Green leaves with desserts? Cauliflower purée with chocolate? Mustard ice cream that actually tastes like dijon mustard? To be honest, at some points during the meal I was reminded of how shaving cream is frequently used instead of whipped cream in commercials as it looks fluffier and has a whiter color. While these dishes were presented nicely, the question of what is actually on the plate needs to be very closely examined.
After having tried the majority of courses Tailor offered, I craved something savory. The tasting menu was unbalanced in the sense that eight of its nine courses were sweet. I understand that Chef Mason's expertise lies in sweets; but Tailor is not a dessert bar and this type of menu needs to be more well-rounded. Even the courses under the salty section, from which I did not get to order, are rife with sweets.
I felt like Tailor was trying a little too hard to differentiate itself by mixing together unlikely combinations of ingredients. This was not successful. The restaurant just opened a few weeks ago and is likely still undergoing a trial period with the menu. But frankly, this menu needs dramatic change before I will be heading back.