It took me a month to get reservations at Brandon Rice’s (Rich Table) newest endeavor, Ernest, which seems odd in pandemic times. But the accolades have been pouring in, even as we enter another phase of this culinary journey under Covid-19.
I was happy to see Ernest has a small outdoor patio for dining, so I only caught glimpses of the pristine interior. The menu has a kind of American/Asian upscale comfort food vibe; the food sounds fancy, but it also feels very familiar.
We started out with cocktails: a cherry leaf Negroni for me, umeboshi plum Paloma for my sister. Both were interesting, refreshing, and an excellent twist on the standards.
Speaking of fancy, we began by splitting a starter of Tsar Nicolas caviar and tater tots.
I am sure the caviar was not of the finest caliber (we’re not talking beluga here), and it added very little to the dish besides dollar signs. Less than an ounce, it was rather bland and a bit mushy, not at all the briny/buttery, gentle popping of tiny eggs in the mouth one expects. The crème fraiche and cheese, normally perfect accompaniments to tots, overwhelmed the delicate ova. This was the only flaw of the meal, however. The house-made tots were fantastic. Hot, very crispy outside, with a fluffy, light interior.
For her appetizer, my dining partner got the marinated Jimmy Nardello peppers with burrata and 12-year aged balsamic.
The mellow, peppery flavor, the creaminess of the cheese and the balsamic’s sweetness were all set off by the pickled mustard seed, giving it a tangy, textural twang. A homey dish that was as beautiful to look at as it was to devour.
My Koshihikari fried rice with summer squash, squash blossoms, and aged Parmigiano Reggiano was a study in umami.
Perfumed with garlic, each grain of this famed rice was distinctly supple and flavorful. The flurry of parm added a layer of nutty richness. Again, a familiar, comforting dish (it is billed as “Lo Mein” on the menu) with some fresh ideas.
I knew the minute I perused the Ernest online menu a couple of months ago that I was going to get the sea urchin carbonara.
With bits of Olivier’s Butchery fragrant bacon, this was a bowl of soothing, bacony/uni mush, a dish I’d like to crawl into bed with when calling in sick. You must get this. You must.
For her main, my dining partner got the pork tonkatsu.
The undeniable star of the night. A huge piece of pork, breaded and fried until exquisitely crispy but still tender and moist inside, but instead of continuing the Asian theme, it came topped with a verdant Green Goddess dressing, juicy heirloom tomatoes, and a pile of startlingly fresh herbs (fennel, mint, basil, dill, etc.) A textural and flavor firecracker! Even notwithstanding the unorthodox toppings, it was probably the best tonkatsu I’d ever tasted, and I’m sure I ate half of this in between bites of my own dish.
We were quite full, even though we’d purposely not finished our appetizers but had them wrap them up to save room for the mains, but had to try the “medium rare” Basque cheesecake…
Having had the famous “burnt” cheesecake of San Sebastian, Spain, I assumed “medium rare” refers to the fact that this wasn’t quite as browned as its Basque cousin. However, it was just as creamy, with a lovely lemony aspect to it.
There were a couple of other desserts at Ernest that piqued our interest, mainly the towering mountain of soft-serve sundaes that we saw on two tables with children. The adults seemed to enjoy this treat as much as their kids, if the ice cream mustaches gave any inkling.
Chef Rice’s menu is playful and nostalgia-inducing, albeit with modern, well-executed touches that, for me, make them new classics. There’s a lot more to mine in this menu: the Hokkaido uni spoon with Jamon Serrano and a quail egg, a ratatouille kebab with gochujang, and the aged beef and bone marrow dumplings are all calling my name and ensuring I’ll be hovering over the reservation site again soon.
1890 Bryant St., Suite 100 (walk around to the back of the building)