The half-empty brick-walled space of Staple and Fancy on a Monday night bore little resemblance to the crowded scene I'd seen on Friday nights. My previous experiences involved fighting for the hot weekend reservations, not staring across at the row of empty stools at the bar. And, obedient diner that I am, I'd followed the menu's own advice and ordered the four course 'fancy' option. Yet, on a recent Monday night, I experienced the strength of the 'staple' menu at Ethan Stowell's latest restaurant.
For half the cost of the 'fancy' menu for two, a pair of us ordered more than enough food to make a meal. The dishes were just as excellently prepared and just as inventively first-class in flavor. I was happy to select the bigoli pasta dish, a Stowell classic, seasoned with anchovies, and know exactly what I would be served. The only real downside was watching the off-menu dishes from the fancy menu float by, on their way to other tables, leaving me wondering what sort of magical dishes the chefs had just invented.
The star of our 'staple' dinner was the homemade ricotta, a fist-sized scoop of fluffy fresh cheese. It was a little difficult to imagine how it would play with its partner on the plate, slices of spicy coppa ham. Once we started eating, though, it was easy to assemble numerous customized tartines, open-faced sandwiches of cheese, meat, and refreshing greens on top. This dish came first, and after scarfing it down, it occurred to me that it was rather a large portion size. In fact, I was so used to the chef sending out the many mini-appetizers that are the first course of the fancy menu, I didn't realize the size of the staple menu appetizers. Certainly for two people a pair of appetizers and either a pasta or an entrée is plenty of food for a simple Monday evening--though paring down the choices becomes a bit of a challenge.
In my previous naïveté, the Fancy menu on a Friday night was the hottest table with the chef's favorite foods, and it was hard to imagine a better meal. After a quiet Monday with the Staple menu, it's equally so. If it weren't for the spot-on service and the décor designed down to the detail for excellent eating, it would be hard to reconcile the two experiences. Instead, my biggest problem when eating at Staple and Fancy is wondering if I wouldn't have gotten something better if I'd ordered the other menu.