Sunday, April 5, 2009

New BYOB Saute...Reviews like Night & Day

Seems like BYOBs are becoming a popular 'recession' restaurant trend, with some full-service establishments shedding the bottle, like Gayle. Just a few blocks from Gayle on Fronts St. you'll find Saute, a cozy Contemporary American spot on the periphery of Queen Village.

I saw this place open up back in Late Winter and eagerly awaited dropping by after the opening kinks were worked out.

We went on a busy Friday night, arriving a little after 9. The interior is quite dark, both the soft candle-lighting and the full-length mirrored wood sideboard seem to throw a warm glow over the darkness.

We were seated at a two-top in the center aisle of the restaurant. Although I'm used to typically packed-in seating with Philly dining, at least twice my elbow was bumped by passing customers and wait-staff, nearly knocking the glass out of my hand.

If the seating wasn't vexing enough, our waitress was about to take our orders, but spun around to respond to a table of four that seated about 15 minutes after us. Before taking our order, our server was rushed by the just-seated four-top, who proceeded to order their drinks, apps & mains all before the waitress even introduced herself.

The group snatched the last portions of the duck and lamb entrees we had our eyes on, so, slightly annoyed at being bumped and not really thrilled by the other entree options (there were about 3 choices remaining that evening), we passed on mains entirely and just went with two apps & a split dessert.

It was so dark in here I had trouble capturing this lobster & sepia-ravioli appetizer on camera. The dough was undercooked but the filling was decent..the one of the three that was not undercooked was delicious.

I had the sauteed sweetbread...crispy outside and soft inside, the sweetbread was perfectly cooked...I was tempted to order another.

We finished with a berry empanada & ice cream...the flaky dough and tart berries were bright and buttery.

Normally we'd write a place like this off, but the atmosphere, minus the elbow-bumps, the warm service, minus the breakdown in handling the table orders, and the food, minus the undercooked pasta, all promised that once the opening kinks were worked out, Saute could be a decent neighborhood BYOB, along the lines of Salt & Pepper or Cochon.

I mentioned Saute to another chef later that night and he agreed that they needed to work through some opening issues but that the overall outlook was promising.

We went back for brunch about two weeks later with an out-of-town friend and it was literally like night & day. The food came out perfectly, the service was still a little disjointed but warm and helpful, while the overall atmosphere was relaxing enough that we lingered over a bottle of sparkling wine.

Here's a shot of our friend's French toast, serve with roasted pears. He was pleased with the flavor and was a bit surprised at the soft consistency of the pears. They also had a buttermilk pancake one the menu.

Although the truffled Eggs Benedict looked good on the menu, I ordered the Croques Madam, tuna confit with a sunny egg, mainly because I wondered what a tuna confit would taste like. Mingled with the egg, the tuna had a smooth consistency, but packed plenty of flavor and did not resemble a warmed tuna salad in the least, which was my fear. There was a kalamata sauce that was drizzled across the plate that, while good, made the bread a little soggy. The accompanying salad was lightly dressed in a vinagrette.

Elizabeth's Salmon BLT was the sandwich I was wishing I'd ordered...crunchy bacon, tomato and cool salmon, served atop a dill sauce, made for a clever twist on a classic sandwich. Again, if the sandwich had not been served atop the sauce, the bread would've been toasty good and gone great with the bacon & salmon.

I think with a earlier reservation and request for a table alongside the wall, Saute could be a good BYOB option.

UPDATE: I've been contacted by the restaurant and they're interested in having us back out to dinner again...we'll let you know how it goes!

UPDATE to UPDATE: I'm happy to report that the service issues were smoothed out and the kitchen was firing on all four cylinders...sweetbreads were still delicious...also, they've recently started outdoor seating in the side courtyard...nice to see a non-sidewalk outdoor Front St. location makes for an idyllic BYOB option.

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