Then, I read the comparison review of Café Luxembourg and Compass Restaurant in the Dining and Wine section of The New York Times. With Frank Bruni’s recommendations, I decided we should try Compass once more.
My first time at Compass, some three years ago, was a special dinner as well. I had just gotten my first job out of college and my proud parents wanted to celebrate. The meal was pretty good and although I don’t remember everything I had that night, I recall the lamb dish being hearty and flavorful. But when my parents went back there with friends some six months later, Mama Rose complained that the service and the food were rather uneven. None of us went back after that and I even came across an article that mentioned the restaurant was having issues with keeping a head chef.
Unlike our last visit, we were seated in one of the private rooms. The back wall was opened up with large windows looking into the kitchen. I’ve never been seated in such close proximity to be able to see the inner workings of a restaurant kitchen so it was I guess you could say it was a “dinner and a show” all in one.
The meal started with a palette cleanser from the kitchen, a spoonful of squid and scallops with baby greens—there was a hint of anise flavor that left a refreshing taste on my tongue.
Normally, I try to stay away from the bread basket when I dine at a particularly high end restaurants. I find that the bread usually fills me up and I don’t enjoy the rest of the meal as much. Being it was my birthday meal, I decided to at least sample the bread. I tore off pieces from several different kinds--all were good and decent, but nothing spectacular.
I was really intrigued by one of the special appetizers our waitress mentioned. It was a salad of heirloom beets and ruby red grapefruit with Greek yogurt and pistachios.
Beets and grapefruit? I was very curious.
The salad really blew me away. The acidity of the grapefruit cut through with the sweetness of the beets and the yogurt’s smoothness really blended all the other elements together. What a terrific combination of ingredients I would never think would go so great together.
Therefore, I was doubly excited to try the veal tenderloin I ordered as an entrée. You see, this is the first time I’d be eating veal in almost 18 years. As a kid, I watched a young calf born at summer camp and then traumatized when my counselor told me the “truth” about inner workings of veal production. I couldn’t bring myself to touch the meat again for years and eventually just got used to skipping it when I looked at menus.
As I had jumped into new territory with my appetizer, I decided to take a risk and try the veal. The tenderloin was accompanied with a side of roasted potatoes, red peppers and artichokes. With such hope for this dish, I was looking forward to a juicy chunk of meat full of flavor. Unfortunately what I got was a rather large, tough and rather texture-less hunk of meat. Granted, I hadn’t had veal in so long, I didn’t really remember what it was supposed to taste like, but I do know that meat in general should be tender and retain some sort of flavor. This entrée did not do that and although it wasn’t horrible, it was a bit deflating after such a great appetizer. The side was pretty savory, but it lacked creativity—I felt I could find this in a diner.
For dessert I had a bowl of mango mousse—it was like a tangy and sweet chilled soup. It wasn’t the most impressive dessert I’ve had, but it hit the spot after such a hearty entrée.
For libations, we shared a bottle of Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2003. Just a bit of sparkle, this white was a little dry but with a sweet overtone. It matched my light appetizer perfectly and was vigorous enough to cut through the tough veal.
I topped my meal with a glass of dessert wine. I love dessert wines. It is the drink of choice at the end of a meal. Usually it is not within my graduate student budget to be able to order it often, but it was my birthday. I settled on a glass of 2002 Hopler Trockenbeerenauslese Neusiedlersee. This Austrian vintage holds a lot of complexity and it had tones of spices like nutmeg and clove. Mama Rose, a newbie to dessert wine, took a sip and loved the wine’s sweet zing.
Compass’ interior is slightly darkened, yet cozy. We were one of two tables occupying a room that looked out to the main dining room in addition to the view of the kitchen. Without the hustle, bustle and noise of other diners, it felt like we were having our own private dinner—for a birthday meal that made me feel just a little bit special.
Compass makes a good stab at being creative in the kitchen. I’m not sure if my disappointment in my entrée had more to do with my inexperience with veal or the dish itself. Only another visit to the restaurant will give me a chance to see what other interesting dishes the can produce. But overall I was pleased with my meal and I’d recommend it for those looking for a place for a dinner celebration.
208 West 70th Street
New York, NY 10023