Toppers calls itself “one of the nation’s most acclaimed restaurants,” and there are plenty of articles praising the fine cuisine of Chef Kyle Zachary and his creative associates. In fact we wrote a similar paean when we visited two years ago, calling it “absolutely outstanding.”
We visited again yesterday (Saturday, September 1) and found the old adage of “don’t expect good service on Saturdays” applies even at Toppers. The restaurant was busy, but far from packed and there were plenty of staff on hand, but it seemed to us as if they were late season replacements who were still learning, including our waiter. Many of the dishes we were presented were very good, though, and we can certainly praise them.
The menu is structured so that you pay $30 for the first course, $48 for the main course and $18 for the dessert. In other words, consider it a prix fixe of $96.Certain dishes like lobster, Wagyu beef and cheese plates have supplemental charges, and wine is, of course, not included. However, we each had a glass of a good North coast Pinot Noir for only $17 each.
They started us with a little amuse bouche of a bit of steak tartare and two scallops ceviche, in little scallop shells. The steak was OK, but the scallops were exquisite.
Then came the bread basket with warm breads, bread sticks and brown bread, along with two “butter eggs.” In the past, one of the eggs was butter with some sea salt on it, and the other a smoky butter. This year, one was pure butter and the other some vegan horror made from coconut oil. It tasted awful. We ate the butter.
Then came another little treat: two oysters in their shells right from the bay outside, with a bit of watermelon on top. These, too, were truly delicious.
For our appetizers, we ordered Hudson Valley Foie Gras with peaches, kohlrabi, pistachio and a cocoa waffle. This may sound bizarre, but the slightly sweet, slightly chocolaty waffle was a perfect vehicle to spread the foie gras on, and was absolutely delicious.
Our other appetizer was described as Carnaroli Risotto “Fruits de Mer” with red rock crab, Judith Point squid, uni, bottarga and brown butter. As you can see, this was an elaborate presentation with the bowl sitting in a larger bowl containing decorative rocks and shells. The trouble with it was that it tasted like any ordinary risotto, and we never discovered any of the promised seafood. We might have complained to our waiter, but we never saw him again. Otherwise, we might well have sent it back.
One of our main courses was Butter Poached Lobster ($12 supplemental) with “variation” of cauliflower, golden raisins, almond chutney and madras curry Sabayon. As you can see, there are 3 or 4 colors of cauliflower on the plate: the red ones are pickled, and this made a nice presentation. The Sabayon in this incarnation is closer to a hollandaise, with the sugar component nearly absent, and it made a nice dipping sauce for the lobster. We weren’t sure that the raisins contributed much to this dish, and wished the lobster seemed more tender and seemed as buttery as the menu title implied. Compared with the version two years ago, this one seemed less successful.
During ordering, we asked the waiter whether to pick the Porcelet, essentially roasted young milk fed piglet, or the lamb. He praised the porcelet as being far the better choice: flavorful and juicy, so we ordered it. We actually found it kind of dry, except for the square of pork belly, and since the pork slices had little fat, they were not particularly juicy. Neither the waiter nor anyone else ever came by to check on us, however.
When we’d finished our main courses, one of the staff came by with cute little egglike dishes with vanilla custard and a thin slice of pineapple, simulating an actual egg. Very delicious and cute, but the bird’s nest was overkill, I think.
Finally our dessert course came (we’d preordered it with the other courses): a chocolate tarte with candied walnuts, ice cream and what may have been a few dabs of chocolate mousse on top. It was pretty dry, too.
As we were finishing, our invisible waiter returned to offer coffee. We said he was way too late, as we’d finished. He went away, and we never saw him again.
They did bring some little cookie like things, but honestly, they were dry too.
About that time one of servlets brought out a leather folder that we assumed had our bill in it. Actually, it only had one of their advertising postcards: they’d forgotten to include the bill. One of the adjacent waiters found the actual bill and brought it to us. Funny, but it looks like their late summer staff needed some more training.
This year, we’d give them a C+.