Small menu, big style

Oct 1, 2003 at 12:00 am

I love this story: Young man graduates from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, gets his first job working at Tribute under the renowned chef Takashi Yagihashi. Meets girl, a server at the same restaurant. They fall in love and marry. The couple saves their money, borrows some more, and opens a perfect little restaurant where both their talents shine.

Paula and Jeremy Grandon opened Jeremy in June. As we viewed it from the road, it looked like it might have possibilities; inside, it feels exciting. The place was packed. People were eating dinner at the bar. The interior is full of contradictions. It’s stylish, but no tablecloths. The tabletops are stained ebony. The exposed ductwork is painted a flat gray, and a dozen or so antique crystal chandeliers hang from the I-beams.

The frequently changing, seasonal menu has five entrées. Small menus are fine with me; you can have confidence that anything you order will be done right. Three of the five items featured food I usually don’t order in restaurants — salmon, chicken and steak. Since the co-diner had called the red snapper, I looked again at the list. OK, chicken.

And what chicken! Baked crisp on the outside, the inside was moist and lemony. It was partially de-boned, but some bones remained, enhancing the flavor. It was served on top of a slightly sweet polenta, with sautéed chard and fennel. Though the components sound ordinary, they are transformed with intense flavors. Grandon doesn’t rely on butter and cream to make his food memorable.

There are four appetizers, including scallops with a sauce of cauliflower and almonds, with grapes and raisins. The co-diner ordered the soup of the day, which was a thick eggplant purée with roasted garlic and pine nuts; it was incredible.

A salad of baby spinach and arugula is tossed with blue cheese, paper-thin slices of peaches, and cooked red onion, with a balsamic vinaigrette. I couldn’t imagine how cooked onions would be in a salad, but they were great, the cooking emphasizing their sweetness.

The co-diner’s red snapper was presented atop Asian somen noodles, bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. The whole was mildly flavored with curry.

Salmon was served in a large, shallow bowl with a broth made of red peppers, along with mussels and white beans. Again, intense flavors without the cream and butter.

In naming the restaurant, Paula Grandon took a cue from New York City restaurants that use the first name of their chefs (“No apostrophes,” she said). As examples, Grandon mentions Jo-Jo and Jean-Georges. (Both are restaurants of Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten; “Jo-Jo” is a nickname.) In other ways the room seemed stylishly New York-ish; for example, important-looking paintings in carved and gilded frames. (“Reproductions,” Paula Grandon sighed.) A series of antique doors are hinged together like an accordion and can be used to make the space more private.

There is a choice of four desserts. I was thrilled to see poached figs on the menu, served with mascarpone (that delicious Italian cheese that is the essence of tiramisu) mousse, with a sauce of red wine reduced with caramel. Each flavor was so wonderful, you’d want it to go on forever. We also tried cheesecake made of goat cheese with blueberry compote; the cheesecake is baked no thicker than a tart, and the mildly flavored cheese adapts easily to dessert.

When we ordered champagne before our meal, our server, Ann, asked if we were celebrating an occasion, which we were — an anniversary. Just before dessert, Ann brought us an after-dinner drink which she described as an Italian champagne. It was sweet and sharp, and very thoughtful.

Do I have a complaint about Jeremy? Too crowded. Tables are too close together. Our four-top table was separated into two two-tops, and by the time a couple of extra chairs were added to the round table on our other side, we knew everybody’s business. We chatted with the couple sitting next to us who asked about the eggplant soup. They wished us a happy anniversary.

Open Tuesday-Saturday, 5:30-10 p.m.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].