Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
Where did the evening at Menton first start to go awry? The opinions among our group of six differed as we began dissecting the meal outside on the sidewalk right afterward. One person mentioned the awkward lag time before a proper greeting: It was 9:15 on a Saturday when we were seated, and the night's service was at its apex. Brazilian samba bounced overhead. (The playlist soon mellowed to Snow Patrol and then somnambulant jazz.) We sat in the center of the boardroom-gone-glamorous, watching the staff deliver entrees or desserts in synchronized sweeps to other tables, or dole out creamy slivers from the cheese cart. Ten minutes later, when we were beginning to mutter about flagging someone down, a server finally approached us.
It was a clanging start, certainly. But we eventually received our share of steady, lavished attention. No, for me, the dinner's patchiness started with a friend's plate of hiramasa (yellowtail kingfish) crudo during the first of the prix fixe menu's four courses. It tasted fishy enough that she didn't want to eat it. I took a bite and agreed. The dish also included uni and lardo; the menu didn't list them and it probably should have. Perhaps they're meant to be luxury surprises, but sea urchin and cured fatback are, for many palates, make or break ingredients. And, in this instance, their emphatic presence only magnified the fish's pungency.