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By Michael White
Straight & Marrow didn’t set out to be a divisive restaurant. Its menus aren’t conceived to repel timid diners or upset vegans — although it might do either. But possibly more than any restaurant Kley and I have discovered since Jewkarta began, it has its own point of view and its own notion of delicious, and either you agree with it or are keen to investigate, or else you keep a very wide berth.
We ran toward it with great enthusiasm, and not only were we not disappointed — you might say we got carried away.
Straight & Marrow chef Chris Lam’s mission is to spotlight “overlooked ingredients,” meaning proteins and “off-cuts” of which the mainstream (in this part of the world, at least) is either unfamiliar or finds off-putting. On the night we visited, that meant octopus carpaccio, beef heart tartare, frog with grits, braised lamb neck and other assorted creatures and parts rarely seen on North American menus. The space (formerly home to the much-missed Bistro Wagon Rouge) is narrow and dark and emits an unmistakable “dude” energy but isn’t obnoxious about it.
Once we settled in at the bar and were served the first of many inventive cocktails made for us by the engaging @chadaptation (we both raise two thumbs up for the “Bent, Not Broken,” essentially a Vesper with the shouldn’t-work-but-it-does addition of charred-rosemary olive oil), we began eating and didn’t stop for quite some time.
We ordered so much, in fact, that the very thought of detailing everything here is exhausting. But we can say we unreservedly loved — LOVED! — the above-mentioned octopus and its smoked-paprika aioli; luscious bone marrow decorated with pickled shiitake, porcini dust and chicken crackling; charred “street” corn mingled with delicate gnocchi, cotija cheese, chili crème fraîche and fried shards of pig’s ear; and perhaps the most convincing argument you could find that frog has the potential to be nose-to-tail cooking’s answer to the hot wing.
Side note: While the dishes might be perceived as somewhat primal, the plating is anything but. This is very pretty food, presented as if you were in a room that charges twice as much and serves everything with a side of attitude.
Between the food, the drinks, the room and the service (and our not having to work the next day), we emerged three hours later, bouncing in a bubble of happy and (over-)satiety — no straighter than before, but absolutely converted to their culinary orientation.
(Photo: Kley Klemens)