Justin Carlisle’s Ardent restaurant opened last fall and is already
receiving critical acclaim. Ardent is one of 30 new restaurants in the
country to be named a semifinalist for a prestigious James Beard
Award, which will be announced in early May.
The East Side
restaurant’s exterior is casually unassuming; only an etched
"A" in the glass indicates its presence from Farwell Street.
Inside, the restaurant is warmly modern, with taupe walls accented by
silver antlers and an exposed wooden beamed ceiling. During my first
visit, beautifully woven blankets hung on the back of chairs to
diffuse winter’s long reach.
With just 20
seats and a tiny kitchen — in view through a window and from the bar
— the intimacy and the immediacy of Carlisle’s extraordinary
cuisine is readily apparent. In fact, because Carlisle has such a
small staff, he also will be the one serving you some of your dishes.
"I want (my guests) to know who I am, and I want them to feel
like we’re sharing this time together," Carlisle says.
is small — only a dozen or so items — and it’s not organized by
appetizers, salads, etc. Instead, dominant flavors or ingredients are
highlighted, though there is little description. For example:
"Milk: Pain Au Lait, Muenster cheese, cultured butter" is
all you get to know up front about this dish. The $5 bread plate
offers few hints. It is presented on an elongated wood platter with a
delicate, light-as-air roll crafted by Rocket Baby Bakery and
house-made butter from the milk of Edelweiss Townhall Creamery’s
grass-fed farms and a house-made fresh creamy cheese. "It’s the
best $5 you’ll ever spend," I overheard a waiter tell another
customer; I couldn’t agree more.
The way Ardent’s
menu is organized, you can order one or two items, everything on the
menu or a chef’s tasting of eight dishes. I chose the chef’s
tasting, at $80, with wine pairings for each course at $40.
My tasting began
with "Escargot: Parsley, Garlic," paired with the 2011 The
Furst Pinot Gris. A row of escargot was prettily arranged under a
house-made crisp of parsley.
Next came the
aforementioned "Milk," which was paired with a 2011 Stefan
Breuer Riesling, followed by "Beef Tartar: Bone Marrow, Deviled
Egg," paired with a 2012 Schild Estate Grenache blend. The beef
comes from Carlisle’s family farm in Sparta. The dish was so silky,
so decadently smooth, yet tender and fatty. It was topped with just a
crunch of fresh chervil, and the red blend was perfectly matched.
For the next
dish, the cheese from Pleasant Ridge Reserve came in warm spheres, and
it was topped with shaved black truffle and cured fish roe. It was
paired with a 2011 Purple Hands Pinot Noir.
mushroom, with leeks and pickled shallots were paired with a 2012 Tres
Exilios Malbec. The blend of mushrooms was exquisite. Pork belly, with
braised celery, almonds and vanilla squash came paired with a 2009 Los
800 Priorat; it tasted like pork candy.
Turnip, Turnip Greens, Steak Sauce," paired with 2011 Annabella
Cabernet Sauvignon was no ordinary beef, and it was no ordinary turnip
or turnip greens. The beef came rare, after being aged 90 days, and it
was so succulent, with the cab accentuating each bite.
I didn’t want
this culinary show to end. But end it did, and with a flourish. The
dessert, "Chocolate: Smoked Marshmallow, Cherry, Tainori,"
paired with a 2012 Scagliola Moscato. Tainori is a special 64-percent
dark blend chocolate from Valrhona grown on a single plantation in the
Dominican Republic. The dessert was up to the chocolate’s exclusive
origins. A swirl of chocolate mousse arcs across the plate, studded
with chocolate branches and marshmallow clouds.
And when the
bill came, it arrived with delicate chocolate-caramel-salted macaroons
from Rocket Baby. A heavenly ending to a divine dining experience.
1751 N. Farwell