Those who have only eaten sardines out of cans owe their misled taste buds an order of Wessel's grilled fresh sardines. Fishy flavor was minimal and grilling transformed the fillets' considerable oiliness to moist succulence. A mix of barely sautéed crisp fennel and spinach was a contrast to the sardines' sumptuousness.
Preserved lemon was featured in an entrée of homemade linguine topped with tender pieces of baby conch and whitewater clams in the shell, a welcome change from standard pasta with clam sauce. This lemon pickle, a Moroccan specialty that conveys a uniquely super-citrus essence to whatever it garnishes, is utilized relatively rarely even in America's professional kitchens because the traditional four-to-six-week brining process is a royal pain. (Imported preserved lemon is prohibitively expensive.) But the salty, flavorful tang gave the perfectly al dente pasta concentrated flavor without heavy saucing.
Chef Kris Wessel successfully navigates tricky
Mediterranean currents at a previously jinxed location
A roasted organic baby hen came with the breast meat cooked slightly too long, rendering it dry, but the dark meat was perfectly done. Those who are somewhat squeamish about confronting the source of their meat should be warned that the chick is served whole, making it difficult to escape the disquieting sense of tearing apart a cute baby bird. The fowl also had little flavor on its own. Perhaps age does have advantages. Fortunately the chicken's glaze, a bittersweet blend of orange and thyme, had plenty of zip, as did an unusually good accompaniment of thin green beans and crunchy baby squash.
Atkins addicts as well as seafood lovers will be pleased to know that Elia has a raw bar, with a small and pricey but high-quality selection featuring stone crabs, lobster, whole sea urchin, and cold-water northern oysters. The Kumamoto and Island Creek shellfish on my platter, accompanied by three dipping substances (red cocktail sauce, a rather dense balsamic mignonette, and lemon), were plump and thoroughly enjoyable, except for the annoyance of having the latter oyster misidentified by our server as being from Washington State; Island Creeks are from Massachusetts. (My dining companion and I were both fans of West Coast oysters.) Another boon for high-protein people: Except for dishes centering on pasta or rice, most starches are served as extra sides, so it's easy to stick to your diet.
Well, until dessert. One wouldn't want to miss Elia's ethereal layered mousse of hazelnut and El Rey dark chocolate. And with a good half of the wine list priced under $50, abstinence would be another mistake. Even the house's cheapest bottle, a Protocolo Tinto for an unbelievable $14, was an elegant indulgence, especially considering Elia's posh indoor/outdoor setting.
On both my visits Carpaccio was still far more crowded than Elia, but diners with discerning eyes and noses will soon begin to look, smell, and slip across the jinxed sidewalk.