The new Andú's retro-futuristic design dares to depart from the restaurant world's recent tilt toward timid, if tasteful, taupe-toned settings. Tables shine in white Plexiglas, banquettes are silver-gray, and globular white sculptural murals hang on the walls not taken up by floor-to-ceiling windows. Hand-blown glass bubbles form a circular curtain around a center dining area, and lighting produces blue hues. It is all very groovy-glam, but better suited for club than grub. To put it another way: If silver and blue were colors that enhanced appetite, McDonald's wouldn't be red and yellow.
The cuisine is also retro — as in what was faddish just a few years ago — but not nearly as daring. Chef Jason McClain consulted with Andú's executive chef, Nate Martin, the two having previously teamed at Pearl at Nikki Beach and at McClain's 8 1/2. The result is modern-Med-by-the-numbers, a pastiche of popular items served in numerous other restaurants (albeit with credit for not going the really repetitive path of pastas and pizzas). No knock on McClain, but did it take a consultant to come up with salads such as Greek, caesar, chef, and Caprese? The last salad — asparagus and beet — isn't especially original, either, though it was fresh and gratifying.
Diners begin with complimentary hummus freckled with feta cheese, dried rosemary, olive oil, and black olives, served with warm triangles of soft, herby pita bread. The menu opens with a quartet of "dips and spreads" — but by this point any desire for such has already been sated.
Warm starters include steamed mussels, meatballs gratin, Moroccan-spiced calamari, and potato gnocchi. The last, forged from Yukon Gold, were light and luscious in a pink cream sauce salted with pecorino Romano and too few slivers of Serrano ham. A cold appetizer of charred beef carpaccio brought beautiful red tissues of meat with delicately caramelized outer rings, but the flavor was obscured by an avalanche of panzanella salad — soaked bread with a small dice of tomato and larger cuts of palm hearts and cucumber, all potently powered with Parmesan and basil. Squiggles of pesto and a reduction of aged banyuls balsamic vinegar bordering the plate would have been enough.
Andú's main course menu descriptions are so unreliable that one might reasonably suspect they were ghost-written by James Frey. Milk-fed veal parmigiana, one of a half-dozen "signature dishes," was to come with "lemon caper emulsion" — an intriguing piccata perk on the classic preparation. That there were no lemons, capers, or any emulsion proved mildly disappointing; the lack of veal was downright disconcerting. In fact all evidence pointed to the plate containing eggplant parmigiana. We informed our waiter, who brought the dish to the kitchen for consultation; he returned with news that what we had was, indeed, veal parmigiana. "The meat is in the sauce" he said, and so it was — minced and in meager amount. One can't deny this excelled as eggplant parmigiana, especially in tandem with dabs of smoky eggplant purée. But to label it veal parmigiana is outrageously misleading, and at $26 it qualifies as something of a robbery too.
Management handled the situation in proper fashion, offering another dish in its stead (which we declined) and ultimately removing the item from our bill. Service is exceedingly courteous and friendly, although some waiters are clearly more experienced than others. Miscues included pouring lukewarm water with no ice, taking too long to deliver the check, and serving a side of French fries long after our main courses were finished — though that flub was blamed on the kitchen.
"Traditional paella" shared at least a few characteristics with the famous rice dish — like, for instance, rice, in this case overcooked and pooled in a spicy tomato broth. Accompanying components are described as "chorizo, shellfish, chicken, piquillo peppers, and sweet corn saffron," but just to be safe, I asked the waiter which specific shellfish were to be included. "Shrimp, mussels, and fish," he responded. The only seafarers were six minuscule mussels, complemented by little nuggets of dry chicken breast, ground chorizo, peas, corn, and artichoke hearts.
"Family-style" entrées run a couple of dollars more than the "signatures" but are otherwise indistinguishable. One of these, a whole grilled Maine lobster with "chili garlic butter," seemed reasonable at $28; after all, a 10-ounce cedar-baked salmon is $24. Can't say there was much surprise when the lobster arrived sans chili garlic butter, topped instead by a thankfully tasteless tomato glaze. Butter is better, and a lemon wedge would have been nice. The split tail, in a shell charred black from the grill, was a tad dry; two petite claws were much moister. Best bet for seafood is a plump fillet of grilled yellowtail snapper, dandy with simply sea salt, lemon, and thyme.
"The best fries in the universe" leads off a list of seven à la carte sides. Saltiest, maybe, but then again I've never eaten potatoes on other planets. The skinny sticks come zestily coated with a blend of Parmesan cheese and Moroccan spice mix that is tasty but smothers any potato flavor. You might want to stay with grilled asparagus, sautéed broccolini, or mac and cheese with a crisp Manchego crust.
Pineapple crème brûlée atop pineapple carpaccio is sided by a cup of vanilla-pineapple malted. Six mini doughnuts with a crunchy orange glaze and soft, fresh interiors come with a cup of hot white chocolate. Either will suffice as a decent dessert, but like so much at Andú, that is all they will do.
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