So we totally dug Annex Theater's production of the Peter Greenaway film "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover." But while our review of the production mentioned the food and the brilliance of serving food during this particular drama—which deals with cuisine, taste, and status, and features a brilliant little riff by the titular cook (Ishai Barnoy) on paying more for black food so you can feel like you are eating death—we also thought it was worth writing in a little bit greater detail about the food itself, because it was pretty fucking spectacular.
Conceived by chef Dane Nester (also Canteen's owner), the four-course meal is one of the best deals in town. As we entered from the alley through the kitchen, we were seated on both sides of an extremely long table with numbered seats (my wife and I, seated near the middle of the table, were 20 and 21), already set with dishes, silverware, water, and wine. The cook (the character of the cook, that is) came around and told the diners that the salad was particularly rustic tonight, with large leaves, so please take care to cut it. Within a few moments, there were salads, with big rough leaves, sure enough, and cailletier olives (a type of olive I didn't even know about, but it was good), anchovies (which bummed out a few vegetarians at the table but delighted us), and a black garlic dressing. And beets. But the crusty bread was perfect for sopping up the beet juice form the salad plate—everything had a nice red-and-black palate to it.
The service was pretty astounding as the staff came out and delivered each course without really interrupting the play at all. If only every restaurant could get their service this good. But, be warned, they don't change your plates and each diner gets only one glass. My wife and I decided at the beginning, smartly, to share and have one glass for wine and one for water.
The second pasta course was the highlight of the evening. The black pappardelle with squid ink fits into the play's theme, but also had an exquisite and rarefied taste, heavy on the umami but with a touch of something almost sweet, like death. There were mushrooms in everything (also referenced in the play), especially the pasta that was not black, but was equally good, if a bit heavy on the salt.
The next course consisted of a pork shank so perfectly tender it fell off the bone without a knife (which was good, because I don't think I had a knife) and a mushroom ragu for the vegetarians. There were also polenta cakes that had the consistency of cornbread (isn't polenta just a fancy way of saying cornbread?). They were perfect with a touch of Nester's alley-sourced honey in the center of the table.
Finally, I don't ever eat dessert, but, in such a situation, how can one avoid the goat-cheese cheesecake with a beet reduction, charcoal ash, and a little piece of black caramel? It was beautiful—the beet reduction and the charcoal and ash giving it a dramatic red-and-black cast.
Given that the play is, at least partially, about gluttony, the family-style dining experience took on a new light. No one wanted to come across like Albert Spica, the play's villain, so people were very careful not to take the last bite or grab too much food too quickly. As a result, we left perfectly sated, but not stuffed. All in all, it is the best prix fixe dinner in town, even without the play.