I am a big fan of Chef Mosquera's cooking, and I'm glad to see he's doing well at Cinq. I haven't stopped in yet, but hope to remedy that soon. Thanks for the review, Nick!
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The melon was just under-ripe enough to have a bit of bite and to avoid overt sweetness. It was a lush temper for each bit of steak, a floral and beguiling counterpoint. Had the kitchen applied proper seasoning, it would have been a truly memorable dish. As it was, I found myself reaching for the salt, a relatively rare occurrence for me. I found that happening more often than not, another confusing stumble of execution.
During dessert on a subsequent visit, the kitchen sent out an impromptu plate when two of the three dessert options failed to appeal. A stunningly simple array of fresh fruits, mild yet lively, sat atop a thin mortar of peanuts and something like nougat, though not nearly as stodgy. A pale and almost timid sorbet of the same cantaloupe mounted the fan of figs and dice of melon, echoing the flavors in haunting fashion. It was light and elegant, simple but well-thought-out, and utterly delicious. There had been no time for tug-of-war; this was German Mosquera.
So too, I'm afraid, was a previous visit's dessert of clay-crusted violet sorbet anchored by a rubble field of Pop Rocks. Those, too, were dusted in clay. It was quite a bit like eating a facial treatment: interesting, but not enjoyable. The moment the Pop Rocks hit, their earthy mantle giving them an almost nutty demeanor, was surprisingly fun, but the effect wore off quickly and the dish was pushed to the side, left to melt into a troublingly gray and suspiciously crackling mass. Not every "New Idea" is a keeper.
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Given the chef's vegan roots, it should be unsurprising that one of the best bites came in such simple form as a handful of fruit. Though vegetables didn't figure as much into the food as I'd expected, fruit most certainly did. Figs were everywhere, as was melon. Yellow watermelon, its rind pickled and wrapped around a "summer sausage" of quail and beef marrow, also came as a fine dice on that plate, standing against the charry flavors of the meat and adding a pleasantly yielding crispness against the firm sausage. I tasted no marrow, nor did I find much call for the tapioca-like wild mustang grapes dotted here and there, but the overall impression was lovely and a perfect pairing with warm weather.
Cantaloupe, the first specimen from the kitchen's own garden, graced one night's fish special, a sort of napoleon of golden tilefish. The pearly and cleanly oceanic fish was poached in court bouillon, and sandwiched a spread of moist cornbread stuffing much lighter and more elegant than that implies. It was a study in light. Even the beurre blanc clinging to the bottom of the shallow dish was graceful, with just enough depth and structure to make the little cubes of melon sing. This, along with an appetizer of grilled prawns, shows the kitchen quite handy with seafood.
Those prawns, paired with deeply smoky and luxuriously textured eggplant and dusted with roasted hazelnuts, were a layered and luxurious affair. Sweet, smoky, nutty and nuanced, the dish is a standout. Once you've pulled the meat from the shell, go for the head, if you're game. You'll be rewarded with a wallop of shrimp flavor that's not unlike a crustacean punch to the nose. It's one of the menu's more visceral thrills, as is a tangled web of roasted lacinato kale, dressed up with leeks and lemon, which sides a perfectly respectable rack of lamb. Served at a perfect medium rare and glazed with a demi-glace with just enough mint to allow the phrase on the menu, it's a dish that's been on the menu, I'm told, for some 30 years, now bumping up against clay-poached baby carrots, foams and Pop Rocks.
Throughout the menu, you can feel the pull and sway of the restaurant's classical leanings and its chef's more modern aspirations. It's in the lightness of flavor applied to dishes like the summer sausage and in the clever smoked eggplant condiment underscoring the prawns. It's in the foam that actually works on top of a sizable hunk of braised meat. It's even in the bookending of a simple rack of lamb and an even simpler last-minute dessert.
When German Mosquera gets it right, he gets it very right. When he gets it wrong, it's usually just by a turn. More attention to seasoning would go a long way, as would a reconsideration of the manner in which herbs are employed. Matters of execution that can, and should, improve. Don't serve woody stems. Trim the okra, the only one of the sides I'd order again, and let me enjoy its salty/sour/sweet/bitter complexity. Also, lay off the clay. If Mosquera can do that, and maybe pick up a little more purchase on the menu's rope, Cinq could be on its way to great things.