May 2, 2012

Lot 10 Hits High and Low Notes

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Brandon Ho ’12 isn’t sold on Lot 10′s many flawed dishes. But he also thinks the new restaurant / lounge has enough potential to become an Ithaca mainstay.

Dining at Lot 10 Kitchen and Lounge, the new restaurant / bar / music venue located on South Cayuga Street in the Commons, was indeed a bewildering experience. What would become one of my most confounding dining experiences began as soon as I stepped inside the restaurant. The host’s toothy smile was so welcoming that it felt like I had arrived at the club floor of a luxury hotel waiting to be pampered. She noticed my dismay at being assigned a lousy table and immediately volunteered a seat closer to the glass windows facing Cayuga Street. On the other hand, my server was so stern it felt like I had landed in jail waiting for my last supper. “You dined here before?” he bellowed without a slight hint of a smile. Worse still, the culinary vocabulary that he had used to describe the tapas-only menu was limited to “awesome,” “delicious” and “great.” The white table cloth and the dim light from our table candle upped the restaurant’s romantic factor a few notches. However, it was also sadly negated by the awful emerald green interior paint, a large, dubious graffiti panel sitting against a wall and awkward space dividers that looked like bargains from a garage sale.

I’ve never had such mixed feelings about food before. I loved the spicy shrimp on crostini as much as I hated it. The fleshy shrimp were kissed gently by a light sautée that kept the shrimp supple and moist. The bread was toasted so perfectly that I had to resist the urge to ask my stern server for more. Yet the hot sauce generously coating each shrimp just about set our palates on fire. I felt the need to call 911 again when digging into the messy glob (and tongue-twister) that is the sweet and spicy Cajun barbecued pulled chicken over a shaved carrot-celery salad topped with bleu cheese and crisp chicken crackling. The numbing spiciness of the chicken caused my favorite bleu cheese to sneak past my taste buds unnoticed. Although I appreciated the dish’s raw vegetables for slightly cooling my palate, I wished they were dressed in some acid to counter the chicken’s oiliness. Evidently, many dishes served at Lot 10 simply lack finesse. In another dish of seared scallops, the anorexic-looking mollusks, no taller than three quarters stacked together, were tough and fishy, if not slightly burnt on the surface.

I must admit that most dishes at Lot 10 looked beautiful; they were all artfully plated and thoughtfully presented before our eyes. My dining companion and I had to literally turn each plate of food 360 degrees in order to appreciate its craft before eating, as if it was a precious work of art on auction. If only the dishes tasted as delicate as they looked and as creative as they sounded; many plates simply failed to live up to their promising executions. Although braised short-rib is a favorite that is difficult to blunder, Lot 10 nevertheless managed to miss the mark. The meat was just not tender enough — the fat was supposed to melt in the mouth but remained rubbery to the bite. Surprisingly, the sautéed greens and polenta cake that accompanied the tiny hunk of meat were tasty revelations. The wilted greens were bursting with garlic flavor and the wedge of grilled parmesan polenta was creamy and smoky. It’s these little wonders that are unfortunately overpowered by the plate’s main event that sustain some flickering hope that Lot 10 is still an establishment capable of great things.

I will recommend one dish that is delicious all around and does not have any weak points: the pork tenderloin. This dish was the best pork I’ve eaten in a while. The slightly pink meat was seasoned so impeccably that the dish bordered on perfect. The topping of tomato marmalade that accompanied the pork — sweet enough to spread on toast for afternoon tea — imparted a tangy yet candied flavor to the succulent meat slices. The bed of root vegetables underneath the meat had the condensed flavors of sweet potato, carrots, apple and all — it was like a magnet that kept attracting my fork toward it until the plate was scraped clean.

There is no doubt that Lot 10 has huge potential, as a few sparks of brilliance in the kitchen have shown. The bar is no doubt a winner too, headed by a bartender with impressive showmanship and creativity in concocting some wildly sophisticated cocktails. Still, the incongruities of Lot 10 are glaring, from the décor to the food to the service. Only time will tell if this new kid on the block will get its act together. Oddly enough, I have this feeling that Lot 10 will be sticking around for years to come.

Original Author: Brandon Ho