For those of you who don’t know, Establishment is the on-campus restaurant located in Statler. This restaurant is part of the HADM 3350: Restaurant Management course in the Hotel School. Although faculty and staff develop the new core menu every semester, students prepare all the food. I’ve never been to Establishment before, but I was excited to try the menu.
I made a reservation for 7:00 p.m., but showed up a few minutes late. After about a 10-minute wait, my friends and I were seated. The atmosphere of the restaurant is casual but refined; even with my sweatpants and sneakers on I didn’t feel out of place despite the fine dining service and atmosphere. Speaking of the service, the student waiters were incredibly polite; I was blown away by how good the service was.
My friends and I ordered two appetizers, the truffle fries ($9) and brussel sprouts ($8). The truffle fries were seasoned with truffle oil and parmesan, and served with an aioli. The fries themselves had good textural contrast: the inside was cooked all the way through, but the outside was perfectly crispy. My guess is that they used a double fry technique — and they pulled it off perfectly. A double fry is when the fries are initially fried at a lower temperature so that the inside is cooked all the way through. Then a shorter, second fry is used to add crispiness to the outside of the fry. Because of the truffle oil, these fries smelled absolutely amazing and tasted delicious. The aioli was a little strong, but used sparingly; its smokiness added complexity to the flavor of the fries. The ginger in the aioli also provided a good contrast to the lightness of the truffle oil.
The brussel sprouts were served with caramelized shallots and topped with a few kernels of popcorn. The brussels sprouts themselves were moist and had great texture, and the caramelized shallots provided a hint of sweetness. The only part of this starter I didn’t enjoy was the popcorn as it didn’t really add anything to the flavor or texture of the dish. The flavor of the shallots masked the flavor of the popcorn, which was too light texturally to provide contrast to the texture of the sprouts. The popcorn didn’t build on or add to the flavors of the dish; it seemed more like a gimmick to make the dish seem different as opposed to actually contributing to the flavors of the dish. Moreover, annoyingly, some of the kernels of corn were not popped thoroughly, and I ended up having to spit out a few unpopped kernels.
For the main dishes, my friends and I ordered the duck pizza ($15), the pappardelle pasta ($14) and the bouillabaisse ($18) — a traditional French seafood stew usually served with fish. Establishment’s version of the dish features scallops, mussels, clams and shrimp. I’m not a huge fan of seafood, but I thought the stew was hearty and strong. However, I found the soup base to be a little too salty. The garlic bread served alongside the bouillabaisse was incredibly rich and buttery.
The pappardelle was definitely the “safe” option on the menu. The pasta featured bacon, sausage, onions, mushrooms and spinach served with a creamy garlic white sauce. The dish worked well together, but it definitely wasn’t anything special. The sauce was a typical white sauce, and the vegetables in the dish were pretty common for any pasta dish. The only interesting parts of the dish were the meats. The dish featured a soft bacon that tasted more like cured ham than normal bacon, and the sausage acquired an earthiness from the strong fennel flavor. I was definitely a fan of the sausage, even though the dish itself was pretty average.
The duck pizza absolutely blew me away, making it by far my favorite main. Its toppings were duck confit, hoisin sauce (a sweet and salty, dark red sauce used in Chinese cuisine), a mozzarella-fontina cheese blend and a heaping pile of arugula mixed with vinaigrette. This was by far the most unique and interesting main, though it took me awhile to process how I felt about the dish. Individually all the ingredients tasted amazing: the duck was moist and tender, the hoisin sauce was sweet and salty and the cheese was very creamy. But all these flavors blended incredibly well with each other to create a complex flavor profile. The acidity of the vinaigrette contrasted with the richness of the duck meat, and the funkiness of the cheese complemented the tang of the hoisin. There were so many flavors all fighting for attention, creating a cacophony that somehow, against all odds, worked together to create a beautiful melody. The dish felt creative and different, standing out amongst its peers. I truly enjoyed the complexity and nuances of this dish.
For dessert, I ordered the Mexican Tart ($7) which consists of a pastry filled with spiced chocolate and topped with meringue. I was blown away by this dessert. It was incredibly innovative and demonstrated thinking that was very outside the box. The chocolate was quite literally spicy, but when eaten in combination with the meringue, it provided some great contrast. I didn’t think I’d enjoy a spicy dessert, but this pastry proved me wrong. This dish was really inventive and I loved its uniqueness.
Despite the hefty bill, I left Establishment satisfied by the original dishes and one-of-a-kind flavor profiles. The core menu this semester at Establishment is definitely worth checking out if you have the time, even if it’s just for the duck pizza and the Mexican Tart dessert.
Serves: eclectic dishes inspired by various cuisines
Vibe: refined yet casual