We’d been to Telepan once before. I’m not precisely sure when that was. However, given that Telepan has been open nine years and that dinner pre-dates when I began taking photos of our restaurant meals (2007), I’m guessing it was around 2005. Obviously, we didn’t exactly rush back. While we liked the ambiance, our server had an abrupt and off-putting demeanor. But more important than that – actually, most important – the food was nothing special, a disappointment considering the positive reviews we’d read at that time. It’s also apparent that our opinion was in the minority since Telepan remains one of the most popular restaurants on the Upper West Side.
As I mentioned in my post about our Passover dinner at BLT Prime, there would be no Seders this year. Instead, we would be dining out. My research regarding which restaurants were offering special Passover dinners yielded a short list. After choosing BLT for the first Seder night for the four of us, Michael and I needed another for the second. (Jen and Louis would not be going with us.) Telepan was offering the special dinner for only the first and second nights. When we looked at the menu, we both found it immensely appealing, so we decided to give the place another chance.
Arriving promptly for our 8 p.m. reservation, we would have been seated immediately, but the table the hostess led us to didn’t appeal to me. The restaurant has an odd layout with two somewhat narrow dining areas separated by a thick wall, both leading to a more wide open space. This table was in one of the narrow areas, and I preferred to sit in the more spacious area. (Michael didn’t mind deferring to my preference.) After checking, the hostess said a table in that area would be available in a few minutes. We agreed to wait at the bar, at which point she informed us that if we ordered drinks, we would have to settle our bill there before going to our table. Though we didn’t intend to order anything at the bar, frankly, I think a restaurant of Telepan’s caliber should have a system whereby one’s bar bill is transferred to the dinner bill.
The wait was much shorter than expected, and we were soon seated at a two-top at the rear of the dining room. Though the décor seemed similar to what I remembered, I had read that it had been refreshed in 2013. White linen covers the tables, white walls are adorned in various spots with large framed photos of vegetables (very colorful), windows are dressed with simple green drapes, and lighting is perfect. The pleasantness of this ambiance was furthered by a low noise level and – hard to believe these days — no music!
Our server was prompt bringing menus and eliciting our water choices (as always, sparkling for Michael and tap for me). We told him we would be doing the Passover menu. A prix-fixe, it included an amuse, soup, a fish course, a meat course, and dessert. Only the fish and meat courses had choices, two each. Both of us selected the same dishes for those two. After perusing the wine list, Michael ordered one glass of a Brunello.
We were surprised that the bottle was not presented at the table and the wine poured there. Again, something a restaurant of Telepan’s caliber should be doing with wines by the glass.
We’d never seen small squares like these before. (They were actually smaller than the photo makes them appear.) They were accompanied by butter which, happily, was soft enough to be easily spread, a huge plus when dealing with matzoh.
Dried Fruit Chutney-Apple Salad, Potato Latke with Smoked Trout, and Chopped Liver on Matzoh
The salad had a nice mix of textures and flavors plus a tasty dressing. The latke was crisp, and a layer of cream was topped with the lightly smoked trout. Another great combination of textures and flavors. We know from chopped liver and this was heavenly chopped liver. An impressive start!
Spring Vegetable Soup with Matzoh Balls and Dill Oil
Michael, who is a chicken soup maven since it is his favorite soup, said this was one of the best versions he’s ever had, far superior to the soup the previous evening at BLT. I’m not a big chicken soup fan but had to agree it was delicious. Great depth of flavor in the broth, tasty vegetables, and light matzoh balls.
Wild Striped Bass with Asparagus, Black & Gold Rice, and Lemon
Striped bass is one of my favorite fishes. It was cooked perfectly so that the flavor-filled flesh retained its juiciness. I usually don’t eat fish skin. But in this case, it was so thoroughly crisp that I couldn’t help gobbling it up. I adore asparagus and always welcome its appearance this time of year as a sign of spring. I’m not sure what types of rice constituted “black & gold,”* but it was cooked precisely and was seriously delicious. To sum up this dish in one word: Fabulous!
Roasted & Braised Chicken with Olive, Spicy Chick Peas, and Chard
This dish was nicely done. Getting white meat chicken to remain succulent is a challenge, but it was more than met here. The olives, chick peas* (the spice level was fairly understated), and chard were a pleasing combo.
Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake with Coconut Sorbet
This is the dessert that at one time was on practically every restaurant menu (and is still the signature at Jean-Georges). The interior of the warm cake was properly melty. I love coconut sorbet, so I was happy to have it in lieu of vanilla ice cream, my other favorite accompaniment for this type of dessert.
A truly fine dinner! However, I do have to say that the pacing was very uneven. While the timing between the amuse and the soup was fine, it was off for the rest of the meal. The wait between the soup and fish course became long enough for us to notice and for me to joke to Michael, “Maybe they’re out catching the fish?!” It wasn’t as though the place was slammed since not every table was occupied, and there were no overly large parties. We surmised some problem in the kitchen, but our server never came by to offer an explanation. Happily, when the fish finally arrived, it was at the correct temperature – hot! — and, as already described, delicious. The pacing then took the opposite turn. We had barely finished the last bite and had our plates cleared when the chicken was served. Not much in the way of breathing room either before the dessert came out.
One other small quibble. I would have preferred the portions to have been a tad smaller because by the time I got to dessert, I was feeling a bit full. But that’s a totally personal thing and a minor complaint given how wonderful the food was. In that regard, Telepan fully redeemed itself.
*Note: For Ashkenazi Jews, rice and chick peas are among the foods forbidden during Passover. Not so for Sephardic Jews. At home, we keep to the restrictions during the eight days but are not so strict when dining out. While the alternate fish and meat dishes were Ashkenazi-friendly, we much preferred the dishes we chose.
The entire photo set for this dinner can be viewed on my Flickr here.