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The real winner on the starter list is a multicultural collision called "Asian BBQ Pork Belly Nachos." I know, that sounds like something you'd pull from the freezer case at Trader Joe's. But I found myself entranced by the dish: miniature corn tortillas topped with squares of luscious pork belly, chopped tomato and translucent slivers of fresh radish. The tastes somehow work together.
Pillows of house-made ricotta gnocchi, in a surprisingly creamy pomodoro, are delicious. The vegetable in the roasted-eggplant ravioli was chewy and a little salty, but the real problem was what covers the pasta: a sloppy, helter-skelter blanket of chopped artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and goat cheese. Its appropriate pairing isn't wine — it's Gatorade.
A trio of beef medallions, each topped with a different crust (horseradish, blue cheese, parmesan), is a little too dainty for the $29 asking price. The delicious-sounding braised short ribs, slathered with a mustard beurre blanc, suffered from a severely caramelized exterior on the night I sampled them. The meat was dry and rubbery.
The most consistent satisfactions on the menu so far are the soups. The crab and lobster bisque is extraordinary — rich and loaded with shellfish. A hearty, creamy tortilla soup is probably the best potage going by this name around here.
The menu insists that its cheesecake is "the best in town," which is a daring claim to make on the Plaza. Not wanting to choose a side in that particular rivalry, I instead sampled a ridiculously sexy chocolate cake, layered with chocolate mousse and ganache. Thumbs up. More complex but less rewarding is an "ice cream sandwich" that boasts two circles of cinnamon ice cream tucked between two slices of banana-nut bread, drenched in butter-rum-caramel sauce. It earns points for creativity, but it's difficult to eat, even with a knife and a fork.
Maybe I should have used a wineglass instead. "Each of our dishes," servers explained during each of my visits, "was uniquely created to be paired with one of our Cooper's Hawk wines." So there's a wine "bin number" next to each of the dishes on the menu, punctuating the feeling that the restaurant wants to control your experience of it. Cooper's Hawk seems to have been dreamed up for diners who have never been to an actual winery (and who perhaps don't trust restaurants that don't franchise). But go ahead, do it their way.