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Apparently, they like cauliflower in Chicago. And Watson's cauliflower "steak" is certainly inspired. Even someone who detests the hard, bland vegetable that Mark Twain called "nothing but a cabbage with a college education" (someone like me) should be suitably impressed. It's a lengthwise slab, cooked until the flesh is fork-tender but not mushy, then sautéed in a pan until lightly golden and dappled with a spoonful of tahini. Watson serves it on a terrific salad of garbanzo beans and grilled radicchio, tossed in a dressing of yogurt and the oil created by freshly roasted herbs (including coriander, mustard seed and fennel). It's nothing like a real grilled steak, and it isn't supposed to be. And it's nothing like cauliflower, either.
Remedy isn't going to cure the urge for meat, but it has one of the city's more vegetarian-forward menus. Besides three meat-free salads, there's a daily vegetarian special, made with the latest in-season deliveries from local farmers. (Last week, those options included a beet salad and a berry sorbet.) I tried — and liked — a plate of carrot fettuccine tossed in fresh mint pesto. It was especially good with this restaurant's most popular starter: "fries" of sliced eggplant, battered and deep-fried and sprinkled with sea salt, then drizzled with local honey. Also among the appetizers are falafel and some variation on the deviled-egg motif, though the jewel-like creations I tasted last week were better with the ruby-colored snippet of smoked salmon that was available that day.
Watson says most of the meals served at Remedy are shared by patrons who are there to imbibe a cocktail or two. The entrée list is appropriately understated, with a selection of five imaginative choices. There's also a trio of robust à la carte meals: a 20-ounce, bone-in ribeye; a pound of peel-and-eat shrimp; and fried chicken.
Because it's labor-intensive, a decent breaded bird is a rare species on bar menus. But Watson is proud of his better-than-decent fowl, which he marinates for a day in tart pickle juice, then cooks in the sous vide (bagged with garlic, buttermilk and herbs) for three hours. After it comes out of the bath, he rolls the cooked bird in seasoned flour and deep-fries it for two minutes to create a golden, crispy crust. I ordered the three-piece combo one night, and the server asked if I wanted it "mild or spicy." When I couldn't make up my mind, he whispered, "The spicy isn't very spicy."
That's putting it, well, mildly. "We're still working on that issue," Watson told me later. "It's not as spicy-hot as we want it to be yet. But we don't want it too fiery."
Two of the chicken pieces — served in a bowl — were moist and delicious. The wing was tough and dry, but two out of three ain't bad. And customers so far are in agreement: Among the most-ordered dishes, the chicken is second only to Watson's slow-roasted pork shoulder. The pork was one of his specialties at Port Fonda. It's a smaller portion here, coated in a brown-sugar rub and served with pillowy hominy and bitter kale leaves. "The sweetness of the rub bridges the tartness of the kale," Watson says.
The chef knows a good combination, and he has spotted another one in the two talented cohorts working his kitchen: 31-year-old Rob Mitchell and 27-year-old Andrew Heimburger. They don't mind whipping up a batch of fresh béarnaise sauce (served with the fries) on short notice or aiding Watson in some of his clever culinary solutions.
Watson's home crew consists of two youngsters and a patient wife ("I'm not home a lot these days," he says), a kindergarten teacher. It was her idea to put a Mason-jar terrarium on every table. "A self-contained ecosystem," reads the label on each lid. "Please do not shake or open."