Friday, January 09, 2009


Jess' Take
Last night we hit Zot in Head House Square. You can’t miss this restaurant as the sign is enormous and bright – whether you should miss this restaurant is another story. The bar is a perfect spot to hop into on a blustery winter day to enjoy a full-bodied Belgian beer, of which there is a selection to rival Monks. Wade was especially happy to see Le Chouffe available. The dining room is also cozy, with exposed brick and wood beams, you just have to try and ignore the seriously freaky print of what is possibly a tripped out Richard Simmons.

I started the evening with an Allagash White (yes, an American beer – I know) and perused the menu. While the offerings aren’t extensive, the set up of the menu is time consuming. First you choose a meat, of which there is a very interesting variety, then pick a sauce, of which there are about 20 too many choices, and finally decide on a side. If you’re not in the mood for meat, there are mussels – many, many mussels. I couldn’t even begin to navigate through the mussel menu, so I started with escargot for an app and then went with a filet of bison, black peppercorn sauce and two sides: Brussels sprouts and sauteed mushrooms.

The escargot arrived nestled between a fluffy biscuit. Instead of the usual rich buttery flavoring, this dish was served with a smoked sauce and fabulous paprika undertones. The biscuit was perfect to sop up the extra sauce. Although a hearty dish, it was a nice portion, so I wasn’t too full when my main dish arrived. Very satisfying.

The bison arrived cooked to a perfect medium-rare, which I really appreciate. So often restaurants overcook red meat, which is totally disappointing. The best part of my dish was the black peppercorn sauce, which I had them put on the side. It was spicy and not too heavy – the meat, very similar to steak, was a perfect compliment. The Brussels sprouts were swimming in bacon fat, which meant that they were inherently tasty, although not very impressive. Ditto on the mushrooms (sans the bacon fat). Overall a tasty dish – but nothing I can’t make myself, probably even a little better.

Dessert was certainly nothing to write home about. Berries and cream and a pot de crème that was more like dense chocolate mousse.

If I find myself back in the neighborhood I would happily stop in and grab a beer, but I’ll probably save my appetite for Xochitl, which is a block away and a world tastier.

Zot gets 2 out of 4 possible brews from me!

Dave's Take

Jess hit Zot pretty much dead on. One thing about the decor that could be a turn off for some but really appealed to me was the front bar. It had old school skiing memorabilia on the wall. Think a hard rock but for skiing which is much cooler. That combined with the looping Warren Miller videos will make we want to go back for a drink. If I'm there for a drink, I might get some food again, but certainly wouldn't make the trip for the food especially since I have to pass Bridget's and Monks to get there.

My first course was the bone marrow. Now, my other run-ins with bone marrow have been spiritual. That could be from the stem cells packed in there or the delirious feeling of my cholesterol tripling with each bite but whatever it was, Ansil and Distrito pack so much rich flavor into each bite it is amazing. I call bone marrow meat butter and if Ansil is the Kerrygold, this was the parkay. Sure, it was rich and warming but lacked the flavor of the others. Not bad, just a little bland and not worth it here.

I also had to create my modular main meat (MMM). I love the idea of exotic meat. I think it's cool to eat crazy stuff (probably why I like "Strange Foods" on the Travel Channel). Zot did not disappoint there (Kangaroo, Boudin, Bison, Boar Sausage, etc). I got the ostrich med rare and it was cooked perfectly and very tender for such a lean meat. Here is where I take issue. The 20 sauces Jess mentioned came with no guidance. Looking at them, I knew that all 20 would not work. When I asked which one would work best I got a few choices but the server did not recommend anything with confidence. I go to a place to be guided by the chef on how to best experience what they envision a dish should be. This was more like- hey, yeah sure you want that meat. OK- now you have to decide what will taste best on it. Sure, there is an optimum choice or two but we aren't gonna tell you what they are. You have to guess. That's seems like more work than I need. Also, if you get one of the less exotic or cheaper meats, you're totally getting ripped off since they are all the same price. Even with my complaints, my perfectly cooked ostrich did go well with the mushroom cream sauce.

I wanted to skip dessert. Jess & Wade fought to include it. I should have remained strong but gave in. The berries and cream were just fair as you could tell the berries were not in season by the mushiness and lack of flavor. As we ate to the bottom, the lack of taste issue changed but for the worse. Some type of distilled liquor was waiting to sicken us. I think it may have been Aquavit. OK for a shot but nasty when you want the taste of berries. The other dessert was a Pot de crème. It looked way too big for a pot de crème when it came out and was only a partial success. Once I was making a Pot de crème for a dinner party and I screwed it up by cooking it too long. It got a little more dense like Crème Brule often does. I called it Chocolate Crème Brule and my guests were none-the-wiser. Zot should have done that on us. Tasted good but too firm.

If you live in the hood, put it on your rotation. Go for the bar. Go for the beer and possible stay for the food. If you live in another area, I wouldn't make a special trip unless you want to drink while watching Warren Miller films at some other place than your friends couch.

2 out of 4 Après-Ski's

Wade’s Take:

Here’s the thing with Zot. It’s a free market economy. The menu is wide and open for you to invest in however you’d like. There’s no egomaniac chef forcing you to subscribe to his communist pairings. It’s all on you, baby.

What’s that you say? Your hungry for a piece of wild game, perhaps bison, with some sort of sauce… maybe bearnaise or caper sauce, and something starchy… not sweet potato fries, not gnocchi… garlic frietes, that’s it! There you go, you’ve just designed your own dinner. You have the power, you see, because Zot let’s you mix it up. They have over 15 meats on the menu (many exotic – bonus points there!), 20 plus sauces to add-on and then a dozen plus starches to finish your plate.

I opted for the kangaroo (I’m new to kangaroo) with a blue cheese sauce and some garlic frietes for the side. Kangaroo Jack was a long cut of meat, grilled medium rare. I enjoyed it, and the blue cheese sauce was straightforward, but good. My garlic frietes were no Monk’s fries, let’s get that straight. A bit soggy and lacking the garlic I so desired, they perked up when I swiped them in Jess’ black peppercorn sauce.

I had a first-rate onion soup that was my appetizer. The onions were caramelized and oh-so-sweet, cutting the normal sodium-fest of onion soup down to a minimum.

Technically, I suppose, my real appetizer was the smooth extra large bottle of La Chouffe I had as my first course. Brimming with an 8% APV, this strong Belgian pale ale is a new favorite of mine. If this were my world, I’d be sitting on a hilltop in Switzerland right now, eating a tasty apple, some raclette and with a bottle of La Chouffe at my side. Instead, blogging about it is cool, I guess.

I went to the upstairs bathroom bar after dinner to check it out. It’s a great event space with an actual bar made out of bathroom pieces. The countertop is all mirrors (yahoo for all you coke heads out there), a massive claw foot tub houses the bottles and atop that is a spigot/tap of beers. The whole thing rests within a shower basin, with various rub-a-dub-dub accoutrements flanking it. I want to go back. In an odd way, though, it reminded me of one of those shooting galleries that Knoebels is famous for. You know the type, the ragged hillbilly home exterior with the outhouse, squirrels in the broken down car and bullseyes all around to aim your air pistol at.

Final answer… Zot is a fun place, don’t miss it. It’s good food, not the best around in this town of great eats, but a great hang out spot, nonetheless. Go, drink beer, makes food selections, be happy.

Two out of four exotic meats.

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