Left Wanting More at 32 Church

This article also published at Baristanet.com

Restaurants are like good friends – you could usually count the very best ones on a single hand. Based on the advice of a few good friends, I endeavored to broaden my dining network and give the still newish hot spot, 32 Church a bite.

The atmosphere at 32 Church, most specifically the lighting, is to be commended. The high ceiling drips with beautiful fixtures, exuding a warm glow complimented by a wall of lighted alcoves. The decor is sleek and chic, creating an upscale feel, but without uncomfortable pretension.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a beautiful, yet requisitely aloof hostess and were promptly seated. The server approached, opened our bottle of wine and poured. We sipped, and sipped some more. But wait, I thought, where’s the water? Now I know in some places water is not served, something about a shortage. But after all, it’s July, and we’re seated outside.

The menu arrived, and I read. Then, I read it again, knowing there must be something new and refreshing on this very eclectic menu, tempting me, whispering “pick me.” Sadly though, there were no little voices in my head. With regard to appetizers, the Yellow Fin Ceviche seemed a viable option, but not the calamari, or the quesadilla, or eggplant pancake. That’s not to say that I require extraordinarily complicated dishes or Wylie Dufresne-style molecular gastronomy. I want to be enticed by an array of thoughtful, seasonal combinations, and then agonize over the decision. But after reading the 32 Church menu, I felt as if I had read a boiled down Cheesecake Factory menu.

I decided on the arugula and roasted pear salad, with walnuts and gorgonzola. My friend decided on the grilled portobello salad. Our salads arrived, in plentiful portion, heaps of baby arugula, mine rimmed with browned pears, and my friend’s topped with sliced mushroom. Sadly, my salad fell a bit short of my expectations — the gorgonzola did not come in the hunky decadent crumbles I was hoping for, but instead, was chopped into uniform, and excessively tiny squares. To successfully secure a piece of gorgonzola to a tine, one need be as deft as a neurosurgeon. Also, I had expected the pears would be warm, not to suggest that the menu made any misrepresentation; the only word that was used was “roasted.” In any regard, the expectation of warm pears had been formed. But they were cold, as was my friend’s portobello mushroom. Perhaps my expectation was wrong. Would you have expected warm pears?

Voila! Finally, our water appeared, with a lemon and a straw. It was a small glitch; no big deal, but a detail nonetheless.

For my entree, I did not opt for the filet of beef after speculation of what “market price” may be (after all Rigatoni was priced at $17.95). I chose, instead, the mojave lime braised pork, pictured above.
As an avid cook, I like to get a good sear on and know that brown is the color of flavor, especially with regard to pork. But black has a much different affect on the palate than brown does. Unfortunately, much of the pork was black, bordering on burnt. The term “braised” usually infers “juicy” or “moist,” but my pork was overcooked and dry. It also lacked flavor, so much so I actually went to the reserves – two wedges of lime. While the stack was cute, looks only go so far.

My friend had the pan-seared yellow fin tuna, which I also tasted. It was presented very colorfully; the fish was quality fresh, sushi grade, and served with ginger sesame noodles. The cucumber salsa was refreshing, and the tuna was satisfactory, yet there was nothing notable about either the flavor or the presentation that distinguished the dish in any way from seared tuna I’ve had at mall restaurants, like Houston’s.

Perhaps I visited 32 Church on a bad Thursday night. In all fairness, it may be worth another try. In the end, 32 Church is an ideally located, indisputably beautiful space. It is indeed a nice place to go with a date – - so long as that date is not a serious foodie.

Have you eaten at 32 Church? If so, how was your experience?

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