Word of Mouth: 2941

Celebrated New York chef Scott Bryan is in the midst of a three-month stint at this Falls Church dining room. How's he doing?

From Kliman Online’s “Word of Mouth”

The self-regarding, self-loathing gonzo journalist Anthony Bourdain has praised chef Scott Bryan as a cook's cook. Not only that, but Bourdain has gone so far as to throw off his mantle of hipster narcissist long enough to humble himself at the altar of Veritas, Bryan's former Upper East side restaurant. If you'd never eaten there, you might well wonder if Bourdain was guilty of the usual sort of overexertions that his kind of self-love can sometimes bring. But no: Bryan's really that good.

For a restaurant that earned three stars from the New York Times, Veritas under his direction remained a vastly underrated place, better and more rewarding than a slew of slicker, more hyped spots around the city. When word leaked late last month that Bryan was coming to 2941 Restaurant for a three-month temp job (with chef Jonathan Krinn moving on to start a place of his own, and new chef Bertrand Chemel, ex-Cafe Boulud, arriving in January) no one was more curious than I to see what he would do in the kitchen. Krinn could be very good. But Bryan had the ability to move me.

No doubt I was expecting too much, because my first look revealed a kitchen that seems content to not upset the system already in place. The meats and fishes haven't really changed — and are not going to — nor have their basic preparations, leaving Bryan, in the words of a waiter, to "tweak what was already there."

Like a sports franchise that has brought in an interim coach and told him to retain the plays and the system, Bryan is being given orders to mind the status quo. Will longtime fans of 2941 care that Bryan is not being given more freedom? Probably not. The meal was good, if unremarkable, helped along by the restaurant's commitment to luxe ingredients and the kind of sumptuous, attentive service that fine-dining demands.

I swooned over a bowl of celery root veloute with black truffles, but unfortunately, nothing else that night reached that exalted level. Or came close. Two beautiful, well-seared lobes of foie gras were brought down by a too-sweet confit of vanilla and pineapple. Ditto for an excellent fan of seared duck breast, which was marred by its over-reduced port wine sauce. A crisp-skinned filet of snapper was set in a curry that, for all its lightness and elegance, could have used a bit more creaminess and kick.

The restaurant's nouveau riche high-rollers probably won't mind that things at this business park fantasia haven't really changed, but those of us who know Bryan's enormous gifts can only wonder what might have been if the chef had been given a chance to do more than mere tweaking.

-October 30, 2007