My oft-stated fondness for Black Pearl was bound to spread in advance to Encore, Steve Whited & Sean Huggard’s sophomore venture, adjoining the Tattered Cover on Colfax. After the fact of a first visit, however, it has ebbed a bit. To be sure, the usual opening wrinkles have yet to be ironed out; but once they are, will the raw material prove as striking as it is smooth? I have my doubts.
Encore’s aesthetic is extremely low-key, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. Effortlessness isn’t, of course, effortless; its better part, unlike that of indifference on the one hand or struggle on the other, is simple good faith. Here the too-cool decor streamlines itself right out of sight, hence out of mind; amid clean lines, neutral hues and a conspicuous absence of bold accents or salient details, you may as well be sitting in a blank with Neo and Morpheus on either side.
Even the pianist in the corner was more like an unsharpened pencil sketch of an entertainer than a fully fleshed-out musician; just guess what was in his repertoire. Go ahead, guess. The right answer’s good for a drink on me.
And then there’s the menu, which could make for a double-take: between its generic polish and the minimalist surroundings, maybe Encore is actually a museum cafe? Except, you know, without the museum attached. Seriously, that would explain the smartly coiffed couples nibbling on Waldorf salads and carrot cake after a round of Kir Royales. It would explain the rejection of dishes as juicy in every sense as, say, BP’s parsley-crusted tuna with lentil-slathered sausage…
…in favor of fig-and-prosciutto-topped flatbreads—enough to cause disturbingly clear visions of Todd English circa 1992 to dance in my head (hey, Huggard, you’re not the only ex-Masshole in town)—and wood-grilled steaaahhhwww….zzzzz….oh, sorry, steaks and fish.
OK, OK, I’m exaggerating slightly to make a point: knowing the dynamism of which the duo is capable, I’m at a loss to explain Encore’s stereotypically, staunchly simple menu. Like effortlessness (no comment on freedom), simplicity isn’t simple; its better part is deceptive—neither simplistic nor exactly complicated but elegant and/or refreshing. And there are a few items here that embody the difference, above all the Telluride jalapeno poppers with apple-smoked bacon: these red chilies, stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in bacon and set atop a puddlet of fig jam, pack a sweet heat that hits you slowly but surely.
“Sweet onion soup, toast, blistered Swiss” is just what it sounds like—dumbed down soupe à l’oignon au gratin. On the one hand, I admired the pure, clear flavor of onion the broth administered spoonful for spoonful; on the other hand, purity’s double-edge is one-dimensionality. I missed the usual smack of beef stock, whose saltiness has a way of reinforcing that of the cheese and the crouton; in its apparent (or at least effective) absence, neither added much beyond protective coating (to paraphrase Debbie Reynolds, excusing the freezer burn inside a carton of orange sherbet, in Albert Brooks’ Mother).
The falafel burger was downright blah, little better than its frozen counterparts. I remember seeing dollops of hummus and yogurt sauce atop it, but not tasting them; worse, I remember tasting the sesame bun, but not tasting it. I expect better from the folks who deliver one of the city’s classiest bread baskets (again, at BP).
Mind you, those fries, fresh & crisp & drizzled with a Chinese-style hot mustard sauce, were super. A little more sauce would go a long way; next time—and there will be a next time, out of loyalty if nothing else—I’ll ask for extra.