Tuesday, April 15, 2008

free thorks

Sunday K & I decided to finally try (disquisition on the bogosity of the split-infinitive rule available upon request) Three Forks. I believe that we are the last human beings in the West Inland Empire to go there.

We ran into friends who live in Village Walk, the condos right next to 3F, as we moseyed to the restaurant. When we told them we were planning on trying the Farmers Market Dinner (a sunday special every week -- three courses for $45), they put on brave smiles and bid us goodbye as if we were heading off to a tax audit or a biopsy. Apparently the Farmers Market Dinner is precisely what NOT to have at 3F (she told me afterward).

Our verdict: Okay. Pretty good for the 909. Ambitious (and it took me three years in college to realize that when a professor wrote that on my paper, it wasn't high praise).

Item by item (fine-dining alert! Food snobbery ahead!):

• The amuse bouche (the little mouthful that starts the meal) was "shrimp toast with paprika aioli." It was perfectly fine, but it was a bit odd, in that it was a little wedge of rustic European baguette that tasted like Chinese shrimp toast. I think they must have infused some olive oil with Chinese dried shrimp... but why? Just for the pun of shrimp toast on toast?

• The starter was a panzanella (bread salad). This one had baby spinach, grape tomatoes, frisée, small chunks of olive bread, shaved parmesan, and a couple of slices of beefsteak tomato. It was tasty, although the beefsteak tomato was an embarrassment (think supermarket tomatoes in winter). I thought the dressing was a bit sweet, but K, who is a carb-based life form, insisted that it was no such thing.

• For his main, K had the wild boar and wild mushroom manicotti. It was pretty darn good, although I would have used a different tomato sauce. This one was cooked down too much, so that it had lost all the brightness of the tomato, and again, it was too sweet (and this time K agreed with me).

• For my main, I had the chicken piccata. I would have ordered the manicotti, except that we have a policy of not ordering the same thing. The flavors of the chicken piccata were excellent -- strong enough, which can be a major pitfall for this dish -- but the breading of the chicken had obviously been done hours earlier, so that instead of crusty goodness, the paillard of chicken seemed to be coated in kindergarten paste. They must have flattened that chicken breast with road-building equipment, though, because it was huge -- easily the size of a comic book. I gave a third to K, ate a third, and had the last third for lunch yesterday.

• Dessert was where they really fell down on the job. They promised panna cotta, but what we got was a super-gelatinized Asian-style custard that had no dairy taste whatsoever. It was so rubbery that if you pulled at it with your spoon, it formed rips and tears. My best guess at its construction is that it used about four times as much gelatin as real panna cotta, plus a little milk and perhaps a tablespoon of flour to provide a cloudy appearance. The macerated strawberries and balsamic vinegar reduction (a classic panna cotta combination) could not save this jellied mess.

Service was perfectly fine, although in classic New Mall fashion, it was more friendly than clueful. Frankly, when you're spending $90 on a hunk of meat, serving from the left and removing from the right doesn't seem like too much to ask. Or am I showing my age?

The hostess gets a special mention, because she seemed to have trouble understanding the concept of a reservation when we called up, and once we got there, neither one of us could take our eyes off her comically-large rack whenever she walked past.

Obviously we need to go back for meat (meatmeatmeatmeat) in order to get the true Three Forks experience, but that may be a while: we need to replenish the bank account first.

Update: How could I have forgotten to mention the music? That was one place they scored big with us. It was just loud enough to recognize some of your favorite songs -- early Neil Young for me, the Replacements for K. When was the last time you heard either one of those in a restaurant, I ask you -- much less a restaurant quite pleased with itself for being both hoity and toity.

The frontispiece is of Sacajawea pointing the way to Three Forks for Lewis & Clark. Yes, really.


Anonymous said...

I can understand wanting a good meal but $90 for two people just is not in my realm of restaurant going.
It should be called Ninety Forks.

meg said...

Heh! "Ninety Forks" -- I like it. I shall henceforth refer to it as "Ninety Forks (TM Mark)."

As for our willingness to splurge on dinner now and then, what can I say? You already got the fine dining alert and food snobbery warning.

K said...

Wow, did we have the same dinner? I thought that the manicotti was wonderful, almost one of those "Oh, so that's what this is supposed to taste like!" dishes, and the chicken piccata was pretty amazing, too.

The service was another story. While everyone was friendly, they weren't very professional, or at least as professional as I expect at those prices. When I called up for a reservation, they accidentally hung up on me before answering. Then, they weren't sure that they could put us at a table inside, although once we got there, the place was half empty.

I don't mind the occasional screwup (I make plenty of mistakes myself, and I was a positive danger as a teenager when I worked as a busser), but if you're gonna charge this kinda money (and serve this kind of food), you might want to step it up a notch.

Maybe Sunday night was just a slow night, and folks were not totally on their game.

Ed said...

Yet again, you show why I'll never do a restaurant review. My summary would have read: started with some bread, then had salad with too many tomatoes, followed by a meat dish with some sauce, and concluded with a pudding-type desert.

But the hostess was very nice.

David Allen said...

"...easily the size of a comic book."

Stop, you're makin' me (artistically) hungry!

Garrett Sawyer said...

I can't believe it's not Ninety Forks! (twist on the butter) Ninety forks-- isn't that the usual number of assorted forks in a formal place setting? lol.

The formality of a place setting can be nice, but it's not very efficient.
I'll take a platebowl, a spork, and a knifoon. I'll also take my wine and water in my coffee please...thank you. lol.

Anonymous said...

Re: the first comment by Mark, and the second by Meg; Since Three Forks is casting about for a new name (see, http://claremontca.blogspot.com/2008/03/three-forks-makeover.html) and if Mark would be willing to cede the TM Meg assigned him, maybe the place will be called Ninety Forks.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your review. I find it interesting that people seem to really try to like this restaurant and are so kind in their reviews even though the review is more negative than positive. My thought is this: A restaurant that charges the kind of money this place does for it's food should not ever DISAPPOINT..at least with the quality of said food. Everyone I know who has dined there had a "mixed" experience as to food quality. "My dish was excellent, my husband's was dry, overcooked, too salty or tasteless". My question is how do these two extremes exist under the same roof? Shouldn't the kitchen have worked out it's kinks by now? Personally I am reluctant to take a special someone to a restaurant like this for fear that the meal will be uneven as noted. I have no problem spending $350 for a special evening but I don't want to be embarassed by a meal that may be so extremely hit and miss. Hint to Three Forks: You are judged on all the food you serve..not just the good dishes....we expect more just as you expect us to pay more for the experience.

meg said...

I've heard a lot of unqualified raves, but I agree that consistency is an issue for them. And as anyone who has worked in restaurants knows, consistency is precisely what makes a great restaurant. And greatness is precisely what the New Mall doesn't seem to be able to achieve.

I do wonder about how they chose the tenants of all the Village Expansion properties. You don't have to choose chains in order to get expertise, unless something (publicity? prices? general orneriness?) prevents experienced restaurateurs from applying.

Anonymous said...

Meg..my feeling as someone who was in the biz for many years is they "chose" tenants who would sign those high dollar leases. An independent operator does not have corporate money and training behind him and has to be able to turn a profit to earn a living. Unfortunately I see the restaurant business becoming more and more overwhelmed by chains because even if their food is not notable they do know how to run a business. First time independent restaurant operators today do not come to the "table" knowing the business and they can't afford the mistakes they are sure to make. For this reason the chains survive and the mom and pops disappear. Sad but true. I think the rents are way too high everywhere and it is no wonder we see so many closed storefronts with businesses that could not afford to ride out a bad economy. Greedy landlords I think actually end up shooting themselves in the foot. signed anom #8 above.

Reg Oignon said...

We haven't been yet but will eventually, despite all the mixed reviews.

Yes, I do think that serving from the left & clearing from the right has gone out of fashion in Danny Meyer-style haute-casual dining, along with French accents and baroque string concerti. But general cluefulness hasn't.

Izayoi for dinner tomorrow night with an out-of-town friend -- had to have something within downtown as neither of us has a car tomorrow, and that looked like the most interesting option.