The goods: Chef Jonathan Wright is out for blood. Pig’s blood, that is. He’s just found some at a local Chinese market and he’s excited to put it to good use: making authentic boudin, or blood sausages, a staple of French countryside kitchens. We’re sitting at The Grill at The Setai, the smaller of the two restaurants in the posh Asian-esque hotel and the current pet project of Wright. The chef recently revamped the Grill menu to include tapas and small plates, giving the hotel a Latin alternative to the Asian offerings at its main restaurant. “This is the food I like to make at home,” said Wright about the multi-course menu. “It’s got influences from all over – France, Italy, Spain. But ultimately it’s just good, simple food.”
Ambiance: The layout of the Grill hasn’t changed much. The space is still a showcase of sumptuous materials – from the cushy chairs outfitted in leather pillows to the communal table topped with mother-of-pearl to soaring ceilings composed of slate and brick – the overall effect is serene, posh and exacting. They have added seating to the interactive counter that frames the small kitchen and it’s an ideal spot for a casual dinner of wine and smoked meats carved from the legs of Iberian pata negra and Serrano jam that adorn the counter. There are also outdoor tables available in the Setai’s courtyard, one of the most striking patios in the city.
The grub: Mediterranean tapas. The menu is divided into small, medium and large plates with a short list of dry aged steaks. Prices have come down a bit compared to the Grill’s previous incarnation as a steakhouse. Small’s range $8-$35, medium plates are $10-$22 and large plates $18-$50. This means you can put together a relatively reasonably-priced meal for less than the cost of a steak at neighboring restaurants. A test-drive of the menu reveals that certain plates provide better value than others.
A complimentary plate of mini cheese popover and anchovy breadsticks primes the palate for the strong flavors to come. Start off with the patatas bravas, a cast iron pot of crisp potato wedges topped with spicy tomato sauce and garlic aioli. The yellow piquillo peppers stuffed with crabmeat are brimming with fresh seafood spiked with crème fraiche and lime while the Escabeche made with snapper (or sardines, depending on whether the chef can source the fresh fish) is a bouquet of flavors with a tomato sorbet, black olives and mustard seed. A pumpkin soup is an autumnal indulgence with a complex broth thickened with mascarpone cheese and offset with caramelized Portobello mushrooms and toasted slices of Gruyere croutons. The scrambled egg dish – served in a hollowed out sea urchin shell and topped with quail egg, asparagus and sea urchin roe – is probably one of the richest omelets in the city (and pricey at $16), and could have used a few slices of toasted baguette. The seared tuna belly is equally a splurge – the $20 plate consisting of four petite cubes of ruby-colored fish.
Large plates yield good value with hefty portions of rib-sticking fare like the ballotine of oxtail – deboned and slowly cooked in red wine for 24-hours served with carrots and a silky parsnip puree. Slow-cooking shows up again in a 12-hour braised brisket served with roasted bone marrow and red onion salad on the side. Pastry chef Noah French provides refreshing codas to the big-flavored meal with desserts like the passion fruit gelee, composed of a chocolate anglais base, a panna cotta-like passion fruit pudding brimming with sweet, sour and nutty chocolate notes.
Verdict: Small plates of ambitious Mediterranean tapas and attractive pricing means you no longer have to drop major cash to eat at the Setai.