Grit & Grace opened two-and-a-half years ago promising to “push opposites to the extreme,” as suggested by the name and demonstrated by a menu that brought together disparate global cuisines, classic and ultra-modern techniques, and ingredients from lobster to Cheez-Its. It mostly nailed it, but a recent rebranding and menu revamp confirms our hunch that food might be one area where most people are not looking for an extreme experience.
Under the more casual banner of G&G Noodle Bar, not all of the original concept has been jettisoned. There are still daily dim sum offerings, a blend of sharing plates and entrees, and even certain specific dishes have been held over. But like a brash youth putting on the responsible suit of adulthood, G&G’s menu has quit its global adventuring and settled firmly in the inspirational territory of East Asia. Dishes hew more closely to their traditional antecedents, and molecular gastronomy has evaporated.
One of our favorites from Grit & Grace to survive this transition was short rib on a split cream-cheese biscuit with hollandaise. The biscuit was richly tender and crisp-edged, the beef utterly supple and succulent, and the hollandaise decadently creamy, though the new sesame inflection was so subtle as to be in name only.
Another former favorite didn’t acquit itself quite so well this time around. Dim sum pork-belly bites were served in an orange-chili-garlic-ginger glaze that was syrupy, but not very sweet, and dotted with a spicy, creamy sauce. This was all good, but the meat itself was uniformly chewy where, on our previous visit, it had been tender with faintly crisp edges.
Spicy octopus was the first of the new dishes we tried, and it was fantastic, despite several ingredients that, not unlike the old menu, made us say “hmm”: celery, candied cashews and egg custard. While none of these is an obvious accompaniment to cephalopod salad, they worked together wonderfully against the tender sliced tentacles flavored with garlic and chili oil. The celery consisted of leaves and pale, non-stringy slices of heart, while the egg custard was in small, firm cubes that recalled tofu, but richer. The nutty sweetness of the chopped cashews brought welcome counterpoint to this salad’s bitter, salty and spicy notes.
Pork potstickers have become de rigueur on menus from bars to bistros, so common they hardly resister as Asian anymore. G&G’s surpassed most with their beautifully browned wrappers and flavorful filling studded with zingy green onions; they were served in a shallow film of soy sauce flavored with astringent Chinese vinegar.
Chicken satay was in meatball format, drizzled with teriyaki and plated with smears of butter-like peanut sauce, with some pickled shallot for texture and brightness. The meatballs were plump and juicy, but also too salty, alas.
Salt was also an issue with the five-spice roasted pork shoulder that accompanied our ramen. There are three traditional ramen bowls on the menu, but this dish came on a plate, with slices of pork, a mound of noodles and a dipping bowl of broth. The noodles were studded with chili, ginger and scallion, while the broth was slightly piquant and simply luscious. But on the pork, the cumulative warmth of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, and Sichuan peppercorns was overwhelmed by salt, as if the meat had been both brined and rubbed.
Seafood coconut curry with rice noodles sounded like it would be soupy, but instead clung almost invisibly to flat, perfectly al dente noodles. The sauce was perceptible mainly by its wonderful flavor, delicate and aromatic, punched up by plenteous slices of red jalapeño. The dish’s shrimp and mussels were beyond reproach, but the curry itself was brilliant.
Dandan, a Chinese street-food noodle dish featuring spicy ground pork in a nutty sesame-based sauce, also shone in an almost dry preparation that highlighted the textures as well as the flavors of its other ingredients: crunchy, juicy bean sprouts; pungent pickled Chinese cabbage; and a dippy egg that melted into the noodles when its yolk was broken.
In a sense, it’s a shame that the striving ambition so evident in Grit & Grace’s original incarnation has been replaced by the comfort-food cliché of the moment, noodles. But it’s hard not to love noodles as good as these, and the kitchen’s underlying intelligence shone through in almost every dish we tasted. Grit & Grace is done and gone; long live G&G Noodle Bar.