Here’s to Yum would have totally escaped my attention if not for the enthusiastic recommendation of an acquaintance in the publishing business. “You’ve got to try it,” she gushed, mentioning that the two owners, Rene and Charles, professional training at places as serious at L’Etoile. They also had more than grilled cheese, chicken salad, and flea-market furniture in mind. True, there are a couple of chicken-salad options on the one-page menu; one is even called Good ’ol Chicken Salad. But starting with the soups (Rene’s specialty), it’s clear that they have serious aspirations.
The herb soup may taste strongly of tarragon, but the flavor is bolstered by a base of potato and green onion as well as accents of lemon and peppered cream. And the pea soup, smacking of cheap sauternes but all the better for it, is unlike any you are likely to have had before. Much less dense than most such soups (think Schilo’s), its mint undertones play beautifully against the delicate pea flavor.
Delicate is how I’d also characterize the inevitable quiche (baking is Charles’s bailiwick; he says he first learned from his grandmother). The promise of cinnamon and nutmeg in the crust was initially a little scary, but not to worry; the spices are low-key. More of an issue might be that the advertised truffled wild mushrooms and fire-roasted asparagus and red bells are also soft-pedaled. Less (chopping) might be more in this case. More successful, maybe because it’s trying to do less, is the tomato flan with basil and mozzarella. As with the quiche, parts of the crust were somewhat soggy, but the flavors were all fine. The restraint used in the simple but altogether appropriate dressings on side salads was much appreciated as well.
More overtly ambitious dishes such as the spaghetti with braised radicchio, mushrooms, and caramelized onions in fennel stock, presented with a fried egg, might tempt lunchers with no plans for dinner; ditto the daily specials such as gnocchi with chicken and arugula or the Yummy Burger with Angus beef and shallots. But invariably a moral dilemma arises: substantial entrée or soup and sandwich plus dessert. You know the answer: Go for dessert. Yes, I’m always a little peeved when something is described as “wild” when we all know it’s not, but nevertheless, the wild-berry tart in an amaretti crust proved to be a positive end to one pleasant lunch. Fresh raspberries and blueberries were the fruits with dubious woodsy cred, and the crème was a little grainy, but we didn’t leave a crumb. Maybe the warm glow emanating from the tomato-soup-colored walls had a salubrious effect. For sure Brother Cletus’s folky paintings have never looked better.
(BTW, I know you were all wondering if I’m going to make a snarky remark about the bistro’s name. No, I’m not.) — Ron Bechtol