The Standard: Make The Standard your New Standard

Beef Tartare

One of the perks of our job running NEOFOODIES is we get heads up on any new restaurants or when a restaurant comes under new ownership.  When that happens,  we feel it’s our duty to check them out for our readers. This review comes from 2 different perspectives, 1) As owner & Administrator of NEOFOODIES & 2) As an artist who works on Waterloo. The latter is just as important as the former because Waterloo is lined up & down the street with a thriving arts & culture scene all looking for where to eat.

I was informed that one of my favorite restaurants, The Standard was sold & under a new owner & chef. His name is Said Ouaddaadaa, originally from Casablanca, Morocco & formally from Bodega & Club Isabella. I had heard great things about Bodega & they were on my list of places yet to try so I was optimistic. His partner in this new venture is Michael J. Kav & he is the new GM & co-proprietor.

Now, truth be told, us on Waterloo were die hard loyalists to The Standard under Chris Hammer & Matt Quinn & we had a huge soft spot for Marty the head Chef & of course sous chef Paddy. We were/are close to the staff as well. We have all been regulars, popping in for a bite as we work endlessly to create our own magic. When I first heard of The Standard being sold, I was heartbroken. We didn’t have many options nearby for a nice cocktail, really good honest food & just a nice place. Where would we go?

What would we do after our shows?  I say the least, disappointed.

So, before I lost The Standard completely (I assumed), I stopped in after painting all day to get a bite to eat & to write about another restaurant. I decided to scrap that idea of the other restaurant & check this place out. Here is my experience:

Computer bag (which I believe still had a canvas roll up of brushes I meant to leave at the studio) in hand I walk in for a late lunch/early dinner. I’m seated & I’m happy to see my regular server Mackenzie & back in the kitchen I see the great Standard guys Paddy, Kirk & Ben. Mackenzie gets me my regular cocktail (she knows me well), Tito’s shaken, up, with blue cheese olives & a side of lemon & lime. She presents me with a new menu & proceeds to tell me that the new owner/chef just released it that week.

My eyes do a fast scroll looking for remnants of the old menu. Will he still have the oysters? Will he have the charcuterie that Marty did so well? Who is this new chef? What does he like..what is his style?

Immediately I see 4 dishes that make my eyes light up. Foie gras (yes please), the fresh oysters are still there (thank goodness), tuna tartar & beef tartar (yum). I’m hopeful & excited. So I put in an order for the oysters & beef tartar first, knowing I’m going to get that foie gras but pacing myself. The oysters that day were Mystic oysters from Noank, Connecticut (Long Island Sound). They are farmed year round with large heavy shells, deep cup & they have a gentle brine with a nice meaty flesh & clean finish.  They were delicious.  The accoutrement mignonette was different. A champagne vinegar, shallots, scallions, & fresh red & yellow pepper mixture. It was the peppers that at first threw me off.  I wasn’t used to those in my mignonette & I just  don’t like cocktail sauce, horseradish and/or hot sauce so I was glad to not see those served with the oysters. I’ll take fresh lemon if nothing else.

 The forward note dipping my mollusk in this mixture was, as I suspected, peppers. I’m not a fan of raw peppers. That said, it actually complimented the brine & finish of this oyster. Mystics aren’t very overbearing, they are delicate & can take on the flavors of shallots, lemon, champagne very well & to my surprise, even peppers. I do suspect, because they are so mild, that the whole cocktail sauce, horseradish, hot sauce thing would just out right ruin it. You wouldn’t taste the oyster itself.  So, I enjoyed it &  learned more about another proper pairing for this certain oyster profile. As for presentation? The oysters are served over a bed of seaweed salad & a little side of tobiko & an edible flower. It’s a lovely presentation but the seaweed salad & tobiko seem out of place. What I mean is, the menu & vibe of the place have not one Asian note. The only other time I see any hints of Asian on the menu is with the calamari which is listed as a pan fried squid with black sesame seeds & a wasabi honey ginger sauce. I can see the edible flowers yes, the mignonette yes, the seaweed salad & tobiko? Not necessary but that is just my opinion. The shell would be better off sitting on top a little bed of rocket lettuce with lemon & olive oil. However, I’m nitpicking here.  I really did enjoy it.

 Moving on to other appetizers, next is the beef tartar. We shall see, I’m picky. I was spoiled when Jonathan Sawyer made his for me right when he opened Greenhouse Tavern & I’ve had amazing tartar in Rome, London, New York & locally, Giovanni’s does a fantastic job so this had big shoes to fill.

This was probably one of the freshest beef tartar’s I’ve tasted in a while. Fresh herbs, capers, shallots, quail egg & the highest quality beef. No extra filler, just clean ingredients to bring out the meat. I have to say it reminded me of the tartar I had many years ago at Gordon Ramsay’s flagship Restaurant Gordon Ramsay & the beautiful deconstructed beef tartar I had by Daniele Boulud at his flagship Daniel. It’s the actual taste of the meat itself, so clean, so fresh, that reminds me of those two dishes.

 Moving on to the hot appetizer, the foie gras came next. It consisted of several pan seared lobes served over a shiitake mushroom & white truffle risotto & chive oil. The chef recommended the Bodega, Quintana Tempranillo from Spain which paired beautifully. The risotto was a bit salty but that’s just my preference. The foie gras itself was seasoned nicely. It is important to mention that it was at this point I noticed there weren’t salt & pepper shakers on the table. I always find this a positive thing, it’s a statement from the chef that he/she believes in their food enough that one should try first then season if need be. I enjoyed this dish, it was luxuriously decadent but not ostentatious in any way.

Moving on to entrees, I decided to try the Duck D’Alsace & the Grilled Chermoula Bronzino. Now, on the menu it says bronzini but to be correct it should be bronzino since it is one fish not several, that’s just me being picky about proper Italian. Let’s begin with the duck. I was not familiar with this particular dish preparation but I love duck & it sounded very interesting. It is a pan seared duck in a cinnamon glaze with a lingonberry beurre blanc served with garlic mashed potatoes. Chef Said served me a glass of a beautiful Côtes du Rhône & it paired beautifully with this dish. The duck was lovely cooked at a medium rare. Cinnamon is not something I would think of with duck & I was pleasantly surprised. My favorite was the lingonberry beurre blanc, it was absolutely delicious with the duck & my only complaint was that there wasn’t enough   of it, that & the fact I wish instead of the mashed potatoes, nicely roasted fingerlings seasoned with rosemary or sage & thyme wold be lovely or other roasted vegetables but again, that’s just my European upbringing, not very many mashed potatoes sides where I come from. The lingonberry beurre blanc is not overly sweet but delicate & luscious, those are the words that come to mind for this dish.

 Switching to the bronzino, the chef chose a nice Oak Grove Reserve Rosè from California.  I was excited to try this dish.  Growing up on the Adriatic coast, this is a  dish I’ve had quite often. To have it prepared Moroccan style was intriguing & so far, everything else had been delicious, I expected this to be no different.  The dish consists of a Moroccan style fish with a cilantro marinade, parsley, paprika, garlic & ginger. It is served with 2 sides, a refreshing cucumber tomato salad & pommes frîtes. When brought to the table, the chef properly & beautifully deboned it for me table side which is refreshing to see. I’ve had grilled whole bronzino here in the states & few will go to the trouble of deboning it for you upon presenting the dish. In Europe, this is standard, sadly here it isn’t but I wish it was. The Moroccan marinade was wonderful & again, this fish was cooked perfectly. I added a squeeze of fresh lemon & very happily ate as memories of my childhood came rushing back. As a side note, if you like dry white wines, the Vermentino from Perolla Tuscany would also pair nicely.

To end my overall experience, Chef Said mentioned he was in the process of making a chocolate banana bread pudding & that I should try it.  As some of our members know,  I can not have a lot of gluten. There are various levels of gluten intolerance & celiac & under the team at the Cleveland Clinic, as their guinea pig, I, at level 1 celiac can handle a certain amount of gluten per week. So, I was so happy to see that he had so many gluten free options on the menu (which are labeled) & can accommodate vegetarian as well. Since I monitor my levels, I agree to have a taste & I’m glad I did.

I have tasted some amazing bread puddings in New Orleans, I mean really, really good bread puddings that make me hate the fact I have celiac & can never eat a whole serving. So I am very critical of any bread pudding outside of the Crescent City. This was different.  I couldn’t compare it to any of the traditional ones I had because it  wasn’t a typical bread pudding. Instead, it brought me to another brought me home, back to Italy.

You see, growing up back in Italy, my aunt made an amazing tea cake called Ciambellone. She made two versions, one was lemon & one was Nutella. She always made me the Nutella version whenever I was sad or upset. She knew I loved it since she used to give me fresh, crusty bread with Nutella as my snack after school. So, as I am waiting to try this bread pudding from Chef Said, I begin to smell it baking, I smell what I think is hazelnut & I smell the chocolate & I’m getting nostalgic. Finally, it’s done & I dig in.  Sure enough, my nose was right, it tasted just my aunt’s Nutella Ciambellone. I dropped my fork & sat there reminiscing about being a little girl again at my aunt’s little side kitchen table eating it right when it was still warm & the chocolate melted in my mouth as I told her about my bad day.   Sitting there eating this was one  of the best feelings I had in a long time. When he comes to check in on me, I ask for  the ingredients. How did he make this taste like her tea cake? I had to know. I can’t  give the whole list of ingredients, I think it’s only fair to the chef that I not reveal his entire process but I will give a few, which make me understand why it reminds me of home. He uses amaretto, hazelnuts (ah...I get it now), dark chocolate, fresh vanilla bean & other goodies I can’t share but I start to understand, based on the ingredients, why I love it so much. Again, I’m sad I can not eat the whole thing but he was able to give me a moment in time where I was home. That’s very special to me because I miss my home very much. As a side note, for our NEOFOODIES Wine Group, the Ripasso by the glass from Italy paired perfectly with this.

Overall, the key thing that I noticed throughout the meal was how perfectly balanced everything was. When dealing with Mediterranean dishes they can be both complex & simple. The key thing is finding the harmony of the two. That only comes from someone who lovingly takes the time to find it. For me, many of the flavor profiles are very familiar so I find comfort in his menu. However, I also learned quite a bit about other flavors I never would have considered together so that was nice.

Running NEOFOODIES we have tasted a lot of dishes & part of our passion comes from tasting & learning more, it’s what we love & we love sharing it with our members. What was also so nice to see was Chef Said come out frequently to greet the seated guests, introduce himself & check in on them, as did his partner Michael. They are very customer forward, aware & present to make sure everyone is pleased. I really admire that. Even when it really picked up, that made no difference. They didn’t skip a beat & the servers did an excellent job as well taking care of their tables.

Now for those of you sad to lose some of the staples of the original Standard, the chef has chosen to keep some of the old dishes for now as he transitions. Whether they will stay on permanently I do not know but for now, some of the dishes are still there.

The restaurant also will have several nights of live jazz & happy hour along with nightly dinner specials.

So what do I think of The Standard now? I really like it. There are few places I can honestly say take me back to a moment in time that was special for me. In an Italian home, food is love so some of my best memories are around food & family. I hold that sacred so I always go into trying certain foods with a critical eye & look for finding those moments. Who wouldn’t? All of us here on NEOFOODIES love to have that feeling, our common bond is our love of food, good food right?   You  won’t find a lack of good food on this menu. I believe it has a little something for everyone yet still reflects the chef’s Mediterranean background & stays true to who he is.

I like the new Standard. I like the atmosphere, the food is absolutely delicious & they have a great wine list. Both Chef Said & Michael are so personable, they make you feel at home right away & the staff is just as great as before, in fact no one was let go upon the sale. Everyone still had a job going in which I’m happy to hear. I’m also glad to see that us artists still have a good place to go to eat & that our fellow members can rediscover The Standard or, if you’ve never been, discover it for the first time.

I highly recommend coming in for yourself, you won’t be disappointed. The staff is  great, the food is wonderful & reasonably priced, Chef Said & Michael will welcome you with open arms, I think literally because again, Said is from Morocco & Michael is Sicilian, but that is just my cultural observation here. They also have a great bar atmosphere that I noticed got quite full later in the evening.  So go, whether it’s just for  a bite, a cocktail with friends, a nice romantic dinner, a friend get together, an NEOFOODIES event (which I’d like to do), a nostalgic moment, or just to go in by yourself, it’s worth it. Make The Standard your new Standard.

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Volume 10, Issue 3, Posted 2:41 PM, 03.10.2019