It's not that he's a molecular gastronomist or anything; don't be expecting pistachio sponges with morel jelly & mandarin air. But whoever this Pete List fellow is (Googling his name as it appears, accompanied by the title of exec chef, on Beatrice & Woodsley's small-plates menu yields only results for some Brooklyn-based beatboxer, whom I'm assuming he isn't—which reminds me, there's a documentary I'm excited to see about a guy who went around the world meeting all the other guys that turned up when he Googled his own name), he's certainly taking enough risks—especially given the eatery's location smack in the middle of the Baker District, where it's surrounded on all sides by dives both legit & faux filled with sweet-potato-fry-eating, shot-pounding hipper-than-hipsters (not that I'm not down with shots & fries; au contraire, especially if you're buying)—to qualify as a low-level, local-class experimenter. And judging from my 1st meal here, he's clearly got the chops to pull off his mini-taste tests, from crawfish beignets with spicy powdered sugar to cauliflower gratin with shallot cream & pistachio crumbs.
His quirky repertoire is part classic French & part historico-regional American—think rillettes & ratatouille on the one hand, spoonbread & succotash on the other; intriguingly juxtaposed, they're simultaneously joined in their contemporary reimagination. Take the sweetbreads, my fave of the eve:
Constituting a bit of a culinary pun in that they were set atop wedges of chestnut-honey cake that soaked up their juices most satisfyingly, the little nuggets were as buttery as could be—that telltale if subtle twinge of iron flavor softened even further, perhaps, by the white-peony tea with which they were seasoned (I can't say I detected it otherwise).
The vegetable mousses were marvelous as well, a snappy dollop of fresh garbanzo offsetting the almost puddinglike nature of the carrot & parsnip; actually, given their garden sweetness, a sprinkling of sea salt on the matzohesque housemade crackers would have been a bonus.
Touches of pizzazz distinguished even the ubiquitous cheese plate, from hearty black-walnut bread to spiced pear slices & what we were told was mango jam but I'm sure was papaya, unless I'm developing the tropical-fruit equivalent of color blindness. At any rate it was super, like chunky punch.
By the time the braised pork belly arrived, I was pretty much in my cups, as this addled little composition shows.
Come to think of it, though, it's a fairly accurate image of what I tasted; I gobbled up those cute little potatoes & pickles & sort of forgot about the pork belly, which, as well as I can recall it, was perfectly adequate but didn't quite reach the crispy-edged, melting-centered benchmark set by Rioja.
Still, the only real disappointment was the stew of cod & cockles. Charming though it appeared,
the seafood was overwhelmed by too much housemade pancetta; only the brussels sprouts & cubed potatoes could stand up to its saltiness. Somehow I don't think "sprouts & spuds" would sell as well. Although seeing as how they've got the chutzpah to bill a dish of I'm guessing leafy greens as "market growies," I might humbly suggest it nevertheless.
All in all, I'm rooting loud & hard for this wacky joint.