Hot and wet. In three words: a summary of our recent weather, which has led to a resurgence of mosquitos, will-sapping levels of humidity, rampant mold and mildew, minor street flooding, and other typically mid-summer ills, including the near-constant need to mow the lawn. Everywhere I turn, it’s heat and humidity, or heat and stupidity; one is just as bad as the other.
Since an escape trip to Maine or San Francisco isn’t in my summer plans, I ran off to soothe myself at Restaurant August’s $20.11 prix fixe lunch special. I sat in August’s dark-paneled bar. It is cool and quiet on weekdays, separated from the dining room by a wall of windows–a perfect spot for solo dining and people-watching.
The prix fixe menu offers three seasonally-appropriate choices in each of three courses. On a recent visit, I began my meal with watermelon gaspacho, which arrived as a brunoise of watermelon and tomatoes, crowned with canteloupe balls the size of petits pois and shoots of basil and mint. A server filled the bowl tableside with a piquant watermelon soup, poured from a silver pitcher.
Two spoons in, the hot mess beyond the restaurant’s front door faded into memory, helped along by housemade bread and stellar soft butter.
My second course choices included sheepshead, pork belly, and brandade. While I would ordinarily jump at pork belly, it was just…too…damn…hot. So I opted for the fish, in part because it fit one of my favorite fine-dining forms: a nice piece of fish over vegetables. (I’m a sucker for any sort of fresh fish presented over plant matter, no matter the culture or cuisine.)
The pan-roasted sheepshead arrived, resting atop a round of Silver Queen corn custard and crowned with a sprig of deep purple opal basil. Surrounding the fish were summer flavors and colors: peeled tricolor cherry tomatoes, avocado, thin haricots verts, blackeyed peas, shaved radishes, and bacon together in an herbed butter. The dish tasted and looked as bright as a midday summer sky, with the tomatoes’ acidity providing counterpoint to the buttery fish and delicate corn custard. The tender, subtle sweet corn custard was a bit lost under it all, though a few more bites of custard might have changed my opinion.
When I first looked at the menu, I doubted that my heat-flagged appetite could possibly see me through dessert, but August’s portions are appropriately luncheon sized. I opted for the Celeste fig tart (of course, and I can’t even remember the other choices offered), served with bourbon ice cream, a wisp of caramel sauce and creme anglaise, and a few mint-crowned stewed figs. An enclosed pastry case covered a near-flowing fig center. (Oddly, the dessert course seemed “full-size” rather than scaled down for lunch service, but I’m not complaining about a generous dessert portion. Ever.)
Yes, all of this for $20.11. It comes to $22.90 after taxes, before tip. Cheaper than a plane ticket to Newfoundland, and every bit as restorative on a ridiculously hot day. Try it yourself and see…