116 Crown, New Haven
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116 Crown ★★ (Very Good)
If 116 Crown were a car instead of a bar, it would be the 2009 Aston Martin DBS. Smoking-hot and cool as sleet, a class act in a class of its own. Please, no chrome. Velvet draperies separate the vestibule from the bar, but not to worry, the funk stops here. The bar itself is an OMG affair, a long, narrow slab of delicately veined marble illuminated from within. Like candlelight on pale skin. How sexy is that?
Along one wall a row of booths upholstered in strokable suede, and futuristic enough for the next James Bond, provides docking ports for your iPod if you can't drink without it. Beyond that and a few steps up, there's a dining room where stylishly set tables sport jet-black candelabra and sculptural tree branches trace patterns on the wall.
Hard to believe they serve food in this hip haunt, but that's what we're here to check out.
We settle in and contemplate the cocktail menu, which is a wild read. If you think "Church Key made with Aalborg akavit, passion-fruit purée, ginger syrup and apple cider foam" is far out, how about "NLT (King Pan Remix) with Grande Absente, lime juice, St. Germain elderflower liqueur served over solid Hitachino ginger nest beer. (Please allow 30 minutes for adequate dissolution.)"?
More straightforwardly, the menu informs us that 116 Crown's cocktails are made to order, all citrus juices are fresh-squeezed and all syrups house-made. Also, I have been told, all wines by the glass are from freshly opened bottles or cuvinet. We're here to eat but it seems churlish not to stop for a sip along the way. We sample a perfect Manhattan, a nice Argentinean chardonnay, and fall in love with a Kabuki-silver sake, pink grapefruit wedges, grenadine, lime juice and fresh mint.
My companions are an adventurous lot. They want to try everything. So do I, and we're in the right place. Small plates are the design plan. Lee orders "Radishes & Butter" because, she says, "Who would offer radishes and butter? It must be something special."
It isn't but in a way it is. Expecting something more complex, we are surprised to be served a crock of butter and a small plate of radishes, raw, totally undressed, ruby-red, flawless and delicious. Forget wasabi, these radishes are blissfully mild, clean-tasting, refreshing as well water in the mouth. All they need is a little, hmm, butter. I dab some on. Amazing. The butter is flecked with sea salt. The combination is Zen-like in its simplicity, but less is sometimes more.
But more is good, too. 116 Crown's spinach salad is a case in point. With tender baby leaves, finely diced red pepper, bright yellow corn kernels and a bold whole-grain mustard vinaigrette, it's a carnival on a plate.