Last night Angel and I ate dinner at What Happens When, an ingenious restaurant installation that transforms menu, design, and sound every 30 days for the next 9 months. I’ve been anticipating a place such as WHW, a food venue that smartly combines art and consumption, a thoughtfully curated concept between what we eat and how we experience eating at any given moment. Luckily, I did not leave disappointed, grateful for a meticulously well crafted fine dining experience.
Naturally we are currently experiencing the absolute dead of winter so their theme is around ice and the arctic. White tables, white chairs, skimpy white wooden roof structures, white ladders, and sculptural multi-bulbed white lights are set up within an oversized 1:1 scaled plan of a restaurant. The contrast with the black walls and the waitstaff clad in black made for a hyper minimalistic set up that was almost too simple for comfort. I felt I was in this eerie dream state dining inside an oversized hyper simplified Ikea playhouse.
I loved that they had proper table linens and mats, proof that you were experiencing a fine dining kind of experience. The staff was uber friendly, accommodating, knowledgeable, and presentable. I loved that each dish was given a title, a description, and point of direction: “The amuse bouche starting from your right is white bean soup with blah blah blah, something dip with blah blah blah, and ants on a log with blah blah blah.” So carefully constructed, so thoughtfully executed. WHW sets the standard for how eating at a restaurant should always be.
The sound installation did creep me out a bit. It’s a two hour loop of tidbits recorded from a variety of sources, whether its an orchestra tuning in prep for a concert or snow falling off plastic trees. It was eerie and ominous and between hearing that and see all the waitstaff (there was like one per table!) I felt I was in some dreamy not-as-threatening twilight zone.
I LOVED that they welcomed us with a complimentary glass of prosecco, amuse bouche, AND garlic knots. I mean, what restaurant does that!! LOVE!!!
But perhaps I just rarely eat at fine restaurants. I mean, our check cost us $94 each, it’s NOT that cheap, but it seems so much more accessible and within my realm than any other $58 prix fixe doting restaurant could offer. That I was swooned by the service and set up, standard restaurant protocol, means then that I should invest in the restaurants I attend and expect the most out of places, rather than the usual vice versa.
The Nordic themed menu was spare in offerings, keeping in with simplicity. Angel asked if we should share an appetizer, and I swiftly responded “It’s a $58 prix fixe menu, we are NOT sharing.” I helped myself to the potato skins with what beer fondue, pickled sausage, and sorrel. I seem to notice a ROUNDNESS theme, between the round serving plates and bowls, the round lights, the round glasses, and obviously, the round presentation of the food. I was boggled by how the potato skins were half-cylinders with a hollow middle. They must be small fingerling potatoes, painfully extracted of its innards and crisped to a delightful crunch. The fondue and pickled sausage was slightly too tart and sour for my taste but it was nicely complimented by the bitterness of sorrel.
I apologize the pictures are all wacked out and over-photoshopped. I took them from my iphone alternating between flash and no-flash and it was the best I could do. Again, I’m feeling more and more self-conscious about photographing my food at restaurants lately and don’t want to come off as an invasive douche. Just wait until I get my Canon 5D, everyone will think I’m a professional food critic or something. I’ll be UNSTOPPABLE.
My main was a bit simple to a fault. Medium rare medallions of lamb loins sitting on a bed of cooked barley, chestnuts, and leeks, topped off with crunchy little sprouts. The meat wasn’t dressed enough, I was tempted to ask for salt. There were maybe 2 chestnuts on my plate, I was tempted to ask for more. I’m not accustomed to eating lamb much so am not sure if it’s supposed to be that chewy. It was laborsome, especially considering I have bronchitis and hate swallowing. Also the barley was a bit anti-climactic. It had the nice gratifying pop but lacked distinctive flavor. Despite it all it was perfectly portioned (I HATE being forced to eat too much, and yes, I am forced when its plopped in an unnecessarily giant pile in front of me), and didn’t necessarily taste bad at all. Just simple to a fault.
Angel’s main was definitely the winner between the two of us: Guinea hen (it was cute Angel kept asking how to pronounce guinea, it’s a funny word!) with buckwheat crepe, carrots, and radicchio. I certainly didn’t expect buckwheat crepe to be the star of the plate but it was so incredibly flavorful, dense, juicy, and meaty. It doesn’t look very appetizing, it’s almost purple, but it was SO good. The meat was moist and salty and the vegetables provided a nice crunch. I envied his plate.
I LOVED how WHW presented dessert. A lovely young lady rolled up with a cart stocked with pudding, chocolate tart, marshmallows, and other delectably sweet concoctions. I was in heaven. We went straight for the rice pudding with marmalade (I think it was clementine) and chocolate tart. The tart was very soft and pudding like with a crunchy grahamy crust. The marshmallows seems to have been slightly toasted, I wonder if it’s housemade? The pudding was the winner in this field, chewy and homey, the marmalade a great compliment to a simple base, the crunch of thin wafers made it complete.
Overall, it was a great, pleasant, fantastic fine dining experience. There were flaws in the menu and installation but it’s nothing compared to what we let some restaurants get away with. Seriously, this place has raised the bar and I will no longer expect any less from restaurants from what WHW presented ever so thoughtfully.