Virgin Fire? Left me Cold
Well, this was the least successful meal of our trip. Perhaps because it was a Sunday. Maybe because I had raised my expectations too high. The Virgin Fire chef had worked with Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston--one of my favorite chefs. I dunno? Regardless of reason this was a disappointing meal and experience.
In the restaurant’s defense; I had arrived at least one half hour early. I had misjudged the time it would take to find a cab and travel from Caneel. We were directed to the empty bar for drinks. It took a short while to get the bartender’s attention, but she was very nice once we had it. No sooner had our drinks arrived than our table was ready. We had a choice of in or out. After some hemming and hawing we settle on an outside table.
As we pick up our drinks we are told that we had to settle up with the bar before we could be seated.
Digression: Sometimes this practice benefits the owner/manager, sometimes the waitstaff, sometimes the bartender, sometimes the POS system and sometimes all of the above. But I can assure you that the one person it NEVER benefits is the client/diner/guest. I leave it to those who may reading along to ponder and sort out that last statement. I find it mildly annoying and note that Virgin Fire is not the only establishment that maintains the practice.
The Food: It is an interesting menu. I note that and here is where I add that I would like to have sampled more of it, especially some of the apps. Also, to be fair, this review must be taken within the context of a single visit with a somewhat limited dining experience and I will only comment on the dishes we ate and the service that we experienced.
My wife had eaten Mahi-Mahi on three separate occasions during this visit to St John. It is her new favorite fish. I asked her to rank them. She liked them all. But suffice to say that somebody has to finish last and it was Virgin Fire. Not that it is bad, just that there is better to be had.
I ordered the Himalayan Salt Block with shrimp, tuna and beef. It comes with three small ramekins of dipping sauces. Ponzu and I don’t remember the others. Thai red chili maybe and something else. My waiter suggested I order it for two (single 12, double 24) as that would make a more suitable main course. So I did.
My reaction upon being served; “Is that a DOUBLE order?” “Oh yes.” came the response. It was barely a decent appetizer.
2 maybe 3 slacked PDQ/IQF shrimp split through down the middle. About 26-30 in size (maybe 21-25), but hardly what I would call “jumbo”, even in my wildest imagination. A pretty long putt that.
4 slices of sinewy Tuna that looked as if cut from a tail.
4 slices of very thin slivers of beef.
I could read the New York Times through the slivered Tuna and Beef, but that was the nature of the dish. You quickly cook this raw product on a hot brick of salt and dip it in the sauce. It’s kind of gimmicky and certainly a triumph of style over substance…Well, maybe not so triumphant and decidedly light on substance.
Restaurant financials are based on much more than raw food cost and I tend to avoid that road, but given this silly portion size and even on St John; the COGs had to be in the single digits. That’ll make for a pretty good margin. However marginalized my stomach was in the process.
So I’m still hungry. We ask if we could order a wedge salad. That should be fast. My wife is also in a salad mood so we ask if we can split that wedge.
The answer? “No”. After my quizzical look the waiter says, “But I can bring you a sharing plate.”
“Okay” I tell the waiter. I’m capable of splitting a salad at the table myself. When I saw the salad and noted its average presentation; I wondered why it couldn’t be split in the kitchen. Who knows? Maybe someone in the back was feeling particularly uncooperative with the front. I didn’t see how splitting a wedge salad that looked as unremarkable as this was going to sully or mar any sort of magnificently constructed presentation. I chalked it up to one more bit of culinary silliness.
More Silliness: The forgotten bread. We asked for it when that wedge salad came. A warm piece of brioche that reverted to its old stale self once the warmth wore off. Some strange sweet cold butter accompanied it. We inquired. Honey from a local apiary.
I’m all for a good locovore angle, but better to serve it apart from the butter. The mix-in doesn’t work when its refrigerator cold and nothing will elevate stale bread.
Service was polite but very slow. Particularly when there is needy four-top ordering drinks, bottles of wine and mounds of food. I was just a cheap deuce with a 78 dollar check (before tip). I appreciate a waiter needing to take care of a potential good tipping table, but a good waiter would also keep me from noticing that.
It wasn’t a horrible night. Maybe a 2 star TA rating if I were to post there. We will remove Virgin Fire from the rotation. My time on St John is short and there are better choices, so why go looking for disappointment when it can so easily find you on its own.