Checkers Downtown: $4 Foie Gras & Caviar

By Tsz on April 2, 2010

Had an unexpected New York-esque experience tonight, mere blocks from work no less!

It all started this morning, when my boss forwarded me an email from Checkers promoting FOUR: a special happy hour event which occurs every Thursday where the kitchen creates 4 small dishes for $4 each and 4 mixed cocktails, also for $4 from 4-8p. This week featured champagne, foie gras and caviar—an irresistible combination—so right after work, we make a trek to Grand and 6th street.

Housed in the subdued gray Hilton Hotel in downtown, Checkers is a elegant dining room with a long and narrow layout, reminiscent of spaces in Manhattan. Shortly after finding seats, our server presented us with the FOUR menu. Since we were there for the whole experience—no dish were to be left behind.

We first started out with a champagne each, mine being the Axle Kiss—a Spanish Cava blended with Disaronno and creme de cassis. My boss went the classic route and ordered the Fellini: a sparkling wine paired with a trio of citrus from Limoncello, orange liqueur and Mandarin orange juice. Both were delicious.

1. Kurobuta Pork Belly with white bean cassoulet
The first dish, although a solid preparation of the classical French dish, was a bit disjointed. It was a bit like witnessing a couple on their first date. Upon the first taste, it appeared the pork was grilled and roasted on its own while the beans were stewed separately. The two parties seemed hesitant on mingling as they are just starting to get to know each other. It would be highly beneficial to the overall dish if the two components were cooked together for a little while—let them get comfortable so to say… maybe with a glass of bubbly?

2. Monkfish with roasted brussel sprouts and caviar buerre blanc
The monkfish on the other hand was like a power couple—truly a thing to behold. Crab-like in taste, the monkfish fillet was expertly cooked to perfection and drizzled with a luscious buerre blanc that suspended small briny beads of caviar. The slightly bitter roasted brussels sprouts were key in keeping the dish from getting too heavy and made it interesting. I went through two orders of this as it was just so good.

3. Foie gras “snow” with lychee and champagne gelee and pine nut brittle
I cringed immediately upon reading this on the menu as it was copied word-by-word from David Chang’s signature dish at Momofuku Ko with the exception of the use of champagne instead of riesling in the gelee. (Yes, being the food nerd that I am, I have his cookbook and had read it from cover to cover.)

Still, I was curious so I placed an order and inquired if Chef Todd Allison had worked with Chang. Within minutes, the chef came out and introduced himself. Turns out the culprit was his sous chef as Allison had no idea of who Chang was. We had a pleasant conversation about comfort food (his was roasted chicken—brined of course) and I realized the dish was nothing to get worked up about. After all, this was an opportunity to try Chang’s dish without flying cross country. And for only $4 no less.

The dish was a wonder to taste. The foie melted immediately upon making contact with my tongue, very much like actual snow flakes, albeit much more opulent. The brittle provided an unique counterbalance in sweetness and crunch—although the pieces could be much smaller. The gelee, with a strong presence of champagne vinegar was instrumental in keeping the dish from being too rich. This aptly-made copy fueled my curiosity of Ko… looks like a trip to New York is in order!

4. Pudding Chomeur: maple caramel bread pudding
Described as the “unemployed man’s pudding,” it was anything but poor. A generous layer of teeth-sticking maple caramel was soaked in a bread pudding that tasted as if it was made of muffins. Tasty, but oh so rich—a dish that is best shared.

Even with the designer knock-off foie, all the dishes tonight were solid and the drinks quite enjoyable. Added to the New York atmosphere and unbelievable prices, you can be sure I’ll be back for more.

Comments (4)

How did the sous chef explain ripping off Chang? Did he/she think that no one would notice?

He/she never came out to explain, which was major sketch. It's just bad practice in general. I can understand taking elements from someone else's dish and putting your own spin on it. Or, giving credit where it's due—like calling it Foie Gras a la Ko. But straight up jacking it and changing one tiny element? Not cool.

Perhaps the sous chef thought since Ko is on the East Coast so it's far enough that it's safe? But from the preparation and how Allison described the dish that they probably had the Momofuku cookbook at hand. And any chef with a cookbook published is well-known enough nationally. And that's not mentioning Chang has a James Beard Award.

I think I'm more worked up about it than I should because I'm in the arts industry—we don't look kindly upon plagiarism.

Calling this plagiarism is argumentative. How many restaurants serve tuna tartare? That "signature" belongs to Chaya's Shigefumi Tachibe and you don't see him complaining about it.

And it was $4, which buys you a cup of milk at Momofuk. The fact that the chef came out, to explain, and greet, again, for a menu featuring dishes that can't even buy a big mac combo, speaks volumes.

Tony, I see your point. Happy to report I've been back since already :D

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