When I was a kid, my mom would sometimes treat us to a delicacy called baked Alaska. The way mom made it, it was little more than a thin brownie with deep-frozen ice cream on top, covered in meringue and caramelized with flambeed creme de menthe, but to me, it was the height of foodie elegance.
But baked Alaska fell out of favor for a long stretch, even in nice restaurants. That’s the way culinary traditions are — something groundbreaking (molten lava cake!) becomes cliche and even evidence of stodginess.
But classics can always make comebacks, which is what chef Scott Gottlich is doing at his Second Floor concept in the Galleria. Gottlich first captured my attention when he opened Cafe Toulouse, complete with savory French bistro fare, and then at his phenomenal Bijoux in the Inwood Village, which turned high-end French-style cuisine into a local event. He enjoys playing with classics for new audiences — which he’s doing, with his new chef de cuisine Ryan Barnett, just through the weekend at The Second Floor.
The very-reasonable three-course prix fixe ($55) tasting there includes his take on baked Alaska (honestly, way better than my mom’s), as well as familiar items like French onion soup in traditional preparation (rich, with a hearty beef-and-sherry broth, baguette crostini and drippy Swiss cheese), but also modern takes on old standbys. The oysters Rockefeller aren’t overgrow with thick dollops of spinach, but are instead vibrantly finished with a kelly-green puree and aromatic parmesan. Like baked Alaska, steak Diane is one of those dishes everyone ordered in the 1950s and no one has since the 1980s. Gottlich’s vision, though, is a thick-cut filet tip ensconced in a country mustard peppercorn sauce; my dining companion, an experienced foodie, declared it one of the best-cooked steaks he’s ever had. I’m already a big fan of lamb, and the delicate rack here has an intoxicating gaminess (get it medium rare; the medium cook was a little too much).
In addition to the baked Alaska, the cambanzola en croute is a savory baked cheese in phyllo pastry. And there is, of course, creme brulee — one of those over-seen classics of the aughts that we can’t get away from. But why would you want to get away from any of this? Good ideas endure, especially when the execution is as thoughtful as here.
(At The Second Floor, through Oct. 23. Also available with optional wine pairings, or enjoy one of the signature cocktails like a grilled margarita or Kentucky mule.)