I've always meant to go to Conduit more than I've managed to, which is hardly at all. Might be something about the name: It's always sounded more like a professionally named corporate finance/tech/insurance kind of business (Intuit, Agilent, etc) than a place I'd go to tickle my gastronomic senses. Nevertheless, the other night I made it in for a thorough and overdue visit and found it to live up to all the hype.
As any good meal should be preceded by a aperitif, I ushered in what I expected to be an excellent meal with two and a half cocktails, thanks to the generosity and overall virtuosity of Conduit's barman, Reza Esmali. A fixture on the scene for years, Reza has been one of my favorites since I met him back in his Pesce days, where he was a convivial and gentlemanly presence as bartender, maitre d', sommelier and meal consultant. Though he's a masterful bartender--which he proved last night with several drinks both on the menu (the potentially hallucinatory absinthe and tequila drink "The Hub") and off (the Rosebud, which fused rose water, gin and other lovelies)--Reza has always been concerned with the total restaurant experience, not just the bar. So in the spirit of harmony and balance, wine often comes into contact with spirits in Reza's drinks and the inevitability of food is always a preoccupation of his, so cocktails tend to work with food. I also particularly love the fact that Conduit is offering "Recession Recreation" classic cocktails like the Moscow Mule and Rob Roy at the no-brainer price of $6.
The wine list, written by GM Brian Gavin is free flowing and capacious, yet also manages to be concise. As someone at my table commented, "I've seen book-length wine lists where not one thing has tempted me, and then one page lists like this one where I want one of everything." In that spirit, we ordered one of each of the apps, but kept our wine selections a bit more modest, starting with the Soter rosé sparkling wine from Oregon, one of the best domestic bubblies on the market. We followed it with a Grüner Veltliner from Nigl, one of the top 5 producers of Austria. It was a good deal at only $46. Alas, we didn't get to order a red, as a member of our party had brought in a couple of special bottles. But if we had ordered one, I probably would have gone with one of the excellent selections of domestic Pinot available--a Freeman, a Failla or a Melville, perhaps.
And, yes, we ate. As I stated, one each of the apps, so that was Fish & Chips, scallops, beet salad, little gems, etc. All so good that they were devoured before I even finished my Champagne. Given that the wine brought in was my first look at the cult Napa Cabernet called Meteor (more on that down the road), I went with a steak for my main. It was classic--with mashers, spinach, and a demi glace--but cooked perfectly and very satisfying.
My food high lasted well past the taxi ride home. In fact, it took several hours to wear off, as its ultimate departure woke me inconveniently at about 4 AM. But I'll be going back to Conduit for more of that in the near future.