In Schwa's teeny dining room—just 13 tables in front of a window to the kitchen—theres nowhere to hide, especially when Michael Carlson, the chef himself, is one of your servers. "This has been the weirdest day," he announced at one point, brandishing a bottle of wine left behind by another table. "We had, like, 20 cancellations, so weve been drinking since five!" He then launched into a story about the provenance of his free-range antelope—apparently, the beasts are dispatched by sharpshooters from a helicopter and butchered on the spot. Tableside narratives, delivered with Carlsons infectious enthusiasm (dude!), have been part of Schwas charm since it opened in 2005, and no doubt will always be. But it's still the food that's extraordinary. Carlson and his kitchen crew fuse cutting-edge culinary preparations—bay leaf gelee, sea urchin ice cream, translucent sheets of Thai ginger and mustard—to meticulously deconstructed presentations, yet the results are surprisingly unprecious: its your taste buds that respond, not your inner chemist. Currently a nine-course prix fixe menu is on offer, but good luck reaching anyone to make a reservation. Standouts on my last visit, though, included an early dish pairing bites of quick-pickled Jonah crab with celery root puree and banana brioche, and a rich, deeply satisfying soup of Chimay-washed cheese topped with Chimay emulsion and served with a warm pretzel knot, a swoosh of dill coulis, and the aforementioned mustard sheet. Then there was the antelope—as tender as rare Kobe sirloin and served in two preparations, sous vide and as a ragout. But the best dish of the night? A daring dessert of parsnip terrine served with candied veal sweetbreads, passion-fruit puree, lavender foam, and an ice-wine-and-vinegar caramel. Salty, savory, sweet, and deliriously complex, it shoots for the moon and succeeds by confounding every expectation. Sort of like Schwa itself.
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