March 9-15, 2006
For all those fans of Django who held their breath when they heard that Bryan Sikora and Aimee Olexy had departed and sold the restaurant to Greg Salisbury and Ross Essner of Rx fame, they can now exhale. There have been changes, but they're all for the better.
The new acoustic-damping floor and air conditioning are as obvious as the new coat of paint and paintings by local artists that line the walls. A slight hint of France comes into play in the French butter holders and the toothpicks on display in the redone restrooms, the handsome Laguiole knives and the amuse-bouche that starts every meal.
And, of course, it wafts its way onto the menu, along with Italian flavors and ingredients, and those from other cultures, like India in a "Kashmir trio." Goat cheese gnocchi plus smoked pork equals great. Tuna carpaccio imitates vitello tonnato with a veal and caper emulsion that's new, but the brioche-like bread still comes fresh from the oven in the accustomed flower pot. Visually, they are a delight as well.
Django, with its local purveyors and commitment to freshness, runs the risk of having the vegetables outshine the protein on the differently shaped white plates. Chestnut spaetzle and rutabaga purée with venison loin, sweet potato-confit terrine and caramelized salsify with the duck breast the list goes on. And for my last meal on earth I might have the mushroom-marrow bread pudding with the veal cheek "Bourgignonne"a sinfully, meltingly rich concoction of Essner's that would send me off to that better place with a smile.
Aside from the new, ergonomically correct wine glasses, the artisanal cheese plate should not be missed. The variety is staggering for such a small restaurant. Desserts receive the same imaginative attention that is evident in the rest of the meal. A cheese cake of goat cheese, dense and not too sweet, has an undertone of the barnyard, as does the terrific white truffle semifreddo. The first bite is earthy, the second is sweet and there are yummy candied pistachios and honey tuiles along with it. And they have kept the chocolate almond terrine with almond ice cream that was always a winner.
So, dear fans, you needn't have worried. Sikora and Olexy's baby has matured with grace. Sometimes, new owners can ruin a restaurant, but not Salisbury and Essner; they've kept up the tradition and put their own personal stamp on Django, and it still has me in thrall.
Django, 526 S. Fourth St., 215-922-7151.