A formal restaurant review should be a good-faith attempt at applying process to evaluation. The reviewer should visit multiple times, experience service from different staffers, and make a serious dent in the menu in an effort to try all the specialties and ferret out the hidden gems. The reviewer should be asking himself if the kitchen’s execution is consistent and the floor staff knowledgeable about the menu and beverage list, not what he feels like eating. In fact, the best reviewers go with open minds and keep their own tastes and predilections on the sidelines.
What I’m doing here during this 30 Restaurants in 30 Days project is not formal reviewing. I visit once, eat what appeals and judge the meal solely on how well it lived up to my anticipation. This approach has its own merits, and it can get to a truth about the restaurant that I might not see when I’m wielding my reviewer’s fork.
Case in point: HD1. When I first wrote about Richard Blais’ “haute doggery” in Poncey-Highland,I gave it the review it deserved. The kitchen took creative liberties with the iconic tube steak, had fun with its punning menu and made some inventive dishes you wouldn’t try elsewhere. I didn’t love every bite, but I thought it succeeded with its stated mission to do for dogs what Blais’ Flip Burger Boutique managed to pull off with hamburgers.
One thing bothered me, though. My daughter, who eats more hot dogs than I do, wasn’t thrilled though she didn’t articulate why. As for me, I was never tempted to go back to HD1, even though I scratch the Flip itch occasionally. My gut told me something about the place never quite worked.
When I did again set foot inside HD1’s dark, starkly decorated dining room, I figured out why. With its high-top communal tables and hipster bar outfitted with craft canned beer, the restaurant feels like a destination. But a hot dog isn’t a destination meal the way a hamburger is. It’s a hunger that gets triggered — perhaps by the sight of a dirty-water Sabrett’s stand on a New York street corner, or at Turner Field, or even at a convenience store during a road trip down I-75.
Also, it’s not a gourmet food but because of that triggered hunger, you look for very specific details in the composition. You forgive the lousy bun at Turner Field because the dog hangs over the sides. New York dogs are all about the smell. I’ve only eaten a couple of Chicago-style dogs in my life, but it seems that all would be lost without the right kind of soft, eggy bun and neon green relish.
And so HD1 remains a restaurant that puts care and creativity into its cooking, and yet never manages to hit the hot dog button quite right. The kitchen now uses dense, smoky Patak franks, which is an improvement, though the once-boisterous list of sides is gone. You can get waffle fries, half-sour pickles, baked beans and a couple of salads — none of it in funky-weird Blais territory.
The kitchen still cooks a sous-vide carrot, pictured above tricked out with fried green tomatoes, chow chow, barbecue sauce and all kinds of sharp, pickley flavors vying for attention. I way preferred the red haute dog (in the center of the top picture) with beef chili and pimento cheese.
An Arnold Palmer soft serve ice cream for dessert was so sweet it made my throat itch.
As a reviewer I like this place and wish it well. As a sometimes hot dog aficionado, I might recommend the one at Manuel’s Tavern, just down the street. When the mood strikes, that’s the dog I’m looking for.