Many restaurateurs and chefs alike have asked themselves over the years, “What makes Pete Wells tick?” Judging by his review of Bâtard, it seems to be expertly executed and expressive cooking.
Wells begins this week’s review by detailing chef Markus Glocker’s stellar culinary pedigree, as he worked under Heinz Reitbauer in Vienna, Gordon Ramsay in both New York and London, and is an alum of Charlie Trotter’s flagship in Chicago. His experience with these demanding chefs has honed his razor-sharp execution of his own dishes, but as the restaurant critic points out, “Technical prowess is a fine thing for a chef to have, but it’s no guarantee of memorable, expressive cooking… you need to have something to say.”
Glocker apparently has a lot to say, and Pete Wells is definitely picking up what he’s laying down, assuring readers that “he says [what he has to say] clearly and with charm.” He is quite taken with the chef’s cooking, and believes he is churning out dishes that far surpass his peers’ offerings, evident first in his description of Glocker’s pea soup: “springtime-sweet bowl of minted pea soup with fried sweetbreads that seemed more flavorful than anybody else’s sweetbreads.” He extolls Glocker’s superiority again when detailing one of the desserts, caramelized milk bread with berries and brown-butter ice cream: “It looks like the simplest thing in the world, but if it’s so simple, why isn’t everyone making it?”
Although clearly smitten with the chef’s talent, Wells does find the restaurant strikes a few off-key notes; the space can get noisy, and “If the bare tables and floors weren’t enough to raise the decibel level, the amount of drinking going on would;” the sommelier needs to broaden the price range of his wine list — specifically, it “ needs more bottles under $60, no matter where they come from;” Glocker is stretched a bit thin and needs a more complete staff because while some desserts were great, others were “not so good that the restaurant can do without a full-time pastry chef forever;” and Wells thinks they need to work on the presentation of the cheese selection, allowing that “Mr. Winterman, the general manager, has put together a lovely little cheese cart, although he hasn’t figured out how to show it off… The cheeses are much too good to be stranded on a landlocked cart.”
These are minor wrinkles, however, in Wells’ experience of Bâtard. They certainly do not eclipse the evidence that Glocker has what it takes to win over the restaurant critic, who leaves no doubt about his admiration of the chef’s capabilities. In Wells’ own words: “The complexity of Mr. Glocker’s plates never blurs the focus of his flavors. Every drop of sauce and pinch of seasoning extracts some new pleasure out of the main ingredient. There is joy in his cooking.”