By the power of Soren: A little culinary chaos can't hide the new Sorrel'sfarm-to-table charm
The "urban bistro" has stylishly reinvigorated the former Ziggy's space on an under-the-radar corner of West Alabama, and the neighborhood has embraced it. Walking in on a weeknight during primetime one is lucky to find an open table.
Chef Soren Pedersen keeps everything fresh, changing up the menu daily and listing local sources for his ingredients. But while that formula might imply a culinary minimalism, Sorrel's menu bursts with unexpected flavor pairings and complex presentations without feeling too heavy or serious.
And yet, the things that makes Sorrel interesting and delicious are the same factors that hold it back from real excellence.
There's the classic taste of scallops, seared perfectly and served with mandarin orange, a light citrus glaze and a bed of fresh greens and microgreens. A red snapper served with its crispy skin still attached literally fell apart on my fork, and played off a citrus-and-fennel-infused confit of tomato and leek beautifully.
A beautifully composed modern take on a taco featured chunks of beef tenderloin sandwiched between thin layers of crispy pita and apple. A subdued roast duck was outshone by a sublime bed of mashed sweet potatoes enlivened by a hint of jus. Vanilla crème brûlée can often come across as cloyingly sweet, but an infusion of black tea and some berries on top made for I-wish-I-could-lick-the-bowl perfection.
And yet, the things that makes Sorrel interesting and delicious are the same factors that hold it back from real excellence. It seems like for every dish that blows me away, there's another that's slightly but unmistakably flawed.
A squash blossom and shrimp casserole had a crunchy bread crumb topping and a warm, gooey texture that perfectly married two flavors of fall — except the garden of fresh squash blossoms and arugula on top was distracting overkill. A pork belly appetizer soared with a a rich, fatty flavor and enough salt to resemble a fancy snack food — but the fresh al dente green beans served with it came off as aggressively bland and mismatched. A juicy egg-topped burger was marred by a bun that was overly dry.
That kind of inconsistency is almost inevitable when the menu is in a constant state of flux — it's hard to perfect a dish when everything changes all the time. It's the kind of almost-but-not-quite-there potential that can drive a food critic mad.
But that's also part of the fun — Pedersen isn't afraid to take risks, and they usually pay off.