Who knows how long white monochrome has been the international code for chic design, but Veil, the much-hyped new Queen Anne restaurant, clings to the ethos. Even from its exterior, Veil is vexingly blank: It's obscured, yes veiled, with translucent drapes that from the outside look like fog. The dining room is a pale seamless vision with gauzy lighting and fixtures that seem to float: It is hard to tell where its many scrims end and walls begin. Almost everything is some variant on white: the banquettes, the pettable Corian tabletops, the molded plastic chairs.
Design—of the room, of the menu, of the food itself—is the ace in the hole at Veil. The effect is very classy and a little chilly. Add to that the indifferent welcome from the hostess, and I start my meal feeling a little iced out. Fortunately our server in her cat-eyed glasses brings a little bit of sparkle to our dinner, and steers me to a great cocktail, the Devil's Bouquet ($9), a clever ginny thing flavored with peppermint and chamomile, with a couple of dried blossoms floating around in it just for fun. My pals go for gin fizzes ($9), also excellent, each as fluffy as a newborn chick. (I should mention that Veil has a sizable lounge, and that there was much well-groomed flirting even as the restaurant was winding down.)
Because Veil is design-forward, there are several annoying little affectations on the menu—calling dishes "introductions" and "conclusions" rather than appetizers and desserts, naming the foie gras "The Foie Gras" and serving it with peanut butter and jelly sauces ($19). You can tell chefs like Veil's Shannon Galusha are getting bored with seared foie gras, gracing it with increasingly provocative-sounding garnishes. In this case, the liver shares the peanut butter's mouth-coating richness, so the combo makes a certain kind of sense, but the whimsy still seems stretched.
Frankly I'm more interested in green salad ($8); and I think you can measure Veil's potential in theirs. It is arranged in a lofty rosette so pretty I want to pin it on my blouse. (It also breathes life into the tired old goat cheese salad by placing the lettuces atop a pool of melting cheese—garnish becomes dressing, and salad seems new again.) Other details are also well-attended to: Through some cook's heroic straining effort, briary artichokes have been forced into a flawless puree ($9), while a cube of cured salmon sits prettily in a pastel garden of citrus segments ($10).
Galusha has an affection for peasant meats, odd bits of cow and pig that are yummy, even if the presentation is precious. Slurp-tender beef cheeks ($11) from lazy Kobe-style cows might seem too yielding to stack, and yet there they sit, in a Jenga master's pile surrounded by acres of white porcelain. A ham-hock salad of potatoes and green beans is a tasty, almost bistro-style treat ($11). But a fillet of striped bass ($27) topped with a wig of sumptuous shredded oxtail was easily my favorite entrée. Curiously enough, the dish was one of three meat-and-seafood combos on the menu that night: a semi-Iberian, semi–Thomas Keller trend I've been noticing around town. Has oxtail become the new beurre blanc?
Sometimes the extremely composed nature of Veil's food gets in the way. Duck breast ($23)—from a drake, we're told—is stacked like so many poker chips while pink slices of lamb ($29) teeter atop a raft of celery-root matchsticks. Both meats are delicious—the duck in a slightly licorice-y reduction, the lamb topped with bits of dried tomato—but both have also cooled to room temperatures, the victims, perhaps, of too much meticulous stacking.
We finish up with desserts that both explore nostalgic ingredients with a Tom Cruise–like intensity. First there was salted-peanut ice cream ($8) served atop a homemade Nutter Butter in a pool of smooth, unrelenting peanut sauce. Then there was a tiny cylinder of banana cake ($8), topped with a quenelle of banana ice cream and a smooth unrelenting banana sauce.
There is no doubt that Veil is elegant, but everything from the bathroom doors to the espresso cups seems awfully calculated. Somewhere along the line, I hope it becomes fun, too.