It's a little distracting trying to eat while a whole goose is being carried aloft on a platter behind you. And when the about-to-be-served bird is beribboned, nesting in a bed of roses, and impaled between its wings with two knives, well, if you're not craning your neck, you're jaded indeed—as it appears the bejeweled ladies about to be tempted with the fowl are. They can't even be bothered to set down their goblets.
The murals that Scott Simpson inherited with the low-ceilinged space for his new restaurant, Fork, depict scenes of royalty from a Pushkin fairy tale, and being inside this corner of the historic Loveless building is like entering a nouveau-deco coloring-book dreamworld. Visitors bear gifts, guards wield battle-axes, the aforementioned goose confronts the indifferent duchesses. Installed in a high-backed, heavy, dark-stained chair with a chocolate-colored napkin in your lap, you're kingly, reveling by candlelight in your winter lodge. A gas fireplace even flickers (in front of an alcove that houses a full selection of spirits, should your highness tire of the fine wine and brew selection).
It could hardly be further from Simpson's former endeavor, the kitschy home of upscale comfort food called Blue Onion Bistro, located in a converted gas station. And while Fork's menu comforts, it also surprises and challenges, shows a sense of humor, sustains and surfeits.
In the humor-plus-surfeit category, take the "Lobster 'Corn Dogs,'" ($14) a compellingly over-the-top, spectacularly decadent flop. Admirably crisp, light corn batter overwhelms a core of delicate lobster that comes off like a bland seafood sausage or the center of a dim-sum shrimp puff. It's not terrible, especially with stone-ground mustard aioli, but it is a waste of lobster (and money) that only the aristocratic could disregard. "Risotto Pops" ($8) make a superior choice for fancy and fried; enriched with truffle, they're a creamy, idealized version of New York pizzeria arancini, served on greens with paper-thin slices of radishes that take a nice liking to a citrus vinaigrette. Share or risk gorging yourself—same goes with a sumptuous warm goat-cheese tart starter ($11), a custardy mousse of cheese over a layer of moist, smoky duck confit in a majestic pastry shell. (The tiny biscuits in the breadbasket are also superlative.) A little stack of sliced Asian pear with spinach leaves provides a break from the richness, while dredging the tart through an ornamental ring of balsamic and pear purée makes it, if possible, even better.
Whole unplucked goose is not available, and Fork's take on chicken ($21) is far from a simple roasting. Presented on a long, white parallelogram of a plate is a pretty, puzzlelike row of shapes—from left to right, a cleverly stacked, tender breast; two braised-sweet cipollini onions, also piggyback; a deboned chicken leg stuffed with a duck/prosciutto mixture; and a round cake of stuffing, studded with currants. If this doesn't make you feel spoiled, not much will. The stuffing is a little fruitcakey (currants plus citrus equals Christmas), but an entrée of onion brioche bread pudding ($16) goes another direction: savory and lush, it's a winter treat of the highest magnitude. It sits surrounded by a moat of softened bits of leek and earthy hedgehog mushrooms, ever so lightly flavored with Parmesan. God! It is good, even without meat. In the carnivorous department, confit of Kurobuta pork ($19) may be a bit tough, but its bed of beluga lentils has the great bacon/vinegar punch of Southern greens, and its Thumbelina carrots are sweetness and cuteness incarnate.
At dessert, Fork might bake more; the miniature butter cookies that sandwich house-made marshmallows for upper-crust s'mores ($6) overshadow all else. A lemon concoction ($6), while sporting a nice Don King–type crown of browned meringue, lacks tartness utterly, while chocolate lava cake ($6) just oozes unexcitingly.
Service could stand some seasoning; one very sweet server forgot a drink order and then pulled a disappearing act, apparently to deal with a huge table of feasters. Conscripted to fill in, another answered requests with "Cool!"—not so regal. On a different visit, questions were met with bluffing, yet unctuous upselling was not in short supply. Fork's still new—hopefully the royal treatment's on its way.