Around the corner from Clifton’s Esquire Theatre, Postmark takes over a spot that has seen restaurants come and go in the last few years. As I wrote in last month’s “Best New Restaurants,” though, this establishment shows no signs of going anywhere. Chef Brad Bernstein and Sommelier Devon Barrett have clearly learned their craft well at Oakley’s Red Feather, and their second restaurant served up an extraordinary meal.
Then, as it does each season, the menu changed almost entirely. There are always a few twists on American classics—Steak Diane, for example—but the focus remains on Old World classics marked by subtlety and restraint. “Farmhouse refined” is how they describe it. In this style of cooking, innovation is rarely the goal; you look for familiar flavors, but deepened by proper execution and a respect for the quality of ingredients. When done right, and things usually are at Postmark, these dishes are profoundly satisfying. On a night when everything clicks, Postmark is simply great. When it clicks every night, it will rank with the city’s superstars.
I should begin with what does not change. Service is impeccable—knowledgeable, elegant, and confident, from pacing a complex meal marked by several small plates to accommodating last-minute requests. We showed up early, then asked to change tables, then forgot items of clothing at our old seat (not to test them, but because I am scatterbrained), and the staff handled it all with grace.
The wine list is also notable for its reliability, from the off-menu pour that the server recommended with the halibut—a Château Ducasse Bordeaux Blanc, a mixture of mostly sémillon and sauvignon blanc, a dry, faintly melonlike delight that had me scribbling notes on the receipt to remember to find a bottle myself—to the Brocard Chablis, a lovely organic wine, nicely balanced and subtle. Every pour felt carefully curated and close to the sommelier’s heart; there wasn’t an average glass in the bunch. If wine is at all important to you, Postmark is worth a trip just for the discoveries.
Several dishes showed Postmark’s ability to keep learning and growing. I loved the duck, an improvement on the oversweet version from the fall menu: al dente du Puy lentils complemented the soft, fatty duck, and the swirl of sauce on the plate, reminiscent of Thai chili sauce, was poised between sweet and spicy. The Steak Diane was a satisfying take on a classic, with a crispy cloud of frizzled leeks (a Red Feather staple) adding flavor and texture. The chicken, with its capers and creamy grits, shows what “farmhouse refined” can be at its best, with chips of root vegetables adding an elegant, crunchy note to this rustic, stewpot-on-the-fire kind of dish. And dessert, which is merely good in most places, is really good here. The bourbon pecan pie is gorgeously made, with a sense of where to limit sweetness so you can taste all of its components. It’s the perfect way to end a good meal.
One notices (and laments) the mistakes, though, because Postmark sets the bar so high. After that first meal, I was always hoping for perfection in each dish. The charcuterie plate is an example of what Postmark does so well, and also the little ways in which they can still improve. The meats, from coppa to prosciutto, are made in-house, as are the pickles—I remember the cauliflower with turmeric, and the addictively sweet-and-sour cippolini onions. All of this wonderful stuff, though, was served with a thick, rock-hard flatbread, an utterly unsatisfactory complement to the rest of the board.
In each piece of charcuterie, I could taste the investment of time and love; in other dishes, though, I missed them. French onion soup is one of those restaurant bellwethers for me. It is an easy soup to make pretty good, and a hard to soup to make great. Has the kitchen taken the time (roughly an hour) to get the onions sugary-black, and develop the depth of flavor that makes this soup so satisfying? That’s what you expect in a restaurant of this caliber, and I couldn’t taste that level of care in Postmark’s bowl.
Impeccably executed dishes came most of the time, like the steak tartare with its creamy quail egg and sharp bite of raw onions and mustard, or the shrimp scampi with its chermoula-like saffron aioli, but that just highlighted the slips. The mushroom risotto, for example, had been made far too sour, possibly by reducing too much wine into it. The goat cheese brûlée, with orange juice added to a balsamic vinaigrette, plus citrus and pomegranate, again felt tart and imbalanced, and not the best vehicle for showing off a lovely cheese (the quality of ingredients at Postmark is always beyond reproach). And my halibut entrée, which was served with such an excellent wine, was seared in butter so oversalted that I couldn’t taste the tarragon puree painted across the plate—or much of anything else, really. When a dish costs $36, you really cannot make mistakes like this, even on rare occasions.
As with dates, one tends to notice wonders on first acquaintance, then flaws, finally (one hopes) achieving a kind of happy balance. Postmark is very, very good—on occasion, it even approaches the heights of food in this city—but it is still getting a handle on the grueling business of being consistent night after night, menu after menu. I am excited to keep tasting as it tries for perfection, though, because Postmark is one of the rare places that has a chance of getting there.
3410 Telford St., Clifton, (513) 281-3663, postmark.restaurant
Dinner Tues–Thurs 5–9 pm, Fri–Sun 5–10 pm
$10 (French onion soup)–$36 (seared halibut)
Serving an ever-changing menu of “farmhouse refined” favorites, Postmark strives for perfection—and has a shot at getting there.