We pinky promised not to blog again until we ate at Schwa and well, unluckily for you, it happened.
114 days since our first cancelled reservation at Gwyneth Paltrow’s favorite BYOB restaurant, we arrived overfloweth with booze and a wad full of cash, just in case Z-bar loving chef Michael Carlson was holdin’. Felt’s second album (Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) greeted us as we walked in off the ice-covered sidewalk of Ashland, serving as a fitting backdrop for a serious meal that’s not to be taken too seriously.
Schwa is kind of a shithole and we don’t mean that in no nice way. A yellowing awning hangs above a steel-grate protected door, perhaps a way of keeping those poor souls who haven’t had three reservations cancelled on them out of the dimly lit, dip-dye painted dining room adorned by little more than CB2 plates and Ikea ferns. The kitchen is a collection of bad hair days, unidentified aromas and, as with any good BYO, serves as a necessary portal to the precariously elevated and over-lacquered bathroom.
The service, if you care to call it that, is often like watching a dress rehearsal for a junior high play. Plates are hastily brought out by the cooks with the aforementioned bad hair days, rotated and rearranged until just-about-right in front of the diner. Silverware will be dropped. And, as this is “an election year,” you’ll be required to pair and pour all of your own wines.
But none of that matters.
You don’t go to Schwa for niceties, you go to Schwa for a party. (You’ll choose between a $115 tasting menu and a $55 three-course option. More importantly, you don’t go to Schwa for the three-course option.) Technically the menu lists ten courses, including an amuse. But if the kitchen likes you (bring them enough beer and there’s no reason they won’t) it’ll be more like fourteen. And as Slug crooned over the speakers “my nature is to make you a believer, on your stereo receiver or your barely legal beaver,” the service began, erasing any skepticism.
A basil ginger coriander effervescence proved to be the perfect foreplay for the lusciously fresh peekytoe crab salad. An homage to the Wendy’s salad bar followed, a baked potato soup with crispy potato skins and aged cheddar that had been “cased in lavender and coffee.” Since our tastebuds have long since been singed off by the sting of André, these were but a few of the undertones we failed to grasp on the night, though it made the food no less delicious. The famed quail egg ravioli granted us our first, but not last, opportunity to hear the words “take it all in one gulp.” And as a delicate hunk of rabbit served in an aggressive smear of strawberry and honey was presented, we learned what every Schwa employee already knew: that the best food is accompanied by something going up your nose. The rabbit arrived in a bowl nested in a larger bowl of mint leaves. Hot water was poured over and the dish was transformed into a gamey strawberry mint aromatic sensation; the high/low swag counterpart to eating beef jerky while burning incense in a tapestry-covered dorm room.
As the courses continue to come and the empty bottles start to add up, you’ll realize you’re once again seated in that tapestry-covered dorm room, eyes glossed over, stomach full, inexplicably craving more food. The music is on blast, everybody’s smiling and someone’s throwing out Huey Lewis & The News trivia questions. Our waiter told us that Schwa’s favorite flavor combination is “cocaine and hookers.” Niceties be damned, we’re just here to party.