The mussels are plump and cushy. The broth could pass for vegetable soup. And the frites – well, best not to spend too much time on them.
Chef Hermann Hernandez’s mussels deserve the crispy, blanched fries of Belgium. The pillowy meat offers a mumbling funk that works so well with the Chardonnay-based broth that it seems like part of the blend. A saute in Harissa-laced butter rounds out the earthiness of the mussels and offers a gentle, piquant bite. This bathes in broth studded with garlic, onions, shallots, heirloom tomatoes… There’s probably more, but it all layers into the wine and rich swirls of butter, becoming a chorus with a tangy and bright falsetto, with undertones that range between the guttural hiss of garlic and onion to the sweet bursts from tomato. It clings to your palate with such a warmth and glow, you might be tempted to nudge the shellfish aside – except they are equally compelling.
Hernandez and his kitchen crew are well known for their deft touch with fried chicken. They should also be praised for the mussels harissa. But that rice flour shortcut that so many restaurants take with their fries? It’s the one bit that’s off key, leaving the fries underwhelming.
SUR, 3601 The Barnyard, Carmel. 250-7188, surcarmel.com