A reader emailed me an excellent review of Autour du Monde (Fulton at Clinton)! If you haven't been, check it out. Let's not forget the businesses on Fulton that are suffering from all that construction! It took us awhile to try the new restaurant on Clinton and Fulton, Autour du Monde, but I'm so glad we finally went. I had read the earlier comments here, including some snarky ones by people who hadn't even been there. And to be honest, those remarks, plus the smallish, eclectic menu posted by the door, didn't fill me with confidence. But I'm so glad we finally went.
The meal started with bread, oil, and balsamic vinegar placed on the table. The oil and vinegar together were weirdly scrumptious. I think it must have been very good balsamic to be that rich and smooth, the perfect salty-sweet balance.
When I studied the menu, I was surprised to realize that I could have ordered almost anything on the menu happily. That never happens to me: though I'm almost an omnivore, I won't order a dish if it has a side or a sauce I'm not crazy about. For some reason, 90% of the menu was right up my alley. (I know that's a subjective thing, but two of my three dinner companions felt the same way; the fourth is a chicken-and-fish-only-vore.)
The three appetizers we chose bode very well for the rest of the meal: the excellent, meaty crab cakes with a hint of curry and possibly red pepper sauce were light and large; the veggie-packed spring rolls were light and fresh and had an intriguing dipping sauce with flavors we couldn't quite place (tamarind? -- our server, also a co-owner, called it the chef's take on various east asian flavors), and the cheese-and-caramelized onion tart (more like a flatbread) with a small salad was mellow and outstanding, not to mention gratifyingly large (a generous four-way split). We agreed that the 'tart' would make great takeout all on its own -- something to pick up for dinner on the way home from the Clinton-Washington C train stop.
The four entrees we chose were equally eclectic: the baby chicken with almonds and broccoli was extremely moist and flavorful; the skirt steak got a yummy unexpected kick thanks to a light topping of chermoula (a basil and parsley blend); the spare ribs were out-of-this-world tender and complex without being heavy; and the salmon (also with the chermoula or something closely related) was cooked perfectly, very intensely flavored, with four adorable mini veggie-and-olive skewers. Each dish was familiar enough to feel like comfort food -- but also just-offbeat-enough to demand our attention.
Finally, two desserts: a gorgeous lightly "cardamomed" creme brulee with a perfect caramelized sugar crust (not a black edge anywhere) and one of those fairly ubiquitous but in this case extremely fresh-tasting molten chocolate cakes with a small spoonful of vanilla ice cream. The only off note was the biscotti that came with the creme brulee -- they had a pretty good texture but not enough flavor.
That plus a charming, personable host from Antibes, a full bar and (I'm told) a good wine list, and we have a real contender. Though it doesn't have the sophisticated outward appearance of an Ici or Olea (and I blame that mostly on the look of the menu alone), it is a very close competitor, I would say. And no, it really is not an 'around the world' joint, as some of the naysayers on this blog were complaining in an earlier post on CHB.
Fulton needs interesting, truly good-bang-for-the-buck places like this. And the endless street construction right out in front can't be helping. Apparently they do morning croissants and lunch/brunch, too. Would love to hear a fuller report on those offerings.
Is it perfect? Probably not. Is it a vegetarian's dream? No. But let's give Autour a fighting chance. I say it's definitely worth your time and money.