Onyx is plush and glossy, that mix of tufted banquettes, chandeliers, oversized chairs, damask wallpaper that's Vegas Versailles, but with unexpected glowing surfaces and space age metal wall installations that are more of a cold climate Miami. Somehow it wasn't too much. The diners were almost exclusively young couples from countries with even more favorable exchange rates (the menu is priced in Euros, not Forints) with a business dinner where the local underlings slowly nursed glasses of wine and laughed more than they had to at American khaki bosses' stories.
They do not skimp on the bread. The basket comes with butter, pork rillettes and fresh cheese. The wedge right in the center was mauve from red cabbage like a piece of Hungarian ube pan de sal.
A puzzle piece of squid is accented by dots of paprika sauce and a foamy milkshake, also red pepper.
Danube salmon, luke warm potato salad, crispy veal. That fried veal nugget showed up again. When I first encountered it at Csalogány 26, I assumed it was a creative touch, but maybe it has Hungarian roots, after all.
Marinated goose liver with plum textures. The puck of lacquered foie gras (you knew there was going to be goose liver--even pubs and mom and pops in Budapest serve it) was a lot of richness early on. If I could only eat one dish again, it would be this one, plus the bread basket. I basically want to eat nothing except fat and carbs for every meal.
Hungarian sturgeon caviar with cauliflower puree, vegetables, “black soil.” Thankfully, the vegetable patch came next. I don't actually know what the dirt was crafted from; I was more preoccupied with the world's tiniest melon hiding out near the caviar.
Mangalitza marmalade with lentil foam, and charbroiled mangalitza loin with lentil. It wouldn't be a survey of Hungarian cuisine without the beloved mangalitza. As often happens, the meatiest course shows up when you're fuller and less appreciative.
The foam, with more of a pea soup body, got its own plate--and dark breadcrumbs.
Intermediate dessert of forgotten ingredients.
21st century somlói sponge cake. On the final night of my week in Budapest, I was now on my third version of somlói. With a thick layer of real, dense chocolate, not syrup, this non-traditional style was my favorite.
Now here is where it gets weird. The staff was mildly obsessed with getting people to try the tableside Chemex coffee service. No one was biting. I kind of wanted to peek at what was on the bar cart I'd seen making the rounds earlier, so I had sour cherry palinka first. Maybe this upset the balance and order?
What I really wanted was the petit four cart. Throughout the evening it has been wheeled up to everyone's tables and I'd stealthily looked to see how many treats they'd take (diners get shy when given no limits) and make a mental note of which I wanted. The lavender marshmallows, for sure. Also, the mini canelés.
The coffee is done with flourish on a portable induction burner. I'm truly not a coffee aficionado, no Portland roasting obsession ever rubbed off on me. Do you know what would've went well with the coffee? A lavender marshmallow.
And that was it. No treats (minus the box of two you're sent home with). Did they run out? Were they trying to close? At this point, not yet 11pm, there was only one other couple in the dining room, another anomaly since I didn't consider 8pm an unusually late hour to begin an evening meal. They were not brought the sweets cart either, but a plate with a small selection on it. In hindsight, I should've just said something. If you're paying hundreds of dollars (this was very much NYC-priced) you don't need to be a mignardises martyr. This exact situation played out during an Eleven Madison Park lunch back before they went four star, and it soured me on them; I've never wanted to go back. It's not the note to end on.
On the way out the door we passed by the candy cart, well-stocked and taunting.
Onyx * Vörösmarty tér 7-8, Budapest, Hungary