As leaves fall like jewel-toned sprinkles all around the square, I listen to Michael Robertshaw wax nostalgic, recollecting dishes he’d created for the opening menu months ago. The Pressroom is coming up on its first birthday in modern digs, the prominent NW corner of the Bentonville square, and it’s hard for the chef to fathom where the year went.
Taking a well-deserved break from the bustle of the perpetually busy kitchen, he sits, inked arm outstretched on a park bench just paces from the restaurant. “The Chestnut Agnolotti was one of the most popular things on that first menu in January. That dish really meant something to me.” A squirrel, tiny hands clutching an acorn, sits upright from digging and freezes in his presence. Robertshaw says, “Hi squirrel.” And continues, “I spent a few months in the tiniest kitchen last year (at the original Pressroom), then moved into the new location and finally had room to make pasta. It was wonderful!” He takes a long draw of his coffee, wisps of steam still escaping the cup. “I wanted to bring back a couple of dishes I knew people loved and might remember. And really, that agnolotti is just (expletive) delicious.”
The Fall Menus at Pressroom rolled out last Tuesday and it’s a complete overhaul. Reflecting on old ones and studying the new, I can see there are staple dishes that evolve with the season and keep the restaurant’s identity rooted. But mostly, Robertshaw explains; once he changes items based on ingredient availability, then makes room for creativity and trying new things, the menu is often all-new each season.
Weekday breakfast expands to include fresh juices and remedy shots just in time to fight back the cooler weather threat of sniffles. The Steak & Eggs Breakfast Taco, a twist on the diner classic, will bring happy taco tears to your eye, and he tells me, “You can get just one, or as many as you can manage to mow down.”
The towering achievement at lunch is obvious. The new “NY Style 1lb” option on the top selling “Presstrami” Sandwich might eventually break the internet via Instagram photo uploads. To compensate for that indulgence there are many more vegetarian and vegan choices, including a revamped Mushroom & Swiss Veggie Burger. Recently featured in a segment on Later with Jason Suel, Pressroom’s fall Apple Salad is a must. Local apples lead while toasted pecan maple butter, cranberry, and peppery arugula provide backup in a chorus of tangy sweet harmony. Gold honeycomb croutons litter the plate taking it to new heights for those of us with a sweet tooth.
Workers string lights on the trees around the square without missing an inch. Thousands upon thousands that promise to cheerfully take the place of leaves for this year’s most festive months. The chef tells me about the risotto obsession at Pressroom. “I think if I didn’t offer a risotto on each menu, there would be demonstrations in the streets.” He chuckles, but then says, “No. Really.”
With heirloom winter squash, pumpkins and sweet potatoes filling out shelves in dry storage, bursting through every nook left between rows of rustic breads, it’s no surprise that you find these champions of October gracing several plates. The Fall Squash Risotto with burnt squash skin brodo takes a lesson from the Waste Not! dinner at Crystal Bridges he recently attended. The skins, often discarded without a thought were kept and caramelized to create a clarified amber stock. Pairing the squash puree & butter-based Arborio with the slightly tannic liquid in its own separate pitcher offers the diner a create-your-own-consistency experience. The aforementioned Chestnut Agnolotti returns. Pillows, just a touch too big to be stuffed in one mouthful, are bathed in brown butter and joined by sugarpie pumpkin for a quintessential autumn celebration on the plate.
The Seas & Lakes section at dinner shines in a big way, offering comfort food for those of us land-locked saps longing for the ocean. Whole Grilled Sea Bream and Crispy Hamachi Collar join the ranks. Littleneck clams, each open like petals, plump offerings inside, with potato, onion and toasty oyster crackers tumbled among them on the lightened up clam chowder. Smoked whey is served separate to be poured over table-side. Try the Grilled Octopus. The charred protein has a texture much firmer than fish, and a taste that hints at lobster. The plate is beautiful with mint aioli hugging the rim, chorizo-laced white beans sit as a substantial foundation, and crispy sunchoke chips pile up on top.
Probably the most stunning new addition is the Maple Lacquered Quail. It perches atop sautéed kale and sweet potato puree, wee but plumped full of foie gras and cherry stuffing. With pale baby turnips scattered about, this plate is absolutely a feast for the eyes first with swoon-worthy flavors to follow.
The struggle, it seems, will be choosing what to try first. And second. And third. I ask how people are supposed to eat through the entire menu in the short few months each season provides. “Bring lots of people and order everything,” he replied. Taking a final glug from his coffee, he stands and shoots his cup at a waste basket way too far away. And sinks it.