There has never been another restaurant like Schwa. And once chef/owner Michael Carlson decides he is finished, which he’ll most likely do on a random Tuesday in the indiscernible future in some fabulously unpredictable way, there never will be again.
Now that the idiosyncratic BYO has firmly beaten the odds by boldly going its own way for 12 years, Schwa is considered more of an elder statesman than a punk upstart. And what once felt sketchy is now endearing: the deafening hip-hop/sludgecore soundtrack, the hallowed tradition of customers bringing bottles of Jameson for the kitchen crew and doing shots together, the eternally iffy reservation system. Even the spartan sandbox of a room, whose foil-like ceiling gives the vague impression that this is what it would feel like to dine in the interior of a lunar module, has become charming.
Somehow it all makes perfect sense with Schwa’s nine-course seasonal prix fixe menus, which still pop with Carlson’s peculiar brand of dynamite. Cuttlefish are trimmed into noodles; oysters are served in orbs of 7-Up; foie gras gets marinated in mulled wine; and a raviolo is filled with a quail egg and fresh ricotta and invited to luxuriate in shaved black truffle and brown butter. Flavors balance and bounce, and the laid-back chefs double as servers. They’re just as happy to take diners deep into the inner workings of the restaurant’s intricate dishes as they are to simply set the plates down and walk away. Every night is different, and yet, it’s always exactly what you’d expect from Schwa.