By Nino Padova May 19, 2009

Convention-shaking concept or self-indulgent shtick? That’s the question I ask myself after walking into DOC (which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, the name of Italy’s system for ensuring and labeling quality wines) and following a waiter through the kitchen, past the dishwasher, and, finally, to my table. The journey, about 12 paces, is just long enough to leave me wondering what sort of backward culinary laboratory I’ve landed in.

DOC, the brainchild of Micah Camden, owner of neighboring restaurants Yakuza and Beast, is about the size of a small barber shop, with seating for 26. There are no boundaries between the kitchen and the dining room, so if the chef is frying rabbit kidneys, you’ll likely go home smelling like rabbit kidneys. But it’s not just the space that’s untraditional. The wine list may read like a Zen koan to anyone who salivates over Italian varietals, but there’s a twist: The restaurant opens only seven bottles at a time—three red, three white, plus one sparkling wine. So those who want to order merely a glass may be limited to what other diners have already uncorked.

Yet once you move past the awkwardness of this group-drink philosophy, dinner is straight-forward. Chef Greg Perrault’s contemporary Italian menu of about a dozen dishes is rendered with farm-stand flair. I balked at the lamb shank until I heard the waiter’s soliloquy on the flavor profile of the sauce, which is made with husk cherries (a cousin of the tomatillo), honey, and fresh mint. He was right: It made a perfect partner to the gaminess of the lamb. And a crespella of crawfish and fennel was executed with such razor-sharp technique that I wanted to thank the inspired soul who’d created it. I didn’t have to look far: The chef was right there, a few feet away, working diligently at his stove.