We were able to visit Semilla last month for a rare long dinner out. There's a fun duality to Semilla. The food is simultaneously simple and complex. The wine list is short and thorough. The service is not obtrusive but extremely knowledgeable. And though there's no menu, by the next morning you receive a lovely e-mail with the list of dishes we enjoyed. And we enjoyed all of them; some more than others no doubt. Each dish brought either a surprise ingredient, technique or both. For instance, the Carolina rice (a homestead favorite) was cooked in dashi and served in an earthenware bowl reminiscent of Japan. But the rice was 100% South Carolina! The bread recalled my best-ever attempts at Jim Lahey's no-knead bread. We ate multiple servings. The roasted leeks had the most pleasant aroma of tobacco (even for a non-smoker) and a perfect dice of scallops. It was the dish that won me over and something I'll try to replicate at home (without the tobacco leaf).
The only two dishes we didn't enjoy tremendously were the butternut squash and the fig leaf custard. The first was like something from the Moosewood cookbook. Nice. Well-made. But a little healthy-tasting. The custard was dull-flavored and texture-wise a bit of a tweener; not quite creme brulee, but not the texture of zabaglione.
Semilla is a special occasion restaurant. Plain and simple (see footnote). And if the occasion is enjoying many well-conceived dishes that spur your mind, then it's perhaps the top spot in New York.
I want to highlight the setting. The design is a u-shaped bar where any of the staff can walk up to any of the dining patrons. The lighting is subtle and bright enough to enjoy the visual appeal of each dish. If I ever opened a restaurant, this feels like a blueprint I'd look to.
Footnote: You can't simply walk in for a bite. You can't walk in for a meal. We saw a few people walk in from the street only to be turned away since they hadn't reserved.