NYC FINE/DINING...ELEVEN MADISON PARK BY CAMILLE COGSWELL

by adeline talbot


Camille may have written her best review yet and so without any further ado I yield the floor--or rather the platform--to my esteemed collaborator. 

The typical account of dinner at Eleven Madison Park, Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara's ritzy restaurant across from Madison Square Park, reveals glowing descriptions of meals spanning three or more hours of an evening, theatrical gestures accompanying each of the roughly twelve courses, and concludes with a bill to match, at $295 per person, not including beverages and tax. (Part of the high price tag is due to EMP's very recent abolition of tipping, a practice that an increasing number of restaurant groups across the states are enacting. This “service included” model brought the EMP tasting menu price up from the previous $225). EMP is an international dining destination. It has almost all the accolades possible: four stars from the NY Times, three stars from the Michelin Guide, and it's been on the San Pelligrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list for six years in a row, holding a spot in the top five for the past three years (and the only restaurant in the U.S. to ever make the top five).

All of these factors have put EMP on practically every food-lover's dinner wish list, a meal many dream about one day experiencing, once having saved enough money to do so. But it can also make the experience feel unattainable. If you weren't able to secure a reservation, have time constraints, monetary hesitations, or just want a great meal without so many bells and whistles, don't give up on your special dinner. Most people don't know that the bar area, with 10 seats and five tables along a plush leather banquette is reserved for walk-ins and offers an a la carte menu.

The bar area at Eleven Madison Park offers comfort, fun, and an A la Carte menu. (Photo credit: coralambert.tumblr.com)

The comfortable bar has its own nook in the soaring Art Deco space without feeling disconnected from the central dining area. As I sat with friends at one of the corner banquettes, the laughter and chatter from the boisterous group next to us at the bar didn't seem to be disturbing anyone, least of all the diners a few tables away who were halfway through their tasting menu. They were enjoying themselves just as much as the crowd at the bar. In fact, instead of being shushed by the impeccable service staff, this behavior is heartily encouraged.

When Humm and Guidara bought EMP from their then-employer Danny Meyer, they wanted to make the restaurant one of the best in the world. But they knew that following the French fine dining model that was in place wasn't how they wanted to do it. Crafting an experience with just as much polish, without all the hushed stuffiness, they set out to make your fancy meal fun. As they continued to perfect this atmosphere, they applied the same concept to their second restaurant, The NoMad, which I discussed a few months ago. But where The Nomad is like the swanky back parlor of a rock and roll club, Eleven Madison park is more brightly light, with softer muted colors, and a lighthearted twinkly smile on everyone inside.

A meal at the EMP bar is slightly more utilitarian, while being just as much fun. There are less flourishes; you won't be visited by the tableside Manhattan-mixing cart and your honey-lavender duck won't be presented to you whole first before the succulent breast crusted with spices arrives carved on your plate. But the impressive fact is that the food tastes just as spectacular without the theatrics, and the service is just as warm and hospitable, if a touch more direct.

Roasted Cabbage with Apple and Thyme

Sitting at the bar also allows you more flexibility. You can have a complete meal in an hour if you like, but you won't be rushed out if you're having so much fun that you end up staying for four. And likely, you'll be spending much less ordering a la carte than having the tasting menu in the dining room. Surprisingly, a few of my favorite dishes from the appetizer, main course, and dessert categories were also the cheapest selections. The roasted Hen of the Woods mushroom crooned a robust earthy bass note while freshly grated horseradish plucked pungently delicious strings at its edges, strangely giving me the same specifically comforting sensation of eating a grilled cheese sandwich. Though luxurious meats are awfully tempting for entrees, and quite delicious, don't overlook the cabbage. A glistening bumpy lump on the plate, it soon revealed itself to have more complexity than I've ever tasted from the vegetable. The tender heart packs the flavor of the apple and thyme it was roasted with while singing a vinegary punch line, then the texture and flavor changes gradually in outward radiation to the impossibly crispy outer layers. A dessert option available only at the bar, the chocolate sundae, big enough to share, arrives as a globe, the thin chocolate shell elegantly unfurling itself once caramel sauce is poured over it by your server, revealing inside a delighting jumble of crème fraiche ice cream, waffle cone cookies, and myriad other crumbly and creamy toppings.

Chocolate Sundae with Mulled Spices, Creme Fraiche Ice Cream, and Caramel

This three course meal, the last course possible to split between two people, runs you $82. But remember, this price is including a service fee, there is no tip to add on top of this. To give you some perspective, when I dined in November, before the service included model was applied, these three courses would cost $66. For a dinner experience at the restaurant ranked fifth in the world, I'd say that's pretty cool.

Slow-Roasted Venison with Beets and Onion

There are pricier options on the bar menu. The sublime roasted venison loin, lean and juicy with just enough subtle gamey flavor to make it unctuous and a lusty deep color made more dramatic by a vivid red jus and dark crispy beet chips, costs $56 (previously $46). I didn't feel the need to order caviar ($69, previously $55), but when the play on Eggs Benedict arrived and I spread that pickled quail egg, ham gelee, caviar, and cream on a miniature english muffin and popped it in my mouth, my world was turned upside down. If cheese tickles your fancy, you will want to swim in the Cato Corner fondue, served inside a roasted acorn squash, but should use the pretzel stalks as the more appropriate alternative, accompanied by mustards and a light and leafy salad ($29, previously $24).

Caviar Benedict with Egg, Cauliflower, and Ham

And of course you might rather pay the larger sum to have the full tasting menu experience, and I encourage you to do so. But when money is tight or there's a show to catch, there is a not so secret option that doesn't feel like a compromise. And though a lot of the dishes available at the bar overlap with the tasting menu, if there's something you've heard about that you really want to experience and isn't offered a la carte, don't be afraid to ask.

Ladies having freshly shaved Apple Snow Cones in the EMP Kitchen. Although not a typical course for bar diners, you need only ask for a glimpse behind the magic.

Part of the magic of EMP is the length to which Humm, Guidara, and the rest of the staff go for their guests just because they genuinely want you to have fun. Would you like to know how seriously they take you having an enjoyable, special night? There is someone on the staff with the job title “Dreamweaver,” who is in charge of making the impossible possible, anticipating your needs before you have them, taking special occasions to the next level, or making an ordinary meal extraordinary.


Eleven Madison Park

11 Madison Ave.

(212) 889-0905


Lunch: Thurs – Sat: 12pm – 1pm

Dinner: Mon – Sun: 5:30pm – 10pm


Chef's Tasting Menu (Dining Room Only) : $295

(including gratuity, not including beverages and tax)


A la Carte (Bar Only) : $22 - $69

(including gratuity, not including beverages and tax) 


NYC FINE/DINING...BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS BY CAMILLE COGSWELL

by adeline talbot


I follow restaurants with the same passion and interest that many others bring to following their favorite sports teams.  When my niece Camille, then a student at the Culinary Institute of America, landed an externship at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, it felt--to further extend the sports analogy--like she had been 'called up to the majors'.  I was bursting with pride in her and excitement for her.  Blue Hill at Stone Barns is, after all, considered one of the top restaurants in the US.  It is also one of the most innovative.  It is this profound spirit of innovation that Camille takes particular note of here in her review of a recent visit.  Chef Dan Barber is out to change the world--and he appears to be making elegant and delicious headway.  Do not be alarmed however if some of the dishes below are not your idea of fine dining.  The service and surroundings are as serene and sophisticated as the food experience is revolutionary. Quite simply, Blue Hill at Stone Barns guarantees to amaze and most of all to delight your palate and your senses as Camille amply details below...

A week and a half into my four month internship at Blue Hill at Stone Barns I called my parents, trying to hold my composure. But my voice broke and betrayed my anxiety; “I don't know if I can do this,” I told them. I was still in culinary school, and had chosen BHSB to fulfill the internship requirement that came halfway through the program. This was my first experience in a restaurant kitchen, having mainly worked in relaxed small-town bakeries before school, and I had put myself in one of the most challenging, demanding, and high caliber restaurants possible. I was convinced I was in way over my head, but I was determined to somehow not fail miserably in front of these experience-hardened cooks and chefs. They were all so inspiring to me, their work ethic, dedication, and joy that they approached every day at the restaurant with were like nothing I'd ever seen before and I was hooked.

BHSB is located on the grounds of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, an educational farm that acts as a kind of community center. Locals walk their dogs on winding trails, families grab sandwiches at the Cafe (also run by the Blue Hill team) and play in the courtyard, energetic groups of kids from visiting schools “bah” back at the sheep in the pasture and snake their way through the greenhouse before taking educational workshops. An invaluable learning environment that is now so distant and foreign to most, is free and available to all.

Kids camp in the vegetable farm at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. (Photo credit: Stone Barns Center)

In the restaurant Dan Barber acts as teacher, continuing the educational journey, though his class, entitled the “Grazing, Pecking, and Rooting Menu”, costs $218. It is worth every penny to participate in the completely unique restaurant model that Barber has created, a dining experience that you are unlikely to have anywhere else in the world. However, the ten-seat bar also offers a three course menu for a reasonable $58. In your own “field and pasture journal,” each month is outlined with what is being harvested and planted in different areas of the farm, with space in the back for your own notes. This also serves as a guide to the focus of your meal and the ingredients that will comprise it. After a conversation with your server about any dietary restrictions, aversions, preferences, and how gastronomically adventurous you're willing to be, this information is delivered to the chefs in the kitchen from which they customize a meal for your table of roughly 25 or more courses. Dan Barber is likely to structure your meal himself; even with a young child and another restaurant in New York City he is in the kitchen of BHSB almost every night it's open, which can be a rare thing for chefs with as much celebrity as he has.

If you are feeling daring, you may find yourself eating skin from a chicken's foot so carefully removed as to remain whole, nails and all, then fried light and crispy, holding its form so well that it looks like a chicken is standing on your plate, the phantom body invisible to the eye. Or you might be surprised when your server takes the candle off your table and pours some of the melted contents into a small saucepot, gives it a stir and spoons it over your plate, declaring that it was actually beef tallow. This dish: a variety of raw and cooked mushrooms, various cuts of pig, a puree of huitlacoche (a fungal growth found on some corn that is a delicacy in Mexico), and romaine lettuce that wilts once the tallow sauce hits it, began at Barber's NYC pop-up WastED, where he created a menu comprised of restaurant byproducts.

Chicken feet and blood.

Almost half of the courses you'll eat at BHSB will be with your hands. Interaction and discovery is what this experience is all about; breaking down the wall that stands between you and your food. Barber wants you to know what your food feels like as well as how it tastes. We cut tender brussels sprouts off their still attached stalk and dragged them through charcoal mayonnaise, licking our fingers in delight. We lifted branches off a plate to uncover stunning chestnut tarts sitting in spiky, unfurled shells, filled with a hickory nut cream from trees on the Stone Barns property and mounded with finely grated dried venison liver. We plucked tiny puffball mushrooms fried in a tempura bone char batter from their bed of moss and marveled at their marshmallow-like texture and deeply earthy flavor. Even once the need for silverware arises, each diner picks their own from small waxed canvas and leather knife rolls on the table containing a number of knives, forks, and spoons.

Chestnut tart

Meat is occasionally the focus of a dish at BHSB, like the simple and delicious fennel and pork salami, a product of their amazing charcuterie program run by Adam Kaye, the small link served whole on a cross-section of a tree trunk, a knife stuck point-down in the wood, an invitation to carve it and serve yourself. But more often, animal products are used to enhance and accent other ingredients. Unless you specifically request a meat entree course, you might not get one. Over the past few years Barber's interest and emphasis on sustainable agriculture has grown stronger, and today he is one of the most forward-thinking chef advocates in the discussion on the future of the American food system, which is the focus of his recent book The Third Plate.

Barber's passionate research and inexhaustible curiosity has led him to some notable collaborations. He has been working with agricultural experts to reverse the effects that the industrialization of agriculture in America had on the quality of our soil and what is grown in it. With the help of Michael Mazourek, a plant breeder at Cornell University, Barber is breeding vegetables specifically for nutritional content, concentration of flavor, and the ability to withstand specific cooking techniques.

Whole wheat brioche and house-made ricotta in the bread lab.

In yet another surprising twist to your meal, a moment will come when your server tells you, with a twinkle in their eye, that you are going on a field trip. You may be lead to have a course in the kitchen, out on the patio by the grill, in the candlelit shed by the compost circulator, or in our case, the bread lab. It is the counterpart to The Bread Lab at Washington State University, where for the past three years Stephen Jones had dedicated himself to finding and breeding varieties of wheat whose flour produces wholesome, nutrient-rich, and delicious bread. A collaborator of grain-geek chefs across the country like Dan Barber, Marc Vetri in Philadelphia, and Chad Robertson in San Francisco, Stephan Jones has gained almost immediate recognition for his work. Jones' resident baker at The Bread Lab, Jonathan Bethony, is currently doing a stint at BHSB, working with Pastry Chef Bobby Schaffer to continue research and testing for their bread program. I met them both there over a course of soft and flavorful 100% whole wheat brioche, served with house-made ricotta and a relish of spinach and green tomatoes.

Red Pepper Egg

Waitstaff and cooks from the kitchen bring food to your table equally as often, both acting as Barber's teaching assistants. Two whole eggs and a sharpie created an intriguing introduction to one course. Each of us marked an egg with our name as we were told the story of a farmer who noticed that his hens were going wild for the red bell peppers in his garden and yielding an alarming result: some of the eggs they laid had red yolks! Dan Barber decided to conduct the experiment himself with the hens at Blue Hill Farm, his family farm in Massachusetts that is one of BHSB's main purveyors. The cracked egg shells returned from the kitchen accompanied by our claimed egg cooked sunny-side up, revealing that my friend Charlotte had chosen a red pepper egg, her yolk bright orange streaked with red, while mine was the yellow-orange you would expect from a common egg. Encircling the eggs were condiments representing “everything a chicken eats:” red peppers, rye grains, herbs, onions cooked in whey, garlic scapes, corn, and pickled blueberries.

One of the most incredible things about working for Dan Barber is that the continual learning and collaboration of his employees is just as important to him as the education of his diners. The cooks each work on the farm one morning a week before going to the kitchen for their normal fourteen hour shift. Each Thursday the entire team gathers during 4pm staff meal for a talk from a guest farmer or purveyor. On the two days that the restaurant is closed, Monday and Tuesday, there might be a field trip to go ocean fishing, participate in a goose-slaughter, or forage for ramps in the woods. The F.A.R.M.S. apprenticeship is an intensive program that includes dining room service, farm work, and class assignments. These are just the opportunities offered through the restaurant; even more are available through Stone Barns Center.

 Charlotte’s red pepper egg with "everything a chicken eats."

I ended up thriving at Blue Hill, the experience being intensely demanding but just as intensely rewarding. I visited the newborn lambs on my way up to the kitchen; I watched sunsets from the windows of the pastry kitchen in the hay loft of the barn; I worked in the greenhouse on my day off. Those few months were a crucially significant and influential beginning to my career and and I can never be grateful enough that my introduction to the restaurant industry was through such a thoughtful and holistically-minded mentor and community. Dan Barber isn't just slapping a farm-to-table label on his restaurant to pat himself on the back; he is actively pursuing a tastier, healthier, and more earth-friendly food system. You will leave Blue Hill at Stone Barns not only satiated by the incredible food but also invigorated by the conversation it started.

 

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

630 Bedford Rd.

Pocantico Hills, NY

(914) 366-9600

 

Wed – Sat: 5-10pm

Sunday: 1-10pm

 

Grazing, Rooting, Pecking: $218

3 course Bar Menu: $58

 


NYC FINE/DINING...BETONY BY CAMILLE COGSWELL

by adeline talbot


We don't often miss a week but last week we just did.  Camille, per usual, was Johnny-on-the-spot with one of her wonderful monthly posts on the New York food scene and I was all ready to hit 'send' when there was a hitch with the images for this installment.  They just wouldn't upload--and what's a restaurant post without some visuals to go along?  It took a bit of time to sort this out, but now we have...Betony, the darling of Midtown, gets a visit--actually two visits--from Camille...

Nestled in the heart of a midtown Manhattan block, Chef Bryce Shuman is dedicating himself to simple and natural elegance at Betony, a restaurant named for a healing herb. His style brings some character from the six years he most recently spent at Eleven Madison Park under Chef Daniel Humm. However, Shuman's own plates are infused with slightly less playful whimsy and have a more focused, pared down look and flavor. Though the somewhat over the top décor and the extravagant prices may lead you to believe differently, Shuman doesn't seem to have much interest in bells and whistles. There are rarely more than three or four components on each plate and just as few primary ingredients. Any secondary ingredients are used so unobtrusively as to only be detected for adding a depth to the featured flavors.

The front bar area of Betony is graced with high ceilings and lots of natural light. (indagare.com)

Impeccably precise cooking and knife techniques are obvious but not showy in Shuman's clean and restrained plating style. Working modernist cuisine techniques to his advantage, he uses them behind-the-scenes to elevate and deepen his simple plates in a non-intrusive way. But occasionally it comes across as contrived and out-of-place. An amuse to begin the meal consisted of two frozen powders (one of green gazpacho and the other of goat cheese) side by side in a pool of cold olive oil, an inelegant and offputting way to begin a meal where the rest of the dishes take a much less self-conscious molecular gastronomic approach.

Cured snapper was refreshingly light and filled with summer flavor with fresh and pickled peaches and shaved almond. 

Other snacks have a more approachable and tasty appeal. Sticks of pickles come fried in a tempura-like batter, and though I was missing the characteristic brininess, they were quite fun and addictive once dragged through the accompanying delicious cactus and poblano pepper dip. Biting into crisp cigars of flaky tuile reveals a spicy filling with pickled carrots grated so fine that the texture is fascinatingly similar to a fish spread. Thin strips of skate wing are fried until crispy and dusted with green curry powder, turning out similar to and as addictive as Ruffles potato chips.

Fried pickles with a cactus and poblano pepper dip were a perfect bar snack.

These tasty starters make a nice beginning with one of Betony's superb cocktails. Sitting at the bar during the second visit, I enjoyed the more relaxed and vibrant experience compared to the slightly more stuffy-feeling table I dined at the first night. Sometimes feeling like we had front row seats at an eighties rock concert, fog periodically rolled across and behind the granite countertop as the bartenders enhance their theatrics by the abundant use of liquid nitrogen to freeze ingredients in their shakers. Try the signature milk punch, a deceptively clear drink made by a time-consuming process of separating the milk solids from the whey and then clarifying that whey several times through the solids. The resulting liquid is infused subtly with a smoked tea and citrus juice, then combined with a liquor of your or house choice. I enjoyed a white whisky milk punch that boasted a smooth, clean, and slightly creamy appeal.

Roast chicken with chanterelles and cherries was succulent while keeping it’s comforting simplicity.

The high ceilings and open two-story floor plan of the dining room have such potential for a comfortable space. But the interior design is left-over from the prior occupancy, a short-lived Russian restaurant by the same owner. Modern steel and glass structures dominate the entrance and bar and continue into the main dining room where they are met with plush tan benches, ornately carved wood paneled ceilings and exposed brick. The clashing décor feels contrived and stuffy, and I'm sure that Shuman's food would read better in a simpler environment.

Though I do recommend the experience of sitting at the bar, the available a la carte menu is only a small selection of the offerings on the dining room menu. At a proper table your choices are between a four-course prix fixe and the Chef's Tasting menus. And while the prix fixe is still pricy at $95, it's unfortunately still the better deal to ordering a la carte at the bar, where you're likely to spend more than that on only three courses. The ten-course tasting menu runs for a whopping $195 and have no overlapping menu items with the prix fixe. Since I opted not to do the tasting, I can't speak to that experience, but I did witness from the next table over a tantalizing seafood course grilled over hot charcoals by a chef tableside and a seductive roasted duck breast lacquered with glaze and nestled in a bed of hay.

Beautiful mini baguettes accompany the classic cheese plate.

Chef Shuman has been complimented by critics like The New York Times' Pete Wells, who gave Betony three stars in his 2013 review, for his “clear and pure” approach to flavor. Shuman doesn't overcomplicate or overwhelm the natural essence of his ingredients and uses a very light hand when seasoning and dressing dishes. Sometimes his seasoning is so faint that it leaves the food feeling slightly lackluster, as with the cold buckwheat noodles with strings of summer squash and beans. But in other plates his restraint plays to his advantage, in the case of toasted grains, lightly tossed with vinaigrette, piled atop a smear of labne, and crowned with a huge tuft of unadulterated alfalfa sprouts. It's a dish made for the Hippy in everyone and you'll feel so good on the health karma scale that it will make you feel better about your later indulgence of foie gras bon bons or silky corn pudding with black truffles.

Even the richer dishes have a beautiful simplicity to them. A perfectly succulent wedge of roasted chicken breast is accompanied only by the bird's own jus poured tableside, a sour cherry gel, and a tender leaf of red onion wrapped around a puree of chantarelle mushrooms that tasted as if it might include some of the liver as well. Grilled short rib served off-the-bone melts in your mouth while the braised and pulled portion hides inside of a shatteringly crisp cylindrical shell of potato. Green garlic and black garlic purees lend their pungent vibrance and sweet earthiness respectively to the meat, which like the chicken, is served with the beast's jus.

Possibly the most unforgettable morsel of food at Betony comes free and unlimited throughout your meal. Soft and salty pretzel buns are unbelievably delicious on their own, but once smeared with ricotta mustard they are indescribably incredible. All of the house-made bread at Betony is stunning, including the adorable mini baguettes that come with the classic cheese plate, most recently featuring Hudson Flower, a semi-soft sheep's milk cheese whose rind is coated with herbs, served here with poached strawberries and a strawberry jelly. I much preferred this version over the composed cheese plate in which the Hudson Flower was made into an oversalted foam with some strawberries, hazelnuts, and an overwhelming amount of fresh thyme scattered about. Sadly, this option also comes sans baguette.

Pandan, milk, and pistachio comprised one of the most unique and delicious desserts.

Pastry Chef Rebecca Isbell's desserts take a firmly French approach with Asian leanings here and there. Each plate seemingly varies its focus on a different taste bud. The elegantly draped pickled plums that were built to sit flower-like on a sucre cookie with a buttermilk and perilla cream were almost too acidic to be eaten alone, but deliciously balanced when combined with all the components. Equally as stunning is the pandan ice cream molded into the shape of a leaf with a thin shave of pistachio cake and a stout quenelle of milk ice cream. Though one of my favorite desserts, it was overwhelmingly the sweetest. The chocolate, raspberry, and hazelnut dessert relies on such classic and overplayed flavors that I dismissed it on the menu, but praised it as my favorite once I tasted the satisfyingly salty dome of layered chocolate and raspberry sorbets with toasted hazelnuts.

A dichotomy of modern and antiquated, Betony’s upper level dining room has a similar, if more secluded atmosphere as the main level. (Photo credit: NYTIMES)

The service staff, under the direction of Eamon Rockey, who is also an EMP alum, are pleasantly friendly, gracious, and fluid in their actions. Though generally exuding a professional manor, mistakes are all too frequent for a restaurant of it's caliber and price point. On my first visit my dining companions and I were set with incorrect silverware twice during the meal and on my second visit our server forgot our food order twice, even though we had only ordered four items in total. But the really baffling bit came after we had finished dessert and tea on the night of my first dinner. We sat at our completely cleared table, as the fairly empty restaurant became ever emptier, for an entire hour before the server came back to our table, still without our check in hand or an apology, despite our attempts to catch him with a passing glace or word, utterly oblivious that we had been waiting for our bill for that inordinate amount of time. The simple exchange of payment which should have taken no more than five to ten minutes ended up consuming a frustrating hour and a half of our time that night.

Bryce Shuman's thoughtful food at Betony has earned him a spot as one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs of 2015 as well as a Michelin star. I can imagine it has the potential to translate even better in a different environment, but for the time-being it seems that everyone is willing to forgive the odd surroundings to experience what Shuman has to offer. The midtown crowd is eating it up and I recommend you do too.

Betony

41 W 57th St.

(212) 465-2400


Mon – Fri: 12 – 2pm

Mon – Thurs: 5:30 – 10pm

Fri – Sun: 5:30 – 10:30


Lunch: 2-course prix fixe: $38

Chef's tasting: $95


Dinner: 4-course prix fixe: $95

Chef's tasting: $195




NYC FINE/DINING...SHUKO BY CAMILLE COGSWELL

by adeline talbot


“How lovely,” I thought as the elegant slate which held my third course was placed on the silken smooth ash bar in front of me. All of a sudden the trivial “lovely” was rammed out of my brain when the aroma that had been wafting a split second behind the dish caught up and settled in front of me too. My olfactory senses buzzed, trying to figure out how this small piece of toast that had been sliced and lightly crisped carried with it the sensation of a most seductively aromatic loaf of bread fresh out of the oven. Yeasty, warm, slightly rich and sweet, the milk bread was the perfect vessel for it's worthy companion: fatty toro tartar, coaxed into a smooth creaminess wholly unlike your typical chunky encounters, blanketed with Osetra caviar whose nutty and mildly briny pearls popped pleasantly in my mouth.

Milk Bread, Toro, and Caviar has become one of the most highly praised dishes on Shuko’s Kaiseki menu.

This is just one of the stunning offerings on the Kaiseki tasting menu at Shuko, the recently opened Japanese restaurant just south of Union Square in Manhattan. Chef-owners Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau met while working under influential sushi master Masa Takayama, heading the NYC kitchens of Masa and Bar Masa, respectively. Both having started cooking in mostly European restaurants before settling into a focus on Japanese cuisine, their knowledge of and influence from these other food cultures makes itself apparent as they come further into their own creative space.

At Shuko's simple ash bar Chefs Jimmy Lau and Nick Kim serve up stunning Kaiseki and Sushi menus. (Photo credit: Grubstreet)

At Shuko Kim and Lau pay homage to Japanese tradition while shedding some of the characteristic austerity. In the vein of the casual-fine-dining that has swept today's food scene, no one took a second glance at the t-shirt that my friend was sporting, but I also felt completely appropriate in my fancier dress. Manicured food presented on gorgeous Japanese ceramic and stonewares arrives to the guests at the 20 seat hand-sanded ash bar and the three other tables fit along the wall, while hip-hop music cuts through the speakers. A few well-crafted cocktails accompany the thoughtful wine and sake list. Though it might take some diners aback at first, the relaxed vibe doesn't detract from the immensely special experience that you are in for.

Dungeness crab and shredded cucumber serves as a bright and vinegary Sunomono salad, with chrysanthemum lending a flowery touch. 

When considering the two available tasting menus, neither is easy on the wallet. Lau and Kim don't take the quality of their ingredients lightly, and the extra care taken to procure these specialties won't go unnoticed by you. Whether it be the tender market asparagus, tomato, mushrooms, and eggplant that provide the bed for coal grilled lobster, or the pillow of finely grated black summer truffle that blanket it, the carefully chosen ingredients pack sumptuous and expressive flavor. Luxury and extravagant items pepper both the $135 sushi-only omakase menu and the $175 Kaiseki tasting, but they are presented with a restraint and balance that many chefs don't have the skill or modesty to use, resulting in an elevation of the components in this setting.

For first-time diners I recommend spending the extra $40 for the Kaiseki menu, which is what I did. And after the entirety of its eight composed courses, following the traditional Kaiseki structure, twenty expertly prepared pieces of sushi, and two desserts, every single penny felt worth it. To an inexperienced diner, as I was, these may sound like two distinctly different meals squished together into one, but it was an artfully composed undulating suite of balanced textures, flavors, acidity, and richness.

If you opt for the sushi omakase menu, you'll miss the flaky Dungeness crab, its shredded flesh mimicked by ultra thin shoestrings of lightly vinegared cucumber and given a faintly flowery appeal by chrysanthemum. Slices of stunningly cooked hanger steak lay among a scattered salad of summer beans, nasturtium, and purslane. Ocean trout sashimi enveloped crisp, raw batons of white mountain yam, the packages sprinkled with crispy panko, pearls of salmon roe and doused in ponzu. And as a transition into the next movement of the meal, suimono, a warm clear soup of honshimeji mushrooms and dashi.

These first courses arrived in the hands of smiling servers from the open back kitchen, but now Lau, Kim, or one of their skilled cooks are the ones delivering the delicacies to your sushi block from the counter in front of you. Their practiced hands press and shape rice, often adding a touch of freshly grated wasabi, drape the day's selection of beautiful fish, and glaze with a brushstroke, all so swift and deft that if you get distracted in conversation for only a moment, you'll miss it. Glistening seductively, pieces of toro, skip jack, scallop, fluke, cobia, and dorade paraded through at precisely timed intervals. A roll of juicy grilled toro sinew scattered with thai bird chilies and scallions created an exhilarating interruption in the stream of raw fish with a burst of spicy flavor. Cold, clean, creamy, and mildly briny Hokkaido uni changed my mind about sea urchin [Hover over images for a bit more info on Shuko's gorgeous sushi]. And I've never liked soft shell crab until it was handed to me tempura fried and cradled in a strip of nori like a taco.

Tempura-fried Soft Shell Crab

Clearly delighted and surprised at every bite, my dining companion and I are obviously having a ball. Lau can tell; and every time he offers up the next morsel the grin on his face has widened. After our eighteenth piece of sushi, he asks if we would like to try something else. With a sly grin he presents us with two last pieces, the pressed rice topped with glistening scallop roe. As scallops are hermaphroditic, the brilliant rust red female roe sack and the pale cream colored male one are found in the same shell and now side by side on our plate. As if consciously upholding gender stereotypes, the female part was melt-in-your-mouth creamy with a sweet and delicate brininess that made me believe in aphrodisiacs. The male, however, is an aggressive punch in the mouth, like you've just swallowed a gulp of salt-laden seawater. Lau, watching our reactions, slinks back up to us and asks which we preferred. We all agree that we prefer the female and the three of us exchange a moment of uncontrollably hilarious suggestive giggles and grins.

Flavor-packed peach granite is served alongside hot matcha green tea as the palate cleanser before the apple pie dessert finish. 

Through dessert Kim and Lau give us closure of an elegant and stunning meal, but also smartly offer a punctuation that sums up the philosophy and personal character presented with dinner at Shuko. The traditional Kaiseki dessert comes first: a seasonal peach granite, icy and boasting so much flavor that I can practically feel the ripe peach juices bursting in my mouth and dribbling down my chin and hands. It's served with a warm cup of earthy matcha green tea. Then they gleefully slap you in the face, playfully flipping tradition on its head and practically throwing it out the window. Your last course is a slice of Kim's apple pie, a la mode, with burnt bay leaf ice cream.

Shuko

47 E 12th St.

(212) 228-6088

 

Mon-Wed: 5:30 – 10:30

Thurs-Sat: 5:30 – 11:30

 

Sushi Omakase Tasting: $135

Coursed & Sushi Kaiseki Tasting: $175





NYC FINE/DINING...DEL POSTO BY CAMILLE COGSWELL

by adeline talbot


The Del Posto review is below but first I'd like to wax eloquent about a singularly important event that occurred last week...

The parents among us know the special delight to be found in the accomplishments of the next generation, especially as they enter adulthood.  Every notable achievement is not just a source of family pride but also a reminder that the little one you once thought of as defenseless in the face of the larger world is now out there making that world his or her own.  While our daughter Mary has had her share of achievements, the source of this week's familial pride is my niece, Camille Cogswell, perhaps better known to readers of 'A CITY A WEEK...' as the 'NYC Fine/Dining' columnist. 

Two years ago Camille graduated with distinction from the Culinary Institute of America--that other, more delighting 'CIA'.  Since then she has been working as a pastry cook in Manhattan, currently at The NoMad. This period of professional apprenticeship seems to have had an almost medieval weight.  The hours are very long, the work exacting and the pay--well, let's just say there is pay.  It is not, however, the source of the motivation for this relentless pursuit of the perfecting of one's craft.  There is validation though and last week it came in form of the very great honor of having a dessert of her own creation placed on the menu at NoMad. In fact, Camille is the first cook--as opposed to the far more senior chef or sous chef--to have ever had a dish placed on the menu.  Did I mention she is 24 and only out of school for 2 years? Well, okay, so maybe I did.  But how about this--did I mention that I am mind-blowingly proud?  Well, I am...and also a more than a little hungry!

Hover for captions above to get a glimpse into the months-long process that lead to 'Corn and Cherry' being added to the menu.

NYC FINE/DINING…DEL POSTO 

Stepping into Del Posto Ristorante is like having a dream wash over you, a scene with softened edges and dim lighting. It shimmers in a golden hue from the candles lining the elegant marble staircase and the lamplit white tablecloths. Suited waiters glide from the swanky bar and it's plush leather banquettes to the dining room and up the staircase to the tables arranged on the balcony like opera boxes.

From the balcony seating at Del Posto the grand view of the rest dining room and the bar area is breathtaking. (Underground Eats) 

The most grandiose of Mario Batali's New York City restaurants, 24,000 square foot Del Posto opened in 2005 as a collaboration with partners Lidia and Joe Bastianich, with Chef Mark Ladner at the helm of the kitchen. One of only six four-star rated restaurants in NYC by The New York Times, and the only Italian restaurant on the list, Del Posto has also been awarded the Relais & Chateaux distinction as well as five diamonds from AAA and Wine Spectator's Grand Award. It is a temple to the finest of Italian dining, enrobed in European luxury, putting it on par with French Haute cuisine. It also has one of the best lunch deals in the city, offering three courses for $49 at the same quality of food and service as dinner. Reservations are highly recommended no matter what time of day you plan on dining, and you should dress the part; you might be turned away if you show up in shorts or jeans.

The plush bar accommodates walk-in diners or those just looking to imbibe Head Bartender Estelle Bossy’s refined cocktails. (Bloomberg)

Chef Ladner had previously helped Batali and Bastianich open Babbo, Lupa, and Otto, their other acclaimed Italian restaurants in the city. This incredibly talented and humble man still doesn't take himself too seriously and can be seen wearing jean shorts with his chef jacket in the kitchen. That grounded characteristic is what keeps this experience in the lap of luxury from feeling too stuffy or overly pompous. There is a twinkle in the eye of every waiter and enough endearing quirks to generate spontaneous bursts of delighted laughter amidst the breathtaking atmosphere and flawless service. It might only be halfway through your meal when you realize that the lilting piano melody issuing from the man behind the grand is Tina Turner's “Private Dancer” or Ozzy Osborne's “Crazy Train.”

My best friend, roommate, and parter-in-culinary-crime, Gina Nalbone has been working in the pastry department at Del Posto since we moved to NYC from culinary school together a year and a half ago. She has moved up the ranks and recently earned a very well-deserved promotion to Pastry Sous Chef. It was with her and two other gals that I dined this past month. So it's with a certain bias that I write this article; they treated us with the abounding love and generosity of doting on a member of their own family. However, I can assure you from many accounts that the hospitality with which any guest is treated at Del Posto is at a level that is rivaled by very few.

Poached halibut crusted in almonds and Moorish spices, cauliflower, and a revelatory onion jam comes dressed in Gucci, a piece of China that was this year’s collaboration between the clothing designer and Richard Ginori porcelain. 

The food comes poised on gorgeous china, all imported from Richard Ginori, an Italian family business dating back to 1735 whose porcelain products are historically some of the highest quality and most prized in the country. The gold embellishments and scalloped edges of the varying and beautiful plates give the dishes an old-fashioned class, yet the restrained and modern construction of the food exudes a simple elegance, keeping the whole thing from feeling outdated or disjointed.

Whisked to the table first by our graciously formal, and incredibly friendly server, Richard, are the assaggi. Literally meaning “tastes” in Italian, these are the equivalent of an amuse bouche in a French kitchen, meant to awaken your palate for the meal to come. Chef Ladner and his team offer up a varitable flight of fritters, daikon wraps, and a thimbleful of warm and satisfying vegetable consomme floating above a spoonful of creamy lentils.

Diners have the option of ordering a la carte or choosing a five or eight course menu, constructed by the guest from the categories on the dinner menu. However, without ever glancing at a menu, us ladies agree to let Chef Ladner do his worst and send us whatever food he sees fit. He starts us with a delicate arrangement of five fish crudos, each singing with Del Posto's Primo Extra Virgin Olive Oil, my favorite being the arctic char with caviar and crème fraiche. An endearing fairytale garden salad with tender summer vegetables and greens from the Union Square Greenmarket draws depth from a sumptuously creamy smear of robiolina cheese and caraway croutons. A showstopper arrives in the form of perfectly poached halibut, the top crusted in a crumble of almonds and Moorish spices, encircled by cauliflower puree and a mindblowing onion jam. If this wasn't special enough, the china it's served on is a collaboration between Richard Ginori and the designer Gucci.

Orecchiette in lamb neck ragu gets drizzled with minted pea puree and creme fraiche. 

I get tingly all over when the next course arrives because it is a pasta, and Del Posto's pasta is arguably the best in NYC, possibly the best you will ever have. The first is simple in its indulgence: bauletti filled with supple ricotta in a sauce of black truffle butter. Richard shaves fresh black truffles over our plates as we try to close our gaping, watering mouths. The second is a bold dungeness crab spaghetti with jalapeno and scallion. And the last, Gina's favorite pasta in the world, and I have to say, maybe mine: orecchiette in a lamb neck ragu, on the menu year-round, but for the season drizzled in a stunning contrast of minted pea puree and crème fraiche, sprinkled with crispy chanterelle mushrooms.

Gluten intolerant diners need not shed a tear, any pasta on the menu is available gluten-free. Chef Ladner has dedicated much time to perfecting his gluten-free pasta recipe and is even pursuing a side project he calls Pasta Flyer, a quick-service food venture focusing on gluten-free pastas. Del Posto also offers an entirely vegan and gluten-free eight course tasting menu.

As we sit, relishing our superb glasses of Brunello di Montalcino, a medallion of tender veal arrives, wrapped seamlessly with a layer of beef, seared to impossible perfection. A potato chip and watercress salad playfully balances this succulent masterpiece.

Though taken a month ago in the kitchen by Gina, this photo shows Gina’s Cornetto & Cappuccino dessert, a Pea Panna Cotta (now a Corn Panna Cotta for the summer menu), and the Butterscotch Semifreddo. 

Gina's team pulls out all the stops for us when it comes to dessert, dropping six plates on our table at once. The creamy sweet corn panna cotta is brightened with blueberries and tarragon. A beautifully roasted nectarine is served beside a lemon torta, fior di latte, and basil. Butterscotch semifreddo comes with fresh blackberries and dried melon rehydrated in verjus, the plate streaked with a caramelized milk jam. A fried peach is tossed in cardamom sugar and topped with a scoop of yogurt sorbet before being drizzled with maple syrup. The star in my eyes is a stunning tower of candied bread layered with cappuccino and chocolate gelatos and studded with lightly roasted apricots, not only because I love coffee desserts, but also because this one is Gina's creation.

As we wind down our meal with petit fours served in a charming wooden box with a sliding cheese grater that reveals more treats below, I just now realize how late it is and that I have work at 5am the next morning. Time seemingly holds it's breath inside the doors of this secret garden of Italian elegance; the bustle of NYC outside seems worlds away. The experience created at Del Posto by this incredible team: Chef Ladner, General Manager Jeff Katz, Wine Director Michael Greeson, and their entire staff, is singularly unique and nothing short of magical. There are few other restaurants in the world presenting Italian dining at such a high level. I'm in awe that this is part of Gina's day-to-day life and couldn't be more proud of her; at 22 years old, she has such a bright future ahead.

Ladies having the best meal of our lives: Gina, Sarah, me, and Mary Kate.

Del Posto

85 10th Ave.

(212) 497-8090

 

Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30am – 2pm

 

Dinner: Mon-Fri 5:30 – 11pm

Sat 4:30 – 11pm

Sun 4:30 – 10pm

 

Three Course Lunch Prix Fixe: $49

 

Five Course Dinner Menu: $126 ($95 optional wine pairing)

 

Eight Course Captain's Dinner Menu: $179 ($155 optional wine pairing)

 


NYC FINE/DINING...GRAND BANKS BY CAMILLE COGSWELL

by adeline talbot


  Well, I've gone and done it--made you wait for another fab posting from Camille Cogswell on NYC Fine/Dining. As you will have no doubt noticed not only is it not Tuesday and there was no at all City A Week posting last week.  Blame it on my travels. I was off gallivanting in beautiful places, both with offered a bit 'internet insufficiency'.  As much as I hate the delay though I have to say, the timing may have worked well.  The heat here on the East Coast makes this posting on GRAND BANKS particularly welcome and as refreshing...I'll let Camille take from here...

 

On a picture-perfect early summer day I sat sipping a cool glass of rose, feeling the breeze on my face and in the gentle sway of the boat I relaxed on. Opening my eyes to the bright sun, I slurped down another oyster. Bringing the New York City skyline back into view, I remembered that it was Tuesday afternoon on the west side of Manhattan.

Living in the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, it's easy for me to become engulfed in that urban bubble, and forget that Manhattan is surrounded by water. For the first year I lived in NYC I hardly had any aquatic interaction, other than crossing a bridge every day from Brooklyn to Manhattan on a train. A progressive, cutthroat city known for food, fashion, architecture, museums, art, music, and so much more, it's important to remember the integral role that New York City's maritime history played in helping shape this unique and diverse city.

An evening getaway in the middle of the city. (Grand Banks)

Now that summer is finally here, New Yorkers and tourists alike should be using any excuse to be out in the fresh air. And while museums, Central Park, Times Square, and the Empire State Building usually top visitors' NYC to-do lists, some of the most enjoyable parks and activities are by the waterfront. Some that are still easily accessible to visitors whose time is centered in Manhattan are: Governor's Island, Ellis Island, Liberty Island, the free ferry to Staten Island, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Riverside Park, and Hudson River Park.

Located on Pier 25 in Tribeca, Grand Banks gives a beautiful new view to New York City (NY Times)

Now, for its second summer, there is a new attraction at Hudson River Park at Pier 25 in Tribeca: New York City's largest wooden vessel, the Sherman Zwicker, which from midday to midnight serves up refreshing drinks and light seafood in it's newest incarnation, the restaurant Grand Banks.

Before coming to dock on the banks of the Hudson River the Sherman Zwicker lived a full and historic life as a cod fishing vessel in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, making multiple trips a year to South America with the preserved salt cod and returning with an exchange of bulk salt. After more than twenty-five years of this life, Captain George McEvoy rescued it from its gradual demise, sailing it to the shore of Maine, restoring it and turning it into an operational, traveling maritime museum. The Grand Banks Schooner Museum Trust, founded by McEvoy, took care to preserve the Zwicker as an educational vessel for more than 30 years before handing it over to the Maritime Foundation in 2014. And today it's the last original saltbank fishing vessel in existence.

Miles and Alex Pincus, who founded the Atlantic Yachting School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, were entranced by the once commonplace and now non-existent oyster barges that once dotted the coastline of Manhattan in the 1800s. So with help from restaurant veterans Mark Firth and Adrien Gallo they decided to bring about a revival. In collaboration with the Maritime Foundation, the four transformed the Sherman Zwicker into the operational, seasonal oyster bar, Grand Banks.

Oysters are shucked to order by a cook behind the raw bar.
 

Two curved bars sit on the deck of the Zwicker. A beautiful wooden bar serves just beverages, an easy-drinking menu with just a few draft beers, light cocktails, refreshing “session cocktails” made with a combination of wine and light spirits, and a carefully curated and simple wine list. At the second, zinc-topped bar, you can dine on whatever fresh oysters arrived in that day, shucked to order by a cook behind the bar and accompanied by their house-made sauces, a ramp mignonette and roasted pepper and citrus cocktail sauce. On offer the day that I visited were Blue Points from Long Island, Harbor Points from Massachusetts, Tavern Islands from Connecticut, and the singular West Coast variety from Washington, Totten Inlet.

Scallop Ceviche with avocado and habanero is the perfect bright snack for a hot day.

A menu of five or six small plates is also available in addition to the oysters at both the zinc bar and at a surprising amount of tables lining both sides of the boat. With the limited kitchen space below deck and obvious heat source restrictions, the menu is raw-bar focused, including a killer scallop ceviche with avocado, habanero, kaffir lime, and mint, and a porgy crudo with rhubarb and tarragon.

The lobster roll is a must-order, not heavy, but perfectly seasoned, it's the most filling item on the menu.

The not-raw options include an incredible lobster roll that has been touted by many as the highlight of their menu, which comes with their “new bay” spiced potato chips. There are also clams, steamed then chilled and served in the shell with an herb coulis. And typically one rotating menu item is non-seafood based, which right now is a soft burrata served with Chianti-marinated beets, herbs, and olive tapenade crostini.

   City lights come alive as the backdrop for Grand Banks after dark. (Grand Banks)


City lights come alive as the backdrop for Grand Banks after dark. (Grand Banks)

Grand Banks is equally enchanting on a sun-drenched afternoon as at night with the city lights providing an irresistible backdrop. They don't take reservations and it's sure to be busy this summer, especially on the weekends, but even if you have to wait a few minutes, the pier where Grand Banks is docked is beautiful with green space and lounge chairs accompanying the waterfront view at the end of the pier. And with mini-golf, tennis courts, and a playground with water-fixtures farther inland, this is not a bad place to spend an afternoon before you embark on your dock-side adventure. Even if you're visiting NYC for just a few days, no one could ever argue against what feels like a coastal vacation escape in the middle of Manhattan. But don't wait until it starts to get chilly, Grand Banks is only open from May to October; during the winter months the owners have plans to kick the New York chill in Florida.

Grand Banks

Pier 25 (southern side)

Hudson River Park

(212) 960-3390


Mon – Thurs: 3pm-12am

Fri – Sat: 11am-12am


Oysters: $3-4

Small Plates: $11-25


NYC FINE/DINING...SEMILLA BY CAMILLE COGSWELL

by adeline talbot


A tasting menu gives most of us expectations for a special occasion, calling for fancy clothes and fancy attitudes, mystery and adventure in store. As a diner, there is some vulnerability in putting the power of choice into the hands of the chef, requiring a certain degree of trust and respect on both sides. At Semilla, in Williamsburg, Chefs Jose Ramirez-Ruiz and Pam Yung see this intimate form of hospitality on a more comfortable side of the spectrum, as no different than an invitation to dine at their home. Old friends and new sitting together at a table and sharing the meal that their hosts have welcomed them to. No menu or formal attire needed; this is no extravagant and impersonal affair.

The design of the modest space at Semilla has maximized efficiency and comfortable, communal interaction. (Photo Credit: NYTimes)

Guests trickle into Semilla during the 45 minute window of the first or second seatings of the night, as they might at a dinner party, each arrival punctuated by genuine and emphatic greetings. They begin to fill the eighteen seats at the horseshoe-shaped table that takes up most of the casual, elegantly understated room. The intimacy of one big table encourages conversation with the strangers beside you as you share this special meal, while a runway down the middle of the table gives distance ample enough so you don't feel overcrowded or interrupted from your own experience. This gap also allows the servers or Chef Ramirez himself to walk the length of the table and serve diners on either side, comfortably talking to you face to face, as if you were equals conversing over the same dinner table.

Foie gras is delightfully more delicate than expected in a hummus-like dip for radishes.

The ever-changing tasting menu at Semilla is what Ramirez and Yung like to call “vegetable-forward.” The vegetables' road to glamour food began with the farm-to-table movement, but while they shared the spotlight with consciously raised meats and fish in that trend, the past year especially has seen them take center stage in newly popular vegetable-focused restaurants. Along with Take Root, Dirt Candy, Narcissa, and others, Semilla is one of the best representations of this cuisine style in NYC. But don't mistake vegetable-centric for vegetarian. Animal and fish products are still prevalent, but simply used sparingly and only to support or enhance the tubers, seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables that are the stars of these plates.

After settling into a seat next to the small open kitchen, I was greeted first with a delightful representation of Spring carried in a shooter glass. A layer of warm and supple parmesan foam lazily approached my tongue first, followed by a rush of chilled, vibrant pea soup. The contrast of temperatures and textures made this beginning to the meal one of my favorite offerings of the night. To my delight, the first few courses didn't come with silverware. Radishes were meant to be dragged by eager fingers through a beautifully understated hummus-like seeded foie gras spread. And if I must lick the warm, buttery residue off my hand after devouring my scallion pancake, so be it.

Carolina Gold rice with white asparagus and roasted garlic was light, creamy, and tender.

More civilized utensils appeared in time to enjoy tender white asparagus dolloped with roasted garlic puree over Carolina Gold rice. Simple tender mixed greens and nasturtium flowers dressed in a warm herb crème fraiche dressing (the best Ranch dressing you've ever had) gained a depth like I've never tasted in a salad with the addition of black cocoa sprinkled over top. Pristine construction was required as dozens of thinly sliced carrots had been previously laid out in a rectangular stack, rolled, tied, and roasted, then sliced into medallions, and unfurled onto our plates, accompanied by smoked whipped potatoes and a pea shoot broth. The peas, carrots, and potatoes that tend to play second fiddle to a slab of meat in a traditional American household take charge here with a naturally meaty and soul-satisfying quality of their own.

Peas, carrots, and potatoes become hearty and satisfyingly meaty with painstaking preparation by Chef Ramirez-Ruiz.

The last two courses were desserts of Chef Yung's creation, the first of my experience bearing a visually stunning resemblance to a sunny-side-up egg. Egg yolk saffron sorbet melded seamlessly with a soft meringue electrified by a tart passion fruit sauce. Following that seductively genius dish was a bright sorrel sorbet with mandarin ice and a cap of lovage cream.


Soft textures and sensual flavors play beautifully on your tongue in this egg-inspired saffron and passion fruit dessert by Pastry Chef Pam Yung.

All of the plates at Semilla are restrained in size, and though I didn't leave full to the brim, I was happily and healthily satiated, not left wanting. As with the food, the beverage pairing option to the tasting menu presents it's value in quality, not quantity. The matches were excellent with some exciting finds in the mix, however I believe there may be more advantage to ordering your drinks as you go along from their carefully selected wines, beers, and soft cocktails.

 

Because of the limited space, Semilla cannot accommodate parties of more than four people and they hold a cancelation policy that requires you to notify them three days in advance of any changes. These guidelines are understandable for a restaurant so small, it just requires you to plan consciously. Reservations are highly recommended, especially as the word of Chef Ramirez's excellent food and hospitality spreads. However, Semilla does accept walk-ins for drinks and a “snacks,” a limited selection of plates from the night's menu that can be ordered a la carte, if there are seats available. If you go this route, don't overlook the bread, which is included in the tasting menu as a tenth course. Made by Chef Yung, the day's bread grains are ground into flour in-house. I was floored by the almost-black crackling crust of our buckwheat sourdough, boasting both course, hearty grains and a gorgeously moist crumb. I was surprised to find it accompanied by a serving of butter and buttermilk. My fascination had been sparked at my first encounter with this combination at Mission Chinese Food last month (though I have to admit, I give Mission my preference for their preparation).

Yung and Ramirez welcome you to their kitchen and their table.

It's easy to look at this vegetable-focused popularity as just the current trend, but progressive-thinking chefs and nutritionists have been challenging the traditional American plate composition for years. Many suggest that instead of having sides with your meat, your animal protein should be a side to your main portions of vegetables and whole grains. It is arguably healthier for our bodies and the environment. And after my dinner at Semilla, I did feel great: invigorated by a balanced meal and a singular experience, warmed by the hospitality that Jose Ramirez and Pam Yung showed me in their home.


Semilla

160 Havemeyer St. No. 5

Brooklyn, NY

(718) 782-3474


Tues – Thurs: 6:00-6:45pm and 8:30-9:15pm seatings

Fri – Sat: 6:00-6:45pm and 8:15-10:30 seatings


9 course tasting menu: $75/person


MISSION CHINESE...NYC FINE/DINING WITH CAMILLE COGSWELL

by adeline talbot


Well, I guess it was bound to happen some time—it was Tuesday yesterday and no post!  Hectic day already with then a hold up on Camille’s end with her photos and by the time that was sorted I was on the road, getting in late last night only to find that we had no internet service at the house.  As committed as I am to this weekly ritual of the Tuesday post I decided not to head out at 11:00 to find that open coffee house somewhere out there in the dark.  So here we are a day late but I’d like to think most definitely not a dollar short.  Camille’s post are worth reading whenever they come inand this one is no exception…

No more hunting for your Kung Pao Pastrami; the new Mission Chinese Food declares its location loud and clear.

Danny Bowien is Korean-born, Oklahoma-raised, and cooks Sichuan Chinese food. And his restaurant, Mission Chinese Food, is just as eclectic as he is. After establishing its first location in San Francisco, Bowien opened a NYC outpost in 2012. But after a successful year and a half of business, the restaurant was forced to close due to complications with the building. Undeterred, he came back at the end of last year with the new and improved Mission Chinese Food NYC, bringing with him a matured style and unmistakable personality.

When searching for a description for Danny Bowien's style of cooking, I can't help but quote Pete Wells in his review of the original Mission Chinese because it (and he) is so genius:

Mr. Bowien does to Chinese food what Led Zeppelin did to the blues. His cooking both pays respectful homage to its inspiration and takes wild, flagrant liberties with it. He grabs hold of tradition and runs at it with abandon, hitting the accents hard, going heavy on the funk and causing all kinds of delicious havoc. 

The food is loosely based on Sichuan cuisine, but takes a hodgepodge approach, incorporating elements from other cultures as they fall into place inside his head, not always making sense to the rest of us at first. You could call it Asian-fusion, but I would encourage you not to. That term in cooking has come to often connote a carelessness with and lack of respect for ingredients and culture in following a trend. Bowien's food is much more deliberate than that.

A foil wall dazzled with pink light provides a wild and fun backdrop to the main dining room. (Photo Credit: Grub Street)

As soon as I stepped into the main dining room of the new Mission Chinese Food I was electrified by the nightclub-like sexiness of the place, which immediately instilled in me a lust for food, drink, and fun. A vibrant pink light splashes color across what looks like a giant crinkled sheet of aluminum foil stretching the length of the far wall, setting a wild backdrop for the otherwise dimly lit room. Other light issues from retrofuturistic light-fixtures and reflections in the mirrors that hang on the wall above every deep maroon banquette lining the room. With the exception of the foil wall, all of these other outfittings were inherited from Rosette, the restaurant previously housed in the space. Yet with Bowien's eccentric touches and hip hop blasting from the speakers it exudes a very unique vibe.

Details in the room remind you that, yes, indeed, you are in a Chinese restaurant, but not as blatantly as the giant illuminated red dragon suspended above the heads of diners at Mission Chinese Food's previous Orchard Street locationn. At the new digs a smattering of not-strictly-Chinese trinkets sit between booths: a waving fortune cat here, a glass-blown koi fish there. I've heard the room described more than once as being like a “Chinese banquet hall” mainly due to a large communal round table towards the back outfitted with a lazy susan.

I know that this place sounds cheesy, but trust me, it works in a much classier and more versatile way than you might think. As expected, much of the crowd is as young and hip as the atmosphere, but there is an element of maturity to the food and environment that appeals to all ages. I was even surprised at the show of diversity in the dining crowd. Even more family-friendly is the brighter, more casual front room with high-top tables, its own bar, and a view of the wood-fired oven (another fixture that Bowien hung on to after Rosette's departure).

A Phil Khallins, one of Mission Chinese's unique and delicious cocktails, sits amongst a bounty of Bowien's offerings.

When Mission Chinese Food expanded to a larger space, so did the menu. It's quite vast, about twice the size of its predecessor, and includes old favorites and new dishes that are surely soon-to-become old favorites. Everything is served family style and comes “as ready,” which is fast since much of the menu comes out of the wok. Many of classics from the more raucous and grungy days play more like hefty flavor-bombs in shades of deep reds, blackish-browns, and beige. The Thrice-Cooked Bacon tossed with sliced rice cakes is addictive. Silky Mapo Tofu and heritage pork swim in a pool so dark with glistening aged beef fat and chili oil that it looks like it came from the depths of Hell. One of the dishes heaviest on Sichuan peppercorn, its tingly numbing effect only encourages you to tolerate more of the spice. Kung Pao Pastrami, Chongquin Chicken Wings, Sichuan Pickled Vegetables, and Westlake Rice Porridge are among the other resurrected stand-byes.

But Bowien really shows his growth as a chef in the new additions to the menu, which have an obvious finesse and refinement to them. Many of them are quite beautiful, plates that wouldn't be out of place in a fine dining restaurant. One of the most visually stunning were dumplings filled with scrambled egg and tapioca pearls, connected by a web of lacy batter that shatters as you separate them. Complimentary to every table, they make everyone feel like special guests. You do have to pay for bread service, which most people expect to come free with their meal at restaurants and so might refrain from ordering it, but if you do you'll be missing out on one of the biggest gems of the menu. A fluffy, roti-like flatbread (the recipe was crafted for Bowien by Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco) comes warm from the wood-fired oven alongside a bowl of soft, supple kafir butter over which a server pours buttermilk (from the same processing) table-side. Never have I eaten butter and buttermilk together, and let me tell you, the sweet and slightly tangy resulting combination was revolutionary.

A pinwheel of dumplings connected by a lacy web of crispy batter comes complimentary to every table, flanked here by delicate and chewy green tea noodles.
 

The same flatbread comes with Our Favorite Anchovies, served in the tin and topped with pickled chili peppers and fennel seed, and I have declared that they are now my favorite anchovies. Chewy Green Tea Noodles are tossed in a ginger-scallion sauce and delicately dusted with matcha. Stir-Fried Celery with sprouted hazelnut and fresh lily bulb is a light and refreshing haven from the spice on the table.

The fried rice will also surprise you with its lightness and subtlety, so much so that I had a friend tell me that she sent it back to the kitchen when she dined on a previous occasion because she thought it wasn't fried. It's not your typical hammered and sauce-covered novelty of Chinese-American cuisine. Try the classic Salt Cod Fried Rice; it is complimented by just the right amount of egg and Chinese sausage as to not overpower the delicately flakey fish and fluffy rice.

If you come with a group, which is really the way to do it, you can order an abundance of dishes with the hope of actually making a dent in them, seeing as the portions are very large. It also gives you the opportunity to try the large-format menu items like the Smoked Prime Rib with King Crab Legs or Josefina's House Special Chicken, filled with a Filipino-style chorizo stuffing inspired by the heritage flavors of Bowien's Chef de Cuisine Angela Dimayuga. If you can, try to arrive within the first hour of opening; with a no-reservation system, the wait can quickly climb to two hours in the blink of an eye.

Executive Chef Angela Dimayuga stands in the downstairs hallway that also leads to the restrooms. Another hidden treasure to the restaurant, everyone should make an excuse to visit the bathroom while dining. (Photo Credit:Eater)

Trying to do justice to the entire menu at Mission Chinese Food would take many more pages. But the point to be made is that there is something for everyone here. In no way is it a compromising crowd-pleaser of a restaurant. It just so happens that Danny Bowien has come to a beautiful balance at his new restaurant: of maturity and playfulness, of groundbreaking and comforting, of a night-out-on-the-town and a meal with the family. And somehow it still maintains a personality that is one of a kind in NYC and elsewhere.

This amazing photo of Danny Bowien pulling noodles was taken by Playboy magazine for a recent issue spotlighting chefs (and I couldn't resist including it here). (Photo Credit: Playboy)

 

Mission Chinese Food

171 E Broadway

(212) 432-0300

 

Tues – Sat: 5:30pm-midnight

 

Menu Items: $7 - $35

Family Platters: $60 - $70

Small Tasting Menu: $69/ea

Large Tasting Menu: $99/ea

 


POK POK By NYC FINE/DINING'S CAMILLE COGSWELL

by adeline talbot


When you first see the chef responsible for popularizing Northern Thai cuisine in America, you might have a knee-jerk double-take reaction. Andy Ricker is a white guy from Vermont, whose freckles and reddish hair don't immediately scream “America's current authority on Northern Thai food.” But don't be quick to judge this book by his cover; his wildly successful and ever-expanding small empire of Pok Pok restaurants, has made him just that.

The front room of Pok Pok NY has a casual Thai street vibe with a little NYC class. (Photo Credit: HG2 New York)

It's the coconut milk curries of all colors, spring rolls, and the ubiquitous pad thai, among others, that have defined Thai food in America. And though most Americans think this is the cuisine of Thailand, these dishes are only based on the central and southern areas of the country, and were adapted for American palates by Thai immigrants whose goal was not maintaining authenticity, but simply trying to make a living here in the United States, cooking food that would have an easier acceptance here. In the recent resurgence of Thai cuisine in America, the regional focus has generally shifted north and the scale has tipped in favor of authenticity. Using much less coconut milk, and many more dried spices and grilled meats, the bold flavors of Northern Thai food draw influence from Thailand's northern neighbors Myanmar and Laos.

The one thing on the menu that you can't leave without ordering: the papaya salad. (Photo Credit: Eater)

A trip to Pok Pok, where Andy Ricker focuses on the food of Chaing Mai Province, is one of the best ways to experience this regional Thai food, short of visiting Northern Thailand itself. Pete Wells, NY Times restaurant critic wrote that “altered perceptions come free with the price of dinner at Pok Pok.” If you haven't been introduced to this cuisine before, as I was not, prepare yourself for pretty much a full 180 from the complacent Thai food you know. Your mouth will be assaulted with heavily funky, fishy, salty, sweet, spicy, herbal, and acidic flavor profiles, all in the same dish. If you are already familiar with this food, prepare to be transported back by the authenticity of the dishes, because Ricker has devoted his entire adult life to replicating the Northern Thai food experience down to every minute detail.

As a restless twenty-something, driven by wanderlust, Ricker traveled around Southeast Asia and fell in love with the food and culture of the Chaing Mai region of Northern Thailand. Being an obsession-prone guy, he became fixated on learning the cuisine inside and out, convincing locals to teach him how to cook their food. When he ended up back in the U.S. in 2005 he decided to open up a small shanty-like take-out spot in Portland, Oregon, where the menu was simply rotisserie chicken and green papaya salads. He called it Pok Pok, the written representation for the sound a mortar and pestle makes, which is how those deliciously addictive papaya salads are made.

Aromatic Chaing Mai sausage gets a delicious kick from Naam Phrik Num, a green chili paste.

As it burst into popularity, Ricker expanded his small restaurant to include many more of the Thai street food dishes he learned in Chaing Mai. Following the momentum, he now has five restaurants in Portland, three in NYC, and one in LA. He practically rules a whole block in Brooklyn by the waterfront in North Red Hook, where Pok Pok NY is located, across the street from his Whiskey Soda Lounge and a few storefronts down from Pok Pok Phat Thai.

Their pandan leaf flavored water compliments the food wonderfully, but don't miss out on the spectacular cocktails at Pok Pok NY. This strays away from the Thai tradition but they really are delicious. There are a couple of draft Thai and American beers as well as Ricker's refreshing Som drinking vinegars and a beer slushy for more traditional choices.

The menu is exhaustive and wordy with lots of unfamiliar ingredients, but the servers are quite helpful in navigating you through it. The tried and true favorites are at the top; the dishes that started Pok Pok. If the rest of the menu is too overwhelming, you can make a great meal out of these: lemongrass roasted young chicken with sweet and sour dipping sauces, green papaya salad, and the fish sauce wings that have gained a cult following.

But venture out into the rest of the menu and you'll find grilled and spice-rubbed boar collar, an incredibly delicious and exotically spiced Chaing Mai sausage served with Naam Phrik Nam (an addictive spicy green chili dip), smokey and sweet grilled eggplant salad with boiled egg and fresh and dried shrimp, a crispy crepe studded with mussels, and flank steak envigorated by lime, herbs, and chili.

 Laap Muu Khua Phrae, a spicy minced pork salad should be ordered with sticky rice. (Photo Credit: Eater)

I recommend ordering a few side orders of sticky rice. Unfortunately it doesn't come complementary with anything on the menu, but you are going to want it alongside almost everything. It's especially good with the papaya salad and the various other meat salads like the Laap Muu Khua Phrae, spicy and aromatic chopped pork. It's even more fun to eat the rice in the traditional way, by taking a chunk with your fingers, compressing it and using it as a utensil to scoop the salad off the plate and into your mouth, bringing the delectable sauces with it.

Vegetarians will find themselves somewhat at a loss at Pok Pok, unfortunately. There is an abundance of meat, especially pork, on the menu. And even the vegetable-based dishes contain notable amounts of fish sauce or dried shrimp. There is an herbaceous and spicy vegetarian mushroom salad. And four other dishes can be altered to be vegetarian, like the mild curry noodle soup and the papaya salad. But this only accounts for five options of the twenty-two menu items.

But vegetarians and meat-eaters alike can enjoy Ricker's playful and delicious desserts. A cube of durian fruit custard sits atop sweet sticky rice in a bath of coconut milk. An unsweetened chinese doughnut is meant to be dipped in its accompanying affogato made with condensed milk ice cream. And try the hilarious, and surprisingly real, Thai street snack: an ice cream sandwich that consists of a hot dog bun filled with coconut ice cream topped with chocolate sauce and chopped peanuts.

Like a reckless American kid's invention, this ice cream sandwich on a hot dog roll is a popular Thai street snack. 

Andy Ricker has won the hearts of multitudes of diners: American, Thai, and critic alike. He didn't take what he learned in Thailand and manipulate it into his own style. His obsessive respect for mastering and serving this food tradition without any false pretenses or alterations is impressive. He won a James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest in 2011 for the Portland Pok Pok location and Pok Pok NY was just given one Michelin star in the 2015 Michelin Guide. Ricker is a semifinalist again this year for another James Beard award, this time for the all-states-inclusive Outstanding Chef category.

 The back room is more intimate and accommodating for larger parties.

But I implore you, do not go to Pok Pok with any preconceptions. I feel strongly that granting it a Michelin star gives diners certain expectations when they go to eat for the first time, expectations consisting of a certain swanky, white tablecloth class and special occasion restaurant. Yes, the food is eye-opening, delightfully light and flavorful. But don't be mistaken: it's street food and home cooking. It's atmosphere is casual and family friendly, with checkered tablecloths and colorful plastic plates, evoking a neighborhood Thai eatery. And I think that's what is so charming and relatable about it. So please, go any day of the week (they recently started taking reservations), in your most casual and comfortable clothes, with an open mind and an appetite for bold surprises.

Pok Pok NY

117 Columbia St.

Brooklyn, NY

(718) 923-9322

 

Mon – Fri: 5:30-10pm

Sat – Sun: noon-10pm

 

Menu Items: $11-24

 

 


NYC FINE/DINING...BAMONTE'S...With Guest Blogger CAMILLE COGSWELL

by STUDIO TRAVELER


February is a good month for comfort of sorts but most especially for comfort food.  Warm, nourishing and the more traditional the better.  So right now seems like the ideal time to head over to Bamonte's in Brooklyn.  Bamonte's may be celebrating its 115th year but it is brand spanking new to me--or was until Camille introduced me to it in this week's post.   Now I'm hooked.  Think you will be, too...

Every year hundreds of new restaurants open in New York City. It's exciting to get swept up in the tide of eating at hot new spots, making sure to keep up on current trends, techniques, and chef shuffling. But the majority of new restaurants don't make it more than five years in this tough and demanding city. Restaurants with the staying power to stand firm through all the years and hurtles have succeeded for a reason. And I'm equally, if not more, intrigued by these institutions as the hip American gastropub that just opened around the corner.

Lovers of red sauce classics pack the Bamonte's dining room.

Bamonte's is one of these venerated institutions. It opened in 1900, incidentally the same year as Ralph's in Philadelphia, which is credited for being the oldest Italian restaurant in the U.S. Bamonte's is now owned by the 3rd and 4th generations of the family, and not much has changed in those 115 years. Not the waiters, the menu, the clientele. They haven't even bothered to make a website since the creation of computers and the internet. It's been the neighborhood joint ever since that area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn was a largely Italian-concentrated community. And Bamonte's extudes that sense of community. Families, friends, regulars gather over platters of cheese-stuffed agnolotti, pork chops smothered in hot and sweet vinegar peppers, and chicken rollatini. They come to celebrate birthdays, weddings, promotions, holidays, or just a  Sunday

.

An ancient cash register sits behind the bar.

Behind the white tablecloths, the walls, ceiling, carpet, and velvet drapes are all a deep maroon. The dark wood paneling of the front bar area wanders through the arched wooden entrance into the dining room where it ends up covered in framed memorabilia. Plaques commemorate the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the restaurant, among others. Most of them are signed “From The Boys,” making you wonder if the rumors about this being an old mob hangout are true. Signed pictures of James Gandolfini and Joe DiMaggio hang in the bar. The datedness of the décor is so obvious and endearing. If nothing else gives it away, the phone booths and cigarette dispenser in the bar definitely will.

The most obvious change that took place during the latest renovations in the 1950s is the shiny, brightly lit kitchen in the back of the restaurant behind a wall of glass. It's a stark backdrop to an otherwise rich atmosphere, but one look at the gravy coming out of that kitchen in the arms of the tuxedoed waiters and there's no doubt that it fits the bill.

Veal Parmigiana comes with potatoes and green beans. 

Sauteed escarole and linguine with clams are served in generous helpings.

That classic tomato sauce bubbles on top of veal parmigiana and under gooey mozzarella, douses the mussels marinara, layers the chicken and spinach lasagna, and adorns spaghetti and meatballs. It's thinly laid below the clams cassino too, succulent and saucy, each capped with perfectly chewy, crunchy bacon and fresh parsley. The hearty soup pasta e fagioli with penne and white beans is simple and delicious. Rigatoni a la vodka, linguini with clams, and tortellini with bolognese are all hits on this vast menu that runs the gamut of comforting Italian-American classics. Order an entree if only for the incredibly tender and well-seasoned hunks of potatoes that come with it, and it's accompanying vegetable of the day. In our case this was green beans, with the same healthy amount of garlic as most items on their menu.

Soft bread soaks up hearty tomato sauce from Clams Cassino and Pasta e Fagioli.

As you can imagine, the dessert selection includes fluffy tiramisu, cannolis with dense, sweet ricotta filling, chocolate mousse, and spumoni ice cream. We also tried the tortoni, a dome of sweet cream ice cream topped with a good ol' maraschino cherry that completely appealed to my inner kid.

Tiramisu, Cannoli, and Tortoni give an excuse to stick around.

Wine and beer are only sold by the bottle here, none by the glass. But if you aren't up for a whole bottle of wine there are a couple of choices of half bottles. There is also a full bar, however stick to the basics. Any expectations of a fancy cocktail program with grapefruit flavored bitters and bacon infused bourbon should be left at the door with all other trends.

A comforting constant in an ever-changing neighborhood and city.

Bamonte's is dedicated to tried and true classics. And that's why people go there, that's what makes and keeps regular customers. It's about comfort, tradition, family, and food. We all sometimes succumb to nostalgia, and even if you aren't a regular, Bamonte's will welcome you as one for the night.

Bamonte's, 32 Withers St., Brooklyn, NY

(718) 384-8831

 

Mon, Wed, Thurs: 12-10pm/ Fri, Sat: 12-11pm/ Sun: 1-10pm

Appetizers: $5.50-12.95

Pastas: $13.95-15.50

Entrees: $10.75-25.95


NYC FINE/DINING...With Guest Blogger CAMILLE COGSWELL...PRUNE

by STUDIO TRAVELER


Traveling to New York over the holidays? I hope you will consider putting Prune on your 'must do' list, especially for brunch.  Camille can fill you in on the details below and I can attest to one of life's great truths...Prune is not just good for the palate, it's good for the soul...


Whether the June sun is brightly shining or unyielding rain is pouring down from a cold December sky, come weekend mornings there is always a huddle of hungry New Yorkers outside Gabrielle Hamilton's tiny restaurant, Prune. They know that what awaits them is one of the most comforting, satisfying, and best brunches in New York City.

Brunch at Prune is popular for good reason.
The cozy interior of the East Village restaurant feels like the perfect mix of quintessential Manhattan neighborhood eatery and Parisian cafe. Decorated with simple, antique charm, the space is full of character and warmth. A long, comfortable, wooden pew sits along one wall on the tiled floor below one of the restaurant's many large, beautifully aged mirrors. The French doors, opened on warmer days, offer a floor to ceiling view for those who wait outside, in promise that they too will soon have their own pillows of poached eggs, crisp potatoes rosti, and kickin' Bloody Marys.

The Steak and Eggs, flavored with parsley butter, comes with potatoes rosti and an english muffin.
Ambitiously squeezing 30 seats into the small square footage makes the place quite intimate; there are always a few bumps and jostles as patrons and staff move around the bustling restaurant. However, I was content to include this in the charm of it all, especially as it allowed me to easily ogle the plates on the neighboring tables while plotting my own indulgence.
The food offered at dinner, the only other time to dine besides brunch, sticks to Mediterranean fare, mostly of the French and Italian kind. Hamilton's mother is French and Gabrielle herself spent time cooking in France and Greece. She also spent many summers in Italy, with her then-husband of Italian birth, soaking in the cooking of her mother-in-law. Dinner at Prune is pleasant; I thoroughly enjoyed the escarole salad and the whole pan-fried trout. And the milk punch with sesame cookies was a delightful way to end the meal, satisfying my desire for both a dessert and digestif.

Fluffy fresh ricotta, Egg en Cocotte, and Spicy Stewed Chickpeas.
Even so, brunch is the must-eat meal at Prune. Mediterranean cuisine sings on this menu too, like in the spiced, stewed chickpeas, where olives and preserved lemons are studded throughout a hearty tomato sauce. Accompanied by grilled flatbread and soft boiled eggs coated in fried breadcrumbs it becomes ultimately satisfying. The egg en cocotte is baked over pieces of chicken in it's ramekin; mixing together as you dig your spoon in results in a rich and delicate chicken soup, of sorts, that becomes more comforting and soul-warming with every dip of your buttered white toast. Saucy Spaghetti al a Carbonara doesn't come to mind at first as a breakfast food, but in Hamilton's genius, she recognized before I did that it has everything I love for breakfast: eggs, bacon, and carbs!
Hamilton does expand her culinary map for brunch, traveling north in Europe she offers a Dutch-style pancake as big as the plate itself and a “youth hostel” 
breakfast platter. Flying west, she sets back down in the U.S. for a Monte Cristo and an outrageously delicious steak and eggs. Even the often-tired huevos rancheros is treated with tasty attention to detail. Other breakfast menu classics like eggs benedict and omelets aren't forgotten either and there is a beautiful array of hot and cold bowls of cereals and grains.

The cozy dining room gives a great view of the small open kitchen.
As you peruse over the tantalizing menu, I implore you to do it with one of Prune's incredible Bloody Marys in your hand. I'm a “classic” kind of gal when it comes to Bloodys, but if you feel adventurous, choose from one of their nine variations on the original. Don't be shocked when they set a shot glass of Red Stripe next to it as a wicked little chaser.
No matter what, I beg you to start your meal with the fresh ricotta. Soft, mild, fluffy, and so delicately creamy, it's scantily clad, drizzled with a touch of honey and studded with fresh figs and raspberries. Pile it atop one of the merveilles served alongside, which tastes similar to a fried scone, and you will be seduced by the heavenly balance of hot, buttery pastry and fresh cheese like whipped cream. 

Licorice candies (no, not prune flavored) come at the end of the meal.
The food Hamilton serves at Prune envelops you in comfort, even in the midst of its lively atmosphere. Don't be deterred by the wait, which isn't always very long, and take it as a promising sign that for fifteen years there has been a line of eager customers outside those doors. Put your name on the list and hop down a few doors to Bluebird coffee shop to grab a drink while you wait. In celebration of it's fifteen-year anniversary, Hamilton released the Prune cookbook last month. You can also find out more about the chef in her autobiography Blood, Bones, and Butter. And don't fret about missing out; Hamilton has another fifteen years on her lease. Prune will be here as a NYC staple for a while longer.

Prune
54 E. 1st St.

Brunch: Sat & Sun 10am-3: 30pm
Dinner: every day 5:30pm-11pm

Brunch: $8-19
Dinner: $8-32



NYC FINE/DINING With Guest Blogger CAMILLE COGSWELL...BARBUTO

by STUDIO TRAVELER


Phew!!! It's been a hectic couple of weeks of travel--hectic enough to throw us a bit off schedule.  We missed last week's post altogether and an now suddenly we come to the beginning of another month so time for an installment of NYC FINE/DINING...lucky us, I say, lucky us...Barbuto's has just shot to the top of my list for my next trip to NYC.  Read on and you don't agree...

BARBUTO....
Old garage doors create a unique atmosphere whether they are closed to the elements or open for warm days. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)
Jonathan Waxman is credited by many as being the first chef to introduce the farm-fresh flavors, daily-changing menus, and casual elegance of California-style cuisine to New York City. His first and iconic restaurant Jam's opened in 1983 on the Upper East Side, exposing New Yorkers to a lighter, fresher side of French cooking new to the East Coast. Coming from the kitchens of pioneers of this new American food movement, such as Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Michael McCarty's restaurant Michael's in Los Angeles, Waxman earned his own fame by applying their philosophies to the bounty of NYC's surrounding farmland. 
After various other fleeting restaurant projects, Waxman shifted gears, realizing that his love of Italian cuisine had much in common with the ingredient-driven California cooking he had built his reputation off of. Opening Barbuto in 2004, it's still clear ten years later that Waxman has hit a home-run with this family-friendly, rustic Italian bistro. 

The star of the menu, roasted chicken with salsa verde, is served in rustic portions meant for you to get your hands dirty with.
The corner restaurant in Chelsea was converted from an old garage, and the upward-sliding doors were left intact, allowing for them to be raised on sunny days and breezy summer nights, creating a delightful industrial-chic, covered porch atmosphere. During the chillier months, the doors are closed but lots of windows still allow for a great street view. The interior is quite simple, with painted white brick walls and lots of open door frames. The comfortable bar has a small selection of well-chosen cocktails and beers accompanied by a much larger wine list.  
The star of the menu at Barbuto is the roast chicken. Deep in flavor and succulence and topped with a simple salsa verde, it's hard to believe how straightforward the preparation is. Simply coated with olive oil, salt, and pepper, the chickens are roasted in Barbuto's unique oven, which has a steel exterior and brick interior, creating many temperature variations inside. Cranking out dozens of sublime birds every day, the oven and it's skilled operator are clearly visible from the dining room. Only a low wall separates the tiny kitchen from diners, part of an open floor plan that creates a fun and boisterous atmosphere. 

Delicata squash accompany tender seared gnocchi in this hearty dish.
Though the menu at Barbuto changes often, you can always count on favorites like the chicken to be available. The potatoes (smashed, fried, and tossed with pecorino and rosemary) that used to be served alongside the chicken at Jam's are now a side dish at Barbuto, but well worth ordering with your poultry. Brussels sprouts are a refreshing way to start your meal, shaved raw and made into a coleslaw with pecorino, lemon, and hazelnuts. The gnocchi, seared on one side so that the fluffy knobs have a delightful variance of textures, are served with delicata squash in a voluptuous sauce, and are a stunning and hearty execution of the fall season. I also recommend the swordfish, a whole filet served atop a bed of sauteed Tuscan kale, roasted tomatoes, and raisins. 

The warm apple crostata comes with a heap of delicious cinnamon gelato.
Dessert was simple and satisfying. Among offerings such as affogato, biscotti, and cannoli, I opted for the two most composed dishes on the list. The chocolate budino was a pudding just richly dark enough to not be heavy, with a dollop of whipped cream and two biscotti ears poking out. And though I wished the warm apple crostata had been a bit bigger to match the giant scoop of cinnamon gelato on top, it was a perfectly delicious fall treat to end our meal. 
Chocolate budino brings back the best of childhood. 

Barbuto's lively atmosphere makes it versatile, a great place for practically any occasion: family outings, business lunches, or meeting friends. They also have two semi-private dining rooms that allow you to have your own space while not being completely cut off from the fun of the main dining room. It's worth a trip to experience the food of a legendary chef that won't rob your wallet. Let's be honest, it's worth it just for roast chicken like you've never had before.   But if you'd like to try and make it at home, the recipe is no secret; you can find it right here: Barbuto's Roast Chicken Recipe.

Barbuto
775 Washington St. 

Mon-Fri: Lunch & Dinner
Sat-Sun: Brunch & Dinner

Appetizers: $13 - $15

Pastas & Entrees: $19 - $28 

NYC FINE/DINING...THE SIMONE BY CAMILLE COGSWELL

by STUDIO TRAVELER


Camille Cogswell is back this week with a NYC FINE/DINING review of The Simone a new Upper East Side restaurant that is drawing the attention of the ultra-discriminating.  There's a lot to rave about--and we needed a bit more space than usual to do this new spot justice so read the post now or file it away for later when you have time to do a little savoring. Either way, trust us, you'll want to remember this name  --The Simone. AT

   
  
 
  
    
  
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     The Simone’s entrance at 151 East 82nd Street. 

The Simone’s entrance at 151 East 82nd Street. 

In the past year much of the buzz in New York City food news has centered around the departure of talented chefs from this city that has always been deemed the culinary capital of the United States and arguably of the world. Our culinary landscape is changing and it's widely known and accepted that incredible food and dining experiences can now be found anywhere across the country. Many chefs are leaving the Big Apple in favor of opening establishments in their hometowns and other areas that harbor the potential for more freedom, comfort, and lower rent for business owners than NYC.

While this expansion of gastronomic possibility and availability is an exciting progression, it's with a heavy heart that New Yorkers say goodbye to these chefs and restaurateurs.

 Tina’s handwritten menu

Tina’s handwritten menu

Thankfully for us, Chip Smith and Tina Vaughn took the exact opposite progression in their careers. The business partners and husband and wife team had two restaurants in Smith's home state of North Carolina, most recently Bonne Soiree in Chapel Hill, before their move to New York City. In November 2013 they quietly opened The Simone's doors, at 151 E 82nd Street, with partner Robert Margolis.

 With only eleven tables that seat 35 guests, the dining room feels intimate and sedate. Everything about Chip and Tina's restaurant is simple, tasteful, and elegant, with no unnecessary frills or flourishes of pomp. White walls and tablecloths contrasted by rich wooden chairs, hardwood floor, and perfectly dimmed lighting exudes a deep warmth that envelops you in comfort. The atmosphere is steeped with a beautifully Zen calm that seeps into you, making it easy to simply be present in the moment, unconcerned by time or the outside world. Their polite request to limit cell phone use to outside helps you shed any other responsibilities and distractions and let yourself truly appreciate the incredible meal.

 It's hard for me to talk about my experience at The Simone without sounding overly romantic, but there is no other way to describe how they entranced me with their unrivaled hospitality. It's the fact that no detail is overlooked, the personal touches, that make this place so one-of-a-kind in today's sea of trendy restaurant prototypes.

Tina, the queen of the front of the house, regally floats around the dining room with an wonderfully gracious smile and infectious excitement; greeting each party at the door while also managing to spend an impossibly long amount of time at every table, making each feel like they are the singularly most important guests in the house. She pops by to give advice on her expertly constructed wine list and answer any questions about the frequently changing menu, which she hand-writes in beautiful antique script. Chip, the chef, comes out of the kitchen during slow moments to visit with the diners. They are backed by one of the most professional, yet genuine wait staff I've ever experienced who are formal, yet warmly embracing.  

With only two other cooks by his side, Chip manages an impressive number of simple, yet involved dishes out of the tiny kitchen: eight first courses, eight second courses, and six desserts. Night after night, their small team employs classic French techniques to showcase American ingredients.  He also makes his own bread in house, including brioche and time-consuming puff pastry.  I had the pleasure of experiencing this pastry in the savory tart where it provided a flaky bed for roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, and ricotta pesto.  

Flounder is a staple of the menu, the filet doubled over and then seared, thick and tenderly moist.  On the night we dined at The Simone it was served over a sauté of fresh shrimp, spinach, and golden chanterelles. Sweet seared scallops were also a revelation with corn, chanterelles, and green onion. Topping the scallops with crispy sweetbreads and black truffles sounded like an overindulgence, but it was beautifully balanced and not heavy or overwhelming at all, in fact, possibly my favorite dish of the night. 

 Luscious lamb chops (Photo credit: New York Times)

Luscious lamb chops (Photo credit: New York Times)

Chip's Southern heritage also strikes distinctive notes, too.  Take for example, his preparation of duck, which included the thigh slow roasted to a state so tender that it pulled apart like North Carolina's beloved BBQ.  Next to it lay the perfectly cooked breast, sliced atop sautéed greens, pickled cherries, and farro. Another southern favorite, the deviled egg, took a more delicate form as a miniature quail’s egg, accompanying the naturally sweet Alaskan salmon tartar which was brightened by flecks of preserved lemon, cucumber, red onion, and dill mustard, and crowned by thin rye crisps. 

And as for dessert--my heart practically stopped while eating the pavlova, a classic dessert that is hardly ever found on a menu, but one of the best sweets that I've had in the city. This version was more of a pavlova-vacherin hybrid, its requisite bed of meringue crispy on the outside and sumptuously soft inside, cradling a quenelle of raspberry-and-vanilla-swirled ice cream topped with whipped cream, blackberry sauce, and fresh blackberries and raspberries. 

 Lord Baltimore Cake Tower at The Simone (photo credit: New York Times)

Lord Baltimore Cake Tower at The Simone (photo credit: New York Times)

The Simone has earned much praise during its first year, including a glowing three-star review by Pete Wells in The New York Times. Tina Vaughn's wealth of wine knowledge and seamlessly beautiful pairings with her husband's food earned this team  New York Magazine's choice for 2014's Best Wine Pairings.

Yet somehow, the restaurant has still been flying under the mainstream radar. I'm constantly surprised at how many peers in the industry I talk to that draw a blank at the name. 

Chip and Tina's restaurant is somewhat of a time-capsule, where they nurture and breathe new life into the formal, classic, and old-school way of dining. You will never find a centrifuge in their kitchen or a foam on their plate. Quite simply, they are an anchor in the whirlwind of the fleeting trends that surround them. Because of this, The Simone has quite a following of sophisticated clientele. The night I dined, I found myself to be the youngest in the restaurant by at least twenty years. But it deserves the attention of a wider audience. I sincerely hope it begins to find a place in younger hearts—and palates--as it has in mine. I left feeling like Chip and Tina had welcomed me into their family, taking care of me as a guest in their home, and isn't that what hospitality is really all about?

 

The Simone

151 E 82nd St.

(212) 772-8861

Mon-Thurs

6pm - 9:30pm

Fri-Sat

6pm - 10:30pm

First Course $15 - $21

Second Course $37 - $46

Dessert $14


NYC FINE/DINING...RUSS AND DAUGHTERS CAFE

by STUDIO TRAVELER



Yes, this is a monthly column on fine dining in New York as seen through the eyes of a talented young pastry chef--and 'eater'--Camille Cogswell.  So why is this month's post on a what could be described as an upscale deli? Well, for one thing this is not just any deli.  It's the cafe recently opened by the 4th generation owners of the 100 year old 'Russ and Daughters'.  More importantly, Camille has me convinced--once again and more than ever--that fine dining is not limited to just one type of experience.  That doesn't mean that there isn't a common denominator. There is and it can be summed up in one word: 'excellence'.  Read this snippet of Camille's post 
'...thick, perfectly browned latkes are moist but not mushy inside and can come accompanied by crème fraiche and wild salmon roe. Tender pickled herring comes in an elegant sushi-like presentation on pumpernickel toast...'
and I think you will agree that by this criterion Russ and Daughters Cafe most definitely qualifies for NYC FINE/DINING.
Hungry for more?  Well then, read on...

The Russ family has been schlepping smoked fish from 
this storefront on East Houston Street since 1920

For 100 years Russ & Daughters has been preserving  one of New York City's most defining food traditions. In 1914 Joel Russ opened his iconic Jewish deli in the Lower East Side after schlepping strings of Polish mushrooms from a street cart for seven years. The business has remained in family hands for a century of growth and increased recognition, though the popularity of the shop hasn't affected ego or quality at the friendly, quick-service institution. On one side of the narrow interior a long glass case displays mouthwatering working-class delicacies: whole smoked whitefish, fillets of cured, smoked, and kippered salmon, pickled herring, handmade bagels and house-whipped cream cheeses, not to mention an impressive array of caviars for those wanting to splurge a bit more. Opposite stands an equally tantalizing sweets counter that offers an assortment of halvahs, babka, chocolate-covered confections, rugelach, dried fruit, and nuts.
At Russ & Daughters Cafe you order at the table, not the counter, but those 
who like to see their fish sliced a la minute won't be disappointed

In honor of their centennial anniversary, Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper, the fourth-generation owners of the business, have opened Russ & Daughters Cafe around the corner. Its inviting soda fountain-style bar is a new feature, where cocktails, egg creams, and refreshing homemade sodas are served. But the rest of the cafe is designed in an attempt to transfer some of the original shop's atmosphere into a diner setting, including a counter where you can see your fish being sliced to order from the beautifully stocked display case below. The service staff even wear the same white coats as the shop's employees, though in this slightly more modern and subdued environment it feels a little more like you are being served by med school students than food service professionals. But hopefully in time they'll settle into a more comfortable groove and start schmoozing like the seasoned veterans at the store.
Pickled herring on pumpernickel with: curry and fresh apple, 
buttermilk and sliced onion, mustard and dill.

The Russ family knows better than to fix something that ain't broken, and at Russ & Daughters Cafe the food offered is, with few exceptions, the same fare that you can buy over the counter at the original location. But sometimes sitting down for your bagel and lox with a friend or a newspaper is miles more appealing than scarfing it down curbside or waiting until you get back to your kitchen table. Once you get comfy with a bowl of their hearty smoked whitefish chowder you'll never want to leave. The thick, perfectly browned latkes are moist but not mushy inside and can come accompanied by crème fraiche and wild salmon roe. Tender pickled herring comes in an elegant sushi-like presentation on pumpernickel toast.


The Queen of chopped salads is especially delicious with shissel rye bread, part of the bread basket, an assortment made in house.


Chopped salad lovers rejoice for the satisfying masterpiece of smoked whitefish, avocado, beets, egg, apple, matzo, and greens topped with a light buttermilk dressing. If you're looking for the simpler bagel and fish option, there are boards for one or platters to share with great variety, including salmon, sturgeon, trout, sable, and other expertly prepared fish.  I will also put in a word for the Eggs Benny, two perfectly poached eggs over sauteed spinach and Scottish smoked salmon, served with hollandaise sauce on tender challah bread. 
Halvah ice cream with sesame seeds, salted caramel and crumbled halvah bits

Don't you dare skip on dessert, as the malty halvah ice cream with sesame, salted caramel, and crumbled halvah is arguably one of the best churned sweets in the city.
But don't fret if you can't make it to The Big Apple. Russ & Daughters will ship their delicacies around the country. They also have a cookbook that is filled with as much light-hearted family storytelling as it is with recipes. And currently screening at events across the United States is “The Sturgeon Queens” (don't miss the trailer in this link...), a documentary film of the family business through the eyes of the two surviving daughters of Joel Russ, Hattie Russ Gold and Anne Russ Federman. But don't let any of that convince you that trekking to the store itself isn't worth the gastronomic pilgrimage. It is.


179 E. Houston St.
and now...
127 Orchard St.
$6 - $20 (with more expensive options for party platters and caviar service)

NYC FINE/DINING...WD-50

by STUDIO TRAVELER


Last Thursday, the New York Times ran a story on chefs who have recently quit New York. Typically these are the young Turks, high profile and pedigreed chefs who have decided to relocate to smaller places--usually back to hometowns--not in defeat but as missionaries of the new excellence and in the new appreciation of American bounty.  Quite simply there is good, even excellent, food to be had now almost anywhere in the US.  The revolution has been just about complete.  
Still the young, imaginative and ambitious have to start somewhere.  New York remains the great incubator for talent and innovation.  Which brings us to today's first-ever 'NYC FINE/DINING ' post--and it in turns begins with an ending.  In honor of its anticipated closing
later this year, Camille Cogswell reviews the one and the only WD-50...
WD-50 
50 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002
Menu Pricing:
12 course Tasting Menu: $155
6 course Vault Menu: $90
optional wine pairings for either menu at an additional charge

When most people think of WD-50 chef Wylie Dufresne's style of cooking, they tend to quickly label it as “molecular gastronomy.” You've probably heard this term before, but if someone asked you to define the food genre, would you be able to explain it? This modernist approach to cooking was founded by a generation of chefs who began to act on their curiosity to figure out why we cook the way we do. Scientists and chefs started collaborating to find out what happens to ingredients on a molecular level when different cooking techniques are applied.
This type of food isn't associated with any particular regional cuisine, it's simply identified by the utilization of more technologies, many not traditionally used in kitchens, to prepare food in a very precise and intentional way. It's often characterized by a whimsical and playful attitude; something typical of this style of cuisine is taking a familiar flavor or concept and focusing its “essence” into a new and surprising application or presentation, meaning to coax the diner into abandoning their preconceptions about food and the traditional dining experience. Or it's used to take a favorite dish or ingredient and use scientific techniques to make the “ultimate,” end-all-be-all version.
A handful of famed chefs such as Spaniard Ferran Adria, American Grant Achatz, and Brit Heston Blumenthol exemplify the molecular gastronomy movement. Wylie Dufresne is unsurprisingly included in this category as well. He identifies with the unquenchable curiosity, tech-geek persona, and playful attitude that characterize the trend. Not to mention the fact that he was one of the first chefs to introduce this style of cooking to NYC when he opened WD-50 in 2003 and has been a pioneer on the forefront of cutting-edge cuisine ever since. However, Dufresne is quick to disassociate himself with the term “molecular gastronomy.” To him, the title doesn't make his food sound inviting or appetizing, simply conjuring to mind a sterile laboratory, not a kitchen where cooks are lovingly preparing delicious food for their diners.
Though the occasional component on your plate may look like it came from another planet, Dufresne steeps his dining experience in comfort. You can feel this in the WD-50 dining room and in his tradition of taking regional street food classics and whimsically reinventing them on your plate. He is known for his obsession with the humble egg and one of his signature dishes has been his untraditional take on eggs benedict.
The hardest decision to make when eating at WD-50 is which menu to order. You have a choice between two tastings: the shorter of the two is a six course meal running the theme “The Vault.” This menu draws from signature dishes from the restaurant in the eleven years it has been open. The other, longer, option is twelve courses that are new, seasonal dishes. After much back-and-forth between my dining companions and I, we chose the longer tasting menu.
Don't pass up the opportunity to start with a cocktail, even if you plan on getting wine with dinner. We ordered two drinks from their list, which sticks to unique house originals, forgoing mentioning any classics. The Citrus Hystrix was a concoction of gin, kaffir lime, raspberry brandy, and egg white. It was light-spirited, but offered the wonderful sensation of coating your mouth in a sensually creamy and herbaceous way. The Pea Shooter, combining vodka, sweet pea, and Chartreuse, was so incredibly refreshing I had to stop myself from chugging the whole glass and remind myself there was booze in it. It tasted as if they had juiced Spring in a glass: peas, citrus, celery, and sweet, dewey grass distilled into pure joy. WD-50 also makes a few non-alcoholic drinks in-house that are well worth trying. We tasted a delightful pomegranate soda with ginger and citrus. The other was very similar to a booze-free version of the Pea Shooter cocktail, a juice of sweet pea and green apple that was incredibly refreshing.
Every table is first treated to a box of paper-thin, crispy sesame lavash flatbread, broken into stunning shards. Instead of a filling bread course that often distracts your stomach from the more delectable matters at hand, you can gorge on these addictive crackers shamelessly in between courses. With Chef de Cuisine Sam Henderson at the helm of the crew in the kitchen, she hit the ground running with our first menu course, an oyster in its “shell.” Our first lesson in tossing aside preconceptions, this edible shell seemed to be constructed of molded nori, complementing the briny oyster in its evocation of the ocean, brightened by preserved lemon and snow peas and given some depth by a hazelnut crumb.
Next, one of the most classic pairings in high-brow cuisine, eggs and caviar, underwent a downright homey transformation into something that tasted like it was served from your mom's kitchen table. A mashed potato filling was encased in a thin sheet of egg yolk, forming a ravioli, sprinkled with fried potato crumbs and accompanied by freshwater caviar. We continued to be pleasantly bombarded by a unctuous charred chicken liver mousse spiced with Szechuan pepper but invigoratingly brightened by compressed honeydew melon. And with a little bit of seasoning, the soup course, avocado and pea, with smoked crab, pistachio, and pickled celery would have been perfect.
Arguably my favorite dish of the night was the Shrimp Grits enlivened with pickled jalapenos. Speaking as a southern gal, it might have been the most flavorful, soul-squeezing bowl of that Lowcountry favorite that I've ever had. Imagine my surprise when I found out it was made from ground shrimp and freeze-dried corn ingeniously cooked to mimic classic texture and taste.
Whoever was cooking the proteins that night deserves the highest compliments for the parade of fish and meats that followed, each one executed to perfection. Umami-rich black bass a la plancha was served with a nori-mustard sauce, tender milk-braised pork benefited from a red bell pepper salsa and a fun poppy seed “pringle,” and duck breast swam in a beautifully clear and sumptuous buttermilk consomme in a play on curds and whey. There were a couple of components in each of these courses that felt irrelevant and unnecessary next to such exquisitely prepared proteins and could have been simplified to let the stars shine brighter.
I was buzzing with excitement for dessert courses to start coming our way from Malcolm Livingston II, a pastry chef for whom I have volumes of respect. His confident ambition shone in our first sweet course: yeasted yogurt swiped alongside a banana sorbet, topped with an oat meringue crisp and compressed strawberries. The components may have been a little odd individually, but together they married into round waves of flavor punctuated by a delightful tang that made me want it again for breakfast the next day.
Ovaltine sponge cake took us back to childhood with cardamom ice cream swirled inside a cylindrical chocolate malt striped tuile, sheep's milk cream, and fresh grapefruit. A throwback dish of Alex Stupak, former WD-50 Pastry Chef, came in the form of a hazelnut tart that had us making involuntary noises and licking our plates. Deceivingly classic until cutting into the “tart,” you realize that it is all one pudding-like texture, but comprised of three different flavors and colors. Candied hazelnuts and a chicory crumble contributed the crunch alongside a coconut powder and chicory foam.
Sweet conclusion came as playful petit fours: a cherry – root beer pate de fruit, a sphere of cookie dough ice cream dipped in caramel then rolled in cacao nibs, and a pouch of nutella “leather” holding dehydrated hazelnut.
At a meal such as this, no matter the quality of the food, the overall experience is often determined by the nature of your service. I wish that every restaurant could lead by the example that WD-50 sets in this industry. The wait staff was utterly welcoming, calm, friendly, knowledgable, purposeful yet always willing to spend an extra minute at our table entertaining our questions. They were able to immediately detect and level with our ideal air of comfort, not getting overly casual with us, but not showing an ounce of pretension. In the hospitality industry, that is truly a valued skill.
Sadly, there is now a limited time to experience this landmark of Contemporary American Cuisine. Wylie Dufresne announced in June that WD-50 will have it's last night of service on November 30 of this year. Because of huge amounts of construction on the building that the restaurant is located in, Dufresne felt he could no longer offer the same quality dining experience for his customers that he has strived to maintain over the past eleven years. Though he is already looking into locations for his next project, it would be safe to predict that it will take a different form than WD-50. But don't fret, if you aren't able to make the trip before it closes, visit his other NYC restaurant, Alder, which is slightly more casual, and no less playful, and keep an eye out for the next big thing.