NEW YORK, NY
It is a cool Friday evening and I happen upon this rustic and beautiful restaurant on a quiet street in Nolita. This unassuming street houses this New Zeland Michelin starred eatery. My dining experiences of late have revolved around American to French to Japanese and repeat. I wanted to try something different and that I had never had before … enter New Zealand cuisine. This was bound to be an exciting experience if nothing else. It ended up being an adventurous and delicious one with a chef that is very knowledgeable on how to respect ingredients and balance flavors. He is also very dedicated to fennel (which I love) but be warned. There are two tasting menus offered in this restaurant called the long and short story respectively, the difference being the number of dishes present.
I was started off with the cheddar brioche with chive powdered butter amongst a few other choices for bread. I just started a new job so I was in the mood to be “bad” and went after the double threat of butter and cheese. The loaf is warm and buttery such that the additional butter was unnecessary. Curiosity got the better of me though with the chive powder and it definitely made a difference. I believe it was the fact that the butter was unsalted and then the savory of the spice mixed with the cheese. It was just an amazing couple of bites. The cheddar on the bread is also really fresh, almost like they just milked the cow out back, snapped their fingers and voila fresh cheese. I have mentioned in prior posts that if a restaurant can get me to eat their bread then they are a keeper… well they are a keeper.
I had taken maybe one or two bites of the brioche when they brought out the appetizers. Pace is everything for me and for this they failed. The good thing is that it only happened at the start and readjusted to the right pace as the meal went on. Due to this, I forgot to take a picture however I will still tell you about them.
The tomato gazpacho was beyond delicious and so simple. The flavors explode in your mouth as you sip. It starts out almost creamy and then the vegetables are each assertive in their own right. It was almost as though they are competing to be the tastiest and dominant flavor. Delicious!
Then there was a garden herb tartlet where the filling was creamy. In my experience, mixing herbs and cream diminishes the flavor and freshness of the herb because all you can taste is the cream that has been flavored. This was different in that the herbs still held their own against the cream. It was a tasty bite but I wish the crust had been warm, it might have elevated the flavor profile for me. They have much better bites on their menu.
The pork rillette had been beaten to a very fluffy consistency and served on a sage short bread with plum jam. I was not the biggest fan of this, not because it did not taste good but because after eating it, I had a pressing craving for foie gras. I do not want to crave something else while eating a dish. The short bread was also very crumbly but interestingly not so much that it made the dish messy to eat. That shows quite an ability to balance ingredients to achieve just the right texture. I would be interested in learning how to do that.
A little more about the space. It has traditional mood lighting, perfect for a first date where there will be hushed tones and romantic conversation over a meal. As I eat alone quite a bit and I run this blog, lighting is everything to me. As such, I will be unable to capture the meal the next time I come in. Their menu only changes seasonally so it will not be for a few months anyway. Maybe January.
The next dish was another creative one, the scallop crudo. This simple ingredient was unsalted and topped with sliced kohlrabi, apple cider vinegar gelee and a horseradish powder. The idea here was to keep the base ingredient simple so that the other items could shine. Or at least that is my interpretation. I wish I knew how he generated the texture of the horseradish powder but I find it fascinating. In its texture transformation, it also lost a bit of its bite but there was just still enough leftover that it was not as abrasive as horseradish can be at times. The apple cider vinegar gelee on the scallop is an amazing addition to the bite. What I particularly like about this dish is that if you take a builders approach (one item at a time) to eating it, it is like playing a game of building blocks. Look, I like to entertain myself while eating #judgemenot. The crunch and bite of the fresh kohlrabi does the same as the other ingredients but this is probably the most assertive of the bunch as it has the delayed release of its juice. Finally, the sweetness of the apple cider vinegar is also a star component in the bite as it cuts through all the “spicy” flavors to end with a sweet finish. Magnificent.
I go to a lot of Michelin starred restaurants but this is by far the most relaxed one that I have been in. The wait staff is still professional even in trying to be entertaining. My waiter is a bubble of personality which makes up for the fact that I cannot see the kitchen. Well it makes up for it just a little bit, the kitchen is still a magic place to be viewed upon with respect and adoration…. at least to me. That said my waiter is making me laugh quite a bit with every moment that he comes to check in on me. I should mention a thing or two about the wine. I never go for wine pairings with my meals as I am far too much of a light weight but considering the glass that I had here, it might be worth the adventure for some. The bottle is ordered directly from the wine producer and it was a first taste for me of New Zealand wine. I have no idea where I would even start if I wanted to start exploring the bottles of that region. This particular glass reminded me of a very fine Bordeaux and that is really what peaked my interest. I have never met a Bordeaux that I did not like and this one was no different. It was rich, smooth and a perfect bottle to sit back and relax with after a long day at work. Alas, I will not be able to drink it again unless I go back… or fly to New Zealand. Interesting thought.
The next dish was not on the menu and I was pleasantly surprised to be getting free osetra caviar. A gift from the kitchen and plated perfectly atop an egg with potato mash. Caviar and eggs is a perfect combination and I think I actually prefer this preparation to the traditional caviar, creme fraiche and blinis that I have been exposed to. My advice on this plate is to mix it all together and eat it like a porridge. This way, you will have the richness of the egg yolk playing off the saltiness of the caviar and the mildness of the potato mash. It is so good that for whatever reason my mind started to process bacon flavors as I ate. That was weird but still a welcome flavor to my mouth. It must have been the richness of the egg that caused that, it could not have been anything else. An amazing bite
I was really tempted to ask for more bread at this point. It was probably one of the best bites of bread that I have had since Fortaleza do Guincho in Portugal. It really was that delicious. It was at this point that I asked for the frequency of change of the menu but to my dismay it is only seasonal. It is in constant evolution during each season but there will only be a true change at the turn of a season. Four visits a year will not be a difficult thing to endure and the wait certainly will not be overbearing given that I live in New York. I do wish it would change with more frequency as the measure of a good chef to me is sometimes the creativity that they show with the frequency of menu change. This is not to say that chefs that choose to stay simple with perfection on their dishes are not creative, it is just a preference for me.
On to the quail. This bird is normally tough to eat and unfortunately there was not anything they were able to do to tenderize the bird. We have the quail with blackberries, cipollini onions and jus. As mentioned, cutting into the bird was tough but the skin was perfectly crisp, think crisp duck breast skin. I am a big fan of ciopollini onions and its presence here with its natural sweetness is highlighted. The blackberries have been sautéed to mash with vinegar which presents a different but yet still delicious texture. On initial taste of the jus, it appeared salty but sliding the quail through it showed that the salt was necessary. The seasoning of the bird sat on the skin and did not penetrate to the flesh hence the necessity of the salt in the jus. I have to confess that I am not the biggest fan of the bird to begin with but this was a good attempt at a delicious preparation.
Before I tell you about the next dish, let me say that I bow in the perfection of the temperature of the beef. Medium rare with a heavy scale towards rare with that burst of juice when you bite into the tender flesh. So what is it? Grass fed beef rolled in chives served with a beef jus and added mustard seed. I discovered mustard seed a few months ago and I was VERY pleasantly surprised by its sweetness. This sweetness pairs perfectly with the very beefy saltiness of the jus. The chive dust also adds a different dimension of flavor, almost like a surprise “pop!” as you chew. Ok not everything was perfect about this dish because there was … aioli. This is a personal thing. I have said it enough times about how much I hate it so I will not repeat it. The good thing though is that I just scraped it off and it still did not ruin the plate. On the selection of vegetables, he made a very smart choice with the broccoli and mustard seed combination. The sweetness and brightness of the vegetable is highlighted in its raw state. Pea purée on the plate is also another very smart choice. It too adds more balance to the dish with its natural sweetness. As is my process to eat items individually first and then in combination, this dish wins as each element is delicious on its own and then balances out to an equally delicious flavor palette when combined.
We started the transition to the dessert portion of the meal starting with the palate cleanser. I was served a one bite white chocolate ball filled with passion fruit. White chocolate is sweet but the passion fruit dominates in this bite. As the flavors settle though, the white chocolate does eventually make its presence known. The final taste on the tongue is as you would expect, sweet and fresh and a solid welcome to the last chapter.
Stone fruit sorbet with a sometimes bitter sherry caramel and lavender foam. Caramel is sweet. I am not sure how he achieved a sometimes bitter flavor. Was it intentional? Was it cooked too long? I am not sure. It is not bad, it is just confusing to me is all. For this item, do not try to taste the elements individually, it just does not taste right. At its core, this is tasty but the win for me is that it is not too sweet since I have a sensitivity to sugar.
I most likely got this wrong on the name of the next dish but here goes mousse with a sliced apple, sorbet and corn flakes. Or something like that. I apologize but I was quite tired at this point and was not listening as they introduced the plate. The shell casing to the slightly sweet mousse is made of apple with the freshness of an herb that I cannot identify. The sorbet on the other hand has an assertive while not over bearing sweetness. It leans more towards refreshing on the palate than sweet on the tongue. The texture of the dish is the winner here, though I wish the corn flakes were just slightly crisper and less gummy. Or I should say that I wish all the corn flakes were at the same level of crispy, crunchy as there were a few that tended towards gummy instead. Hiding beneath the sorbet is a tiny plantain chip and its saltiness is a very welcome surprise. I would really not ever have thought that you could add plantain chips to a dessert and make it work but chef has achieved that here. As I mentioned early on, chef is a fan of fennel fronds as it has been featured in practically every dish and I feel that it might just be the refreshing element across each plate that I am tasting.