New York, NY
It was a dream come true to eat at Atera in Tribeca, NYC for me. In their small, beautiful and intimate dining room with clear line of sight of the kitchen, the experience was one to remember. The welcome to the restaurant is by two attendants right by the door, waiting attentively as one enters the space to take coats and additionally presenting holders for bags and phones. I found the staff is very attentive and friendly in a more relaxed and natural manner than I have experienced in my adventures. I even got the chefs to stop and pose for a photo which I found entertaining since they were prepping for a full house for the night. It is in fact the little things that mean the most to me as I have mentioned in posts past. L’Appart has what I would consider to be the most similar welcome home feel that I experienced here.
There were a few items served at this time that I do not have photos of (or I was not satisfied with what was taken). This included an aperitif with lime juice and juniper foam. I was instructed to drink it immediately to get the maximum experience intended. The taste gave a playful foam enlivening mouth that made this drink fun to consume. The space was filled with the scent of hot and fresh waffles which were being prepared for a dish to be served later in the menu. If you can imagine that experience of liveliness and freshness in the mouth with full savory on the nose, it was wonderful.
The next dish was the Shigoku oyster from Washington state with cucumber, picked jalapeño and parsley oil. The balance of the flavors was unparalleled and yet still restrained. In all honesty, I prefer a brinier oyster if there is such a word. The spice of the jalapeño was not a particular standout thankfully as I am not the biggest fan of a heated mouth. The best part of the bite though for me was the cucumber which was the freshest that I had tasted in a while. Generally, I measure the freshness and quality of vegetables against what I get at the farmer’s market first and then Whole Foods second and the quality here, far surpassed both of those measures. It provided the reminder of visits to a farm to harvest the crop directly from the soil with no transportation to any location exception the farm kitchen for preparation.
The next dish was a sourdough crisp toast with sea urchin, finger lime and crispy chicken skin. The order of appearance of the flavors was first the chicken skin which was extremely bold followed by the savory sea urchin. I will admit that the sea urchin was not the freshest that I have ever tasted. I reserve that spot for my omakase at Shoji. That is to be expected though as it is in fact omakase. The finger limes were the next and last flavor which brought a bold finish to the bite. The sampling of this dish was as though a notes of music were being played on the piano, with a loud and enhanced key followed by a soft and restrained and then finally returning to the same powerful note at the end. Three heavely bites is all it took to finish this plate and I found it to be the best way to start the meal that lay just ahead.
The next dish was an egg custard with preserved kombu and roasted maitake mushrooms. I love a kombu and a soup soup made with the ingredient is one that I will almost never refuse. The custard lay beneath the soup and its addition to the salt of the the kombu led to a decadence of experience when into together, almost as though one were eating cream cheese right from its packaging. The only thing that moved in a different direction of soft were the mushrooms themselves which were prepared to leave some firmness in place.
Something that I particularly loved about the dishes so far was that I was able to recognize every ingredient on their plate. For me, this exemplifies the innate simplicity of their transformation of ingredients, a most certain achievement that deserves applause. With that introduction, the next dish was the waffle with tuna tartare sunchoke chips and black truffle. Upon tasting this place, I was remiss that this could not be breakfast everyday. However, with a no to low carb diet that I follow, that flour would not help with my weight loss goals. This was a phenomenal plate and it was at this point that I started to forget to take photos and jot down comments since every dish was so good, quite frankly rising to delicious sensory overload. The waffle was intricately buttered as it struck just that right balance without being overwhelming… not that I would complain about excessive butter in any case. The tartare was not a standout on salt, it was more reserved if anything thereby allowing the other ingredients to shine. My first thought upon tasting the tartare was that it could benefit from some soy sauce but then a flash of butter would lay on the palate and the tartare’s would emit a magical flavor. Finally, there was the last element of the dish, the sunchoke crisp. I love how earthy sunchoke is and that was enhanced with every bite of the truffle. The summary of this plate was that it was an interesting and simple combination of flavors that balanced each other out to flavorful ecstasy.
The next dish was the Kaluga caviar with pistachio gelato. Generally, I prefer osetra caviar which is bolder in its saltiness than Kaluga. However, this was a reinvention of Kaluga which is elevated the generally more understated flavor profile. This variation gave the caviar, a slight nudge above typical salt levels. The gelato was sweet and earthy at the same time, no doubt as a result of the very present and distinguished taste of the pistachio nut. Honestly, I do not know or recall what the white foam was on the plate, but it brought out an even sweeter note to the plate. It was almost like an addition of ice cream level of sweet flavor but not overly so. If it had reached the level of overly sweet ice cream, this element would certainly have overwhelmed the plate. A cute point that I observed with this plate was the gentle orchestration of the placement of the cutlery. This is a normal experience that is had at every restaurant and I really never notice, but there was something special and unique here about the placements that I cannot describe.
The next plate was the mackerel with dill and dashi broth, cucumber balls and horseradish ice. This was served on a flat plate which was necessary to cut the fish but that made it impossible to finish all the broth. I was quite sad about that since I love dashi and the addition of the dill was a unique combination that I had not yet tasted. I do not believe that I have to mention the very obvious point that this was a winning combination. It was not a perfect plate though as the mackerel seemed to be the “sushi that never was”. What I mean by that is that the fish was fresh but not sushi grade. Also, I found the shaving atop the fish to be quite chewy in texture. It was still delicious but just not my favorite plate.
The next plate was a poached Maine Lobster with confit egg yolk, carrots, trout roe and red curry. The curry in this dish is quite spicy which as I mentioned earlier, I am not too much a fan of. However, bursting the egg yolk and mixing it in really tempered the heat in its flavors. There was a very decent portion of the semi firm and yet succulent lobster which surprised me given the small tasting portion of the dish as a whole. I venture to guess that it might have been an entire lobster tail on this plate. The carrot was very lightly blanched as it was still warm and had that tender but crisp bite that goes along with that temperature. The magic of the roe was expelled as it was consumed with the lobster given its exploding nature which expelled its salt as is natural to the ingredient. I do have to mention though that if you do not very much enjoy spice, as I do, this might not quite be the dish for you. The egg, though it tempered the heat initially, disappeared a little too quickly for my liking thereby rendering the very persistent heat back on the tongue. If on the other hand you love spice, then sip away.
I love a good plate presentation and the next plate was finished in front of me with the swirl pour of the brown butter over the fish. This dish was the poached halibut with cauliflower purée, white soy, brown butter and a toasted nut blend. There were quite a few components to this dish but I have no complaints about that fact. I first reached for the cauliflower purée as I had not had any in awhile and this used to be a staple in my diet. My first thought was that the puree needed salt, until I took another taste but with the brown butter on the second go around. The brown butter is intense and concentrated and the main driver of all flavor on the plate. The nut blend was interesting and necessary as each nut has its own unique and forthright flavor. It was a blend of pistachio, almond and pine nuts. The halibut was tender and just fell apart as you would expect with a perfect poach. I could not readily taste the white soy flavor but my guess is that it may be an understated ingredient since I have no prior knowledge of what it should taste like. This was another successful plate with simple transformations of readily available ingredients.
I really wanted to say that this next plate was my favorite plate but there were far too many wonderful flavors across the entire menu that I could not pick one. The next dish was quite a special dish though. It was a sourdough spelt bread with in-house made ricotta topped with a 25-year old aged balsamic and sweet potato chips. They caught and held my attention at sweet potato chips. I live a low to no carb diet as I have mentioned many a time but sweet potatoes are a definitely a treat for me. I could eat these chips everyday as they were so decadent. The bread was warm and soft, which as is to be expected, was the introduction to the texture palate games when paired with the crunch of the chips. I particularly loved that the chips were not overly sweet or greasy. The potatoes selected had just reached optimal ripeness if there is such a thing. There was some oil though from the chips but it paired very nicely with the rich and smooth ricotta. The balsamic was a very bold and biting flavor on the plate but it also rendered the unique and tangy sweetness that only balsamic can, thereby reducing its own bite. Generally, I am not a fan of ricotta because those that I have had are almost always overly sweet or too grainy but this was not at all the case here. I give a generous nod to the in-house culturer, if that is an adequate and real title, for the smooth and perfectly balanced sweetness of the cheese. I will admit that I thought it would be a struggle to bite into the crust of the bread as is generally the case with sourdough crust but there was absolutely no struggle here.
As with dinners like this one, dinner generally starts at the same time for all attendees but evolves into the personal pace of the diners as people enjoy their meal. I noticed that here, we were all moving at about the same pace, almost as though we were all rushing for the next delicious plate. That brings me to the next one, the fermented potato purée with cheese set in an onion and basil oil sauce. Cheese and potatoes is not something that would fit in my diet on a regular basis and is really not something that I would think to cook in the first place but this combination never tasted so amazing. This was scrape the bowl worthy particularly since I did not know the kind of cheese. The cheese selection added a level of indescribable richness to the entire plate. Another amazing piece on the plate was the potato and basil, fresh meets earthy is an adequate expression to describe this combination. Something to note is the texture which was surprising. I had thought that the cheese topped the potatoes lightly as with a sprinkle but in actuality it was more like a dome covering atop the potatoes. This placement caused the slipping my fork into something quite gooey to be a bit of an unexpected experience. All said, this was delicious to the last bite.
I loved the presentation of the next plate and it was just as refreshing and satisfying at the same time as it looked. The touch of orange coloring from the flowers was quite pleasing to my eyes. This dish was the braised oxtail in what I can only believe is blanched cabbage. The cabbage was warm and had lost some of that bitterness that you sometimes get with unprepared cabbage which is why I suppose that it was blanched. The very tender oxtail was braised in a semi-sweet beef broth which gave that rich sturdiness to such a little serving. I found the onions here to be the standout flavor and eminent presence which added further yet to the refreshing quality of the plate.
Each chef plays a role in plating and presentation here. It is almost like choreography watching them move about the kitchen in unison. Ah. Well. The next dance led to the next beauty placed in front of me, a venison loin cooked to medium rare with a panko and understated truffle topping, served with cioppolini onions and jus. Venison can be characteristically gamey at times and this was no different. It was a nice change from my regular rotation of steak and short rib. Besides, the uniqueness in taste, was enhanced by the sweeter than usual onions and salty jus. Truly, the attraction on this plate was the texture game experienced between firmness of the onions and the meat. There was juicy firm from the meat and crunchy firm from the onions. There was also the additional crunch from the panko which surprisingly had not become mushy. I asked about the preparation of the venison as I was curious and I was told that the meat was first steamed for a half hour then seared in a hot pan. That preparation explains the moist insides with the crunchy exterior, another nod to the texture of the entire plate.
The loin was the last of the savory dishes sadly and next was a welcome to the first dessert, a lemon sorbet with raspberries served atop a lemongrass creme anglaise. In all honesty, this leant itself more to a palate cleanser than a dessert as it was more refreshing-forward than decadent and sweet forward. The sorbet was wrapped in something that seemed to be a frozen raspberry shell. This was a phenomenal plate though and it was with this dish that I became quite saddened as I knew that this amazing tasting meal was soon to end.
The second dessert was the sweet apple over lemon verbena custard. This has decadence written all over it in a lovely healthy package… or so I tell myself. The apple had to be red apple with zero tartness as I really have not had any sweet green apples. The way that I experienced this was with first, a very present initial sweetness of the apple followed by the smooth and silky creaminess of the custard. The crunch toppings shaped like tiny Hershey kisses brought another texture element to the plate. You could parallel the experience to cookies and ice cream with this addition. The magic of the textures provided here ranged from ice to multiple levels of crunch to soft and silky all the while being bright and refreshing from the lemon. It was quite the winning combination on a plate here.
And finally, we come to the end of the meal with a series of small plate desserts. We have a piece of mochi, a fried cannoli and thin milk chocolate piece that sandwiched in-housemade caramel. Generally, I do not like mochi and really the last time I had a piece that I liked, I was in Valencia at the Ricard Camarena restaurant where it was warm and freshly made. The experience here was the same as I bit into the small and delicate piece. The cannoli was another beauty with its non-greasy and perfectly crunchy shell that was dipped in chocolate. The chocolate was a richly divine dark and non-bitter chocolate with a smooth finish that paired excellently with the not overly sweet cream cheese. And the final piece to the occasion was the sandwich shaped piece of milk chocolate that was filled with smooth caramel. Bad caramel can be very easily made to be gummy such that it sticks to the teeth but not so here. In this case, the caramel could be long drawn out as you would experience in the bite into hot melted cheese. Beautiful. Stunning. And just the way every meal should end.