NEW YORK, NY
This is New York City. We were COVID ground zero but thankfully we are now able to manage it successfully. That said, I was in shock to learn that there were new restaurants being opened during the COVID period when most of us were under a stay-at-home order. Many of these restaurants have had to reimagine their approach to dining by including a takeout and delivery strategy because as you can imagine this is the only way to earn an income in these times. The destruction that COVID has caused worldwide, particularly in the food industry, is immeasurable and I hope that I can help in some small way by visiting and writing about my experiences at these restaurants. This is the direction that this blog will take going forward. I will not cover not only fine dining restaurants but all restaurants (mostly New York for now due to travel restrictions) as they need as much help as they can get. Let’s get started…
Today, I am here to write about Wicked Jane. It is located in the West Village on 8th street across from Amelie, a nice French wine bar that I will write about at some point. Wicked Jane is a restaurant that labels itself as a fine dining restaurant which came as huge surprise to me. It is going to take me a minute to get out of my “fine dining restaurant first” kick so forgive the choice as I have many other reasons for the selection which are to follow. That a chef was attempting to create the fine dining experience during COVID with outdoor dining as their only option was I thought incredibly bold. The chef of this restaurant is Zod Arifai and what I particularly like about him is that he is self taught. Also, it is said that nothing he makes tastes the same every time because he does not write his recipes down. Well this was at least the case with his previous dishes from his now closed New Jersey restaurants, Blu and Next Door. Another thing that drew me to this restaurant is that the menu changes weekly making it all the more intriguing as a diner can experience new creativity on a regular basis. In this environment, I applaud the restaurant’s creativity as this is surely something not to be missed. As someone who enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, I am in awe of chefs who can move into a professional space with that talent. The entire experience of fine dining is like the acting out of a play where you play a central role. You are the star. So I was curious as to how he thought he would achieve that. In addition, I wondered how he thought to survive financially putting up the performance without the presence of a takeout or delivery option. These are the questions that plagued me as I made my reservation for one. I must mention that that was also a huge draw for me as my normal routine to “walk-in without a reservation” as a solo diner approach to dining has been obliterated in the city by COVID.
As with all my other fine dining experiences, I took the time to get dressed in one of my finest outfits, with exquisite jewelry and shoes to match. This is not to say that I do not get dressed properly when I am going to non-fine dining restaurants but I definitely put in a significant amount of extra effort when going to such restaurants. I guess as the star of the play, it is fun to play dress up.
I am going to start with my summary as opposed to the discussion of every dish as I do in all my other food stories. Let’s start with the fact that this does not fit the space of traditional fine dining restaurant or rather this could very well have been a fine dining restaurant if it were indoors. I came to this conclusion after the first bite of my first dish. I can only imagine the interior design which would have been clean to match the simplicity of each dish. The uniforms of the waiters and the bottled wine list which was not available during my visit. I took a peek at the inside of the restaurant to try to satisfy my curiosity and it was a beautiful light green color with exceptional and unique light fixtures. The seating and space outdoors while beautiful would DEFINITELY have fit better indoors. The prices are very affordable for a fine dining restaurant leaning more towards a nice restaurant prices than the normal elevated level. This was a very welcome and appreciated surprise. There was no tasting menu which as you know by now is my go-to for the variety as well as for the smaller portions so I have enough to share with you of the experience. I miss the extravagance of that dining experience. The vibe here is instead very laid back with the hostess greeting you joyously and bountifully as she marked your reservation as present or accepted your walk-in. I found that there were quite a few walk-ins to the restaurant and I have to assume that that is just a sign of the times as well. On drinks, they had the standard cocktails, sparkling, red and white wines. I did not get any cocktails but did see a few which looked delicious so I will be sure to get that on a future visit. Instead, I got a Sauvignon Blanc which was quite nice. I was also given the Pinot Noir on the house which was lovely but not as good as the Sauvignon Blanc. I think ultimately this restaurant like many across the city deserves a visit (preferably several), if not for the amazing food then just to warm your heart by the welcoming smile and hello of the hostess. I have to say that what they have done here to redefine the fine dining experience outdoors is quite nice. Overall, this restaurant is reminiscent to me as a better King, another restaurant in Soho. Over there, their menu changes on a daily basis so if you really want variety then feel free to visit everyday. Here though, I found the dishes to be much cleaner, elevated and focused while still maintaining unique creativity.
Now that I’ve gotten that part out. Let’s jump into the individual dishes. As many of my loyal readers know by now, my initial judge of a restaurant is the bread. Whether served with oil, or butter or some spreadable cheese mixture or something else unidentifiable to me, I find that the bread is a solid introduction to the meal to come. Unfortunately, there was no bread here for me to make my initial commentary and judgment… though there was a bread plate surprisingly. So I was left to move forward with ordering my dishes to start the experience.
I love a simple menu and that is exactly what they have here. Clean simple dishes with identifiable ingredients that they have elevated in their own unique way. Take for instance, the first dish on the list, the chilled tomato soup with watermelon and house made cheese. There are two kinds of sweet, one from the tomatoes and the other from the watermelon, and then what I am assuming is salty cheese. Think about the cherry tomato sweetness paired with refreshing watermelon sweetness and then add in salty cheese so that there is some form of competition between which is a better sweet/salt combination. Then there is the Lightly Cooked (and generally buttery) Salmon paired with the bite of three different ingredients (daikon, lime and ginger) and brought to the finish line by sweet grapes. Sounds like heaven…. BUT I did not order any of those dishes, I just fantasized on what they would taste like. What I ended up ordering was the Scallop Crudo with ginger, lime, sea salt and olive oil, the Heirloom tomato salad and the duck tacos special. I was initially going to order the Duck Breast but I love tacos too much. Besides, I figured that there is always another visit when I could order the dish as it is on the menu vs the special.
My first dish was the Tomato salad with sherry vinaigrette and peaches. I love how simple this dish is and how I can identify every ingredient so I do not have to use my voice recorder to not forget any details of what I want to share with you. With many other fine dining restaurants in New York and abroad, you would find that there are so many ingredients which are announced no matter how slight. It is great to know and understand the composition but it does become a bit complicated to remember. This dish is refreshing with multiple varieties of tomatoes, all of which have varying degrees of sweetness when paired with the salty of the vinagrette. There were Roma, Heirloom and Cherry tomatoes in this dish and then there was the more decadent sweetness of peaches on the plate. This was magnificent overall. I will note that this would be significantly better if it was enjoyed inside with air conditioning as the cleanliness and taste of the dish would have been enhanced by the coolness of the room. I love this dish and I could eat several of these in one evening.
My next dish was the Scallop crudo with ginger lime and olive oil. There are just some dishes that you have to pause, take a look and consume with your eyes before your tastebuds and this is one of such dishes. The scallops were sliced to a perfect thickness and were separated by mandoline sliced radishes. The red rinds of the radishes added a beautiful color to the plate presentation. Then there were two shades of green from the dressing as well as from a central blend of ingredients that I am not entirely sure what it was made of. Finally, there was the yellow/gold from the olive oil and the dark grey from what I am assuming is squid ink. I love a beautiful plate presentation and I always pause to observe and respect it. Tasting the dish, the scallop was incredibly fresh, almost like a fisherman’s catch that had been pulled directly from the water before being plated. The bite of the radishes was not as strong as I am used to and instead it was the lime that was the strongest taste on the palate which was very much appreciated. I really am curious if he did something to the radishes or if it was just a matter of the right supplier. This dish, incase it is not clear, was incredible, balanced and an amazing treat for the tastebuds.
As I mentioned earlier, looking at the menu, they had a duck breast which I had every intention of ordering but then they mentioned that they had two specials that night… one of which was duck tacos. I love tacos and will almost always pick that if I am presented with the option at any restaurant. Eating with my hands and running the risk of the taco filling falling on my plate and getting all over my face be damned. That’s what napkins are for! Hence the choice of the duck tacos instead. These were duck tacos with caramelized onions, chipotle and mayonnaise. The tortillas were larger for what I am generally used as far as tortillas for tacos but it helped with less “spillage” so to speak. I had one word run through my mind after my first bite… Ecstasy. Duck tacos are not a regular offering so I would advise that if you want to try one for the first time, you should probably make a visit here. Of course, it is a special and as such may not be available but try still and maybe you will get lucky. Now back to the dish. The tortillas definitely tasted like they were homemade and not store-bought / vendor provided though I could be wrong. I guess that that is a secret that the restaurant can take to the grave. The duck was melt in your mouth tender which re-invigorated my need to come back here and have the duck breast dish. The chipotle is mildly spicy but not in a tastebud temperature hot spicy, more like flavorful spicy that lingers on the tongue for a little while after you swallow your bite. Finally, there was the rich creaminess of the mayonnaise which tied all of the dish components together. These were wonderful tacos and I was very satisfied with my choice to go in this direction.
That is all I had at this wonderful restaurant and it goes without saying that I will be back many times over to try both their staples as well as new dishes added to the menu which as I told you changes on a weekly basis. I cannot wait to have more of their meals so that I can fill you in on the delicacies that this restaurant supplies.
Wicked Jane Website