Please find photographs to accompany this review here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2011/10/r...
Unlike most New York City chefs, Jessie Schenker really seems to be in his kitchen each and every night -- rain, snow, sleet or shine. (We ate there, once, after a huge blizzard swept through New York City and Chef Schenker was there, looking pleasant and chipper, much to our amazement.)
The man seems to really care about the food he serves and it shows. I've eaten at the restaurant since it was a few months old and unlike almost any other restaurant one could mention, the food keeps getting better and better over time.
On a recent visit, three of us began with a "snack" of Marinated Hamachi, Uni, Sea Beans, Harissa, a dish similar to something I had on my first visit. The fish was not pristine enough to be served raw, then; this version included hamachi (very lightly marinated in soy sauce and citrus) and uni so sweet, they could've been served at a top NYC sushi bar. Harissa foam added a very nice touch of salinity, which highlighted the seafood's sweetness. Sea beans were crisp-tender and perfectly cooked.
Another "snack" of Bone Marrow Toast, Onion Marmalade, Trout Roe included flavorful, well-prepared bone marrow that was somewhat overwhelmed by strongly flavored trout roe and onion marmalade. The roe seemed out of place in the flavor profile, but individually, each component was excellent.
A "plate" (main course sized, though they are supposedly meant to be shared) of Roasted Foie Gras, Peppercorn Biscuit, Chicken Skin, Spiced Honey was both decadent and restrained. A very generously sized lobe of foie gras was seared on the outside and to my tastes a wee bit on the rare side, within. But the texture was silky and the flavor impeccable. A curl of golden chicken skin (on the left side of the plate in the photo) was just what it sounds like: a piece of good chicken skin, with a thick layer of fat. It was delicious (chicken skin always is), but for the sake of textural contrast, I think I would've preferred to have had a piece of crispy skin with more of the fat rendered off. The pepper biscuit on the right side of the plate was, according to one dining companion, slightly undercooked, but I didn't personally try it.
The only dish I didn't love this meal was the Grilled Pulpo, Black Garlic, Olive Oil, Lemon, Fennel. The pulpo itself was very good, with a pleasantly soft, but not mushy, texture and the black garlic was an interesting touch that worked surprisingly well -- but the dressing was so acidic that it overpowered the more delicate flavors on the plate. Translucent slices of fennel were crisp and fresh.
Lobster Orzo, Chorizo, Burgundy Truffle, Lemon, Lobster Emulsion included tender lobster and richly flavored emulsion (an effective rebuttal to detractors who argue foam adds nothing to a plate), but though the chorizo was a lovely flavor component of the dish, when you ate an actual piece of chorizo, it stifled the more delicate flavors of lobster and truffle.
The Fall Squash Raviolo, Sepia, Guanciale, Squid Ink, Ocean Broth came covered with an undisclosed ingredient: what I think were white beech mushrooms. One dining companion and I gallantly "saved" our third dining companion from having to eat the mushrooms, but it wasn't exactly a chore: These were the most delicious component of a dish we ate all evening, even for me, a mere mushroom liker (not lover). The mushrooms and the "ocean broth" were saturated with umami and a deep richness I wasn't able to identify at the time, but think may have come from the addition of guanciale, a non-smoked Italian pork bacon made with pork jowls. Tender pieces of sepia (a type of cuttlefish) somewhat mimicked the texture of the mushrooms and by the time you dug down to the raviolo, this headline component was almost an afterthought. Nevertheless, the pasta was very good, with a not-overly-sweet filling -- overly sweet squash fillings are a common sin, I find -- and a good, al dente wrapper flavored with squid ink.
Scallops in the Scallops, Artichokes, Asparagus, Thumbelina Carrots, Caviar Beurre Blanc (pictured at the top of this post) were a close contender with the white beech mushrooms for best ingredient. Three medium-sized, sweet scallops came with a gorgeous, golden brown sear on the outside, but were cooked to a perfect, medium-rare temperature, inside. Caviar beurre blanc was so good I would've liked to have drunk a bowl of it as a soup.
A side of roasted fall vegetables were somewhat weaker as a dish. An adorable, tiny cast iron pot came filled with more mushrooms (shiitake, I think), Thumbelina carrots, one lone Brussels sprout, baby turnips, asparagus and cauliflower. Although all of these were clearly very fresh, they were also a bit underroasted for my tastes. There was a pleasant amount of bite, but no caramelization or sweetness from roasting, which defeats the purpose of roasting vegetables in the first place, rather than, say, sauteeing them.
We were a bit worried we wouldn't have room for dessert, since we'd eaten a large, late lunch and that piece of fois gras was no small matter -- but we managed to stuff one in. The three of us split a Fleur de Sel Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Cremeux, Mint Ice Cream, Candied Pecans, Berry Coulis, which turned out to be quite a bit more homey and accessible than it sounds. Although the cake was a bit dry by itself according to my dining companions, the dryness was offset by a beautifully made chocolate cremeux and subtly flavored mint ice cream. Candied pecans tasted as though they may have been mixed with oats: They tasted a bit like granola.
Overall, despite a few nitpicks, this meal left me feeling oddly euphoric. It was undeniably rich and chock full of butter, foie gras, chicken skin, etc... but it's testament to Chef Schenker's incredible instinct for balance that the meal was not unpleasantly heavy.
328 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10014
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