Recipe is that unlikely seed that blew from nowhere onto the arid pavement of a restaurant-saturated strip of Amsterdam, that somehow managed to sprout into something vibrant and delicious. In a time when there seem to be more restaurant deaths than births, this twenty-six seater bravely threw open its French doors to the city in May 2009. By all appearances, the city has come to it -- or at least enough of the city to create the feeling of bustle on a Tuesday night, one month after opening.
This narrow little new American restaurant is about the same size as Land Thai, which shares ownership, and is just a few doors down. The menu, presented like a folded business letter clipped with a miniature clothespin, is markedly ambitious. It is riddled with big words like "croustillant" and "concasse" and curious ingredients like violet mustard and ancho romesco. But it is, at heart, a comfort food menu based on old standards like beef carpaccio, mac & cheese, Cornish hen.
To start, we had (1) locally grown roasted beet salad with lolla rossa, goat cheese, toasted pecans and Banyuls vinaigrette and (2) pulled pork rillettes with haricots verts, garlic chips, shaved fennel and violet mustard. The mouthful of ingredients should tell you something about Recipe's aspirations. At first glance, after translation, these were simply a standard beet and green salad and a small pile of dressed pulled pork with green beans. But the quality of the ingredients was extraordinary. Baby beets, red and gold, were sweet and tender, tiny things that must've been a royal pain in the ars to peel, after roasting. The lolla rossa (it's just lettuce, folks) was tender and beautifully fresh, and very pretty. I have no idea whether the vinegar used was really the wonderful Banyuls since it was so well mixed into everything else, but the vinegar flavor was mild and pleasant, the salad well dressed.
Pork rillettes were slightly less to my taste. I liked that they included chunks of the "bark" of the pulled pork and some of the fat, for the textural contrast. But the shaved fennel (which I dearly love) was in short supply. Haricots verts were crisp and tender. Flavors were very muted. A touch of vinegar and wee sprinkle of sugar would've done wonders for the dish. Or at least more than a tiny smear on the plate of that violette mustard, which was too small an amount to taste properly.
Our main courses were (1) seared duck breast with wild mushrooms, baby turnips and blackberries, and (2) grilled hangar steak with baby zucchini, cipollini onion, haricots verts and ancho romesco. The duck breast (prepared medium rare) was brilliant. It was tender with a lovely crust and just enough fat, and it came in a beautifully made, nuanced jus. The mushrooms were tiny and popping with flavor. Turnips, again tiny, were cooked separately and added later, which ensured the integrity of the flavor in classic French style, but didn't allow for that turnipy goodness to infuse into the dish.
The grilled hangar steak, also medium rare, was covered in a low key ancho romesco. I loved the ancho romesco (ancho chiles and walnuts) and the steak, but as a matter of personal taste, I prefer that good meat come with fewer ancillary flavors. If you are the type who likes sauces and garnish on your steak, the slight chili fragrance and sweet/bitter walnut of the romesco did go well with the red meat. The hangar steak, as is typical of this cut, was more chewy than tender, but was very flavorful.
Since Recipe has not yet been granted a liquor license, we brought our own bottle of wine, which the bartender/waiter was kind enough to pour for us in square, stemless glasses (a trend I sort of hate, but understand to be code for "hip, relaxed restaurant").
Dessert was a pignoli tart with walnut crust, caramel, ganache, pignoli and sea salt, topped with mascarpone ice cream. I frankly found it a bit too busy and am not sure all the ingredients really came together as a coherent dessert. Individually, the separate parts were very good, though mascarpone flavors were muted and almost completely overwhelmed by all the other flavors on the plate. Sea salt was a bit too coarse and unevenly sprinkled.
Overall, though, this was a very, very nice effort by a place that has evidently received almost no press. The kitchen put a surprising amount of attention to detail into preparing the food, ingredients were clearly excellent. I'm not really sure which direction the menu wants to go with its facially familiar new American standards, but haute preparations and embellishments. It's attempting to straddle quite a few lines, there: between uptown and downtown, local and international, the new and classic. Perhaps it's a sign of the times that Recipe manages to mix it all together and do so gracefully.
Here's the menu (slightly different from the one we were handed at the restaurant): http://www.recipenyc.com/menu.html.
Shawn Paul Dalziel (formerly of Blue Water Grill) is the executive chef.
452 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10024