Last night, me and two of my Zipcar co-adventurers decided to venture out of Manhattan to try ETC - a steakhouse that we had heard good things about. After a short (10 minute) drive from the GWB, we arrived at ETC and availed ourselves of the bountiful free parking around the corner. Upon arriving in the restaurant (on a bitterly cold night), I was impressed by the intimate, warm and upscale décor. The restaurant was full (but not overwhelmingly so). Unlike many high-end NYC kosher restaurants where a full house almost assuredly results in a cacophonous din, the noise was not overwhelming. A soft, almost pleasant, buzz pervaded - diners chatting contentedly amongst themselves, enjoying the food and each other's company, without diminishing the overall ambience.
Upon being at our table (reservations definitely recommended) we reviewed the menu and dug into the bread basket with gusto. First minor point of (constructive) criticism - after sampling the innovative cuisine and seeing firsthand the Chef's ability to balance and contrast various flavors, we were surprised and a bit disappointed that the bread basket was not accompanied by any sort of spread/olive oil, etc. Perhaps this was just an oversight. The bread (rolls) itself, was served hot and was deliciously chewy.
By way of background, I and my two dining companions had spent most of the day in eager anticipation of our meal. We exchanged various online reviews (including NY Times review), and e-mailed potential menu selections throughout the day. Going into the meal, we all had decided to try the short ribs we had heard so much about. However, after being seated and having a chance to peruse the menu, my friend, the lovely and sagacious J wisely suggested that we try one of the tasting menus (Etc offers a variety of multi-course tasting menu - 4, 5, 7 or 9 courses - at various price points). Our table decided to go with the 7 course steak tasting menu ($75 per person) - and we were glad we did. As an aside, before you begin your tasting menu, the server will inquire as to any particular preferences (as I'm deathly allergic to fish, we had to go with meat-based dishes. We also noted that we definitely wanted to sample the short ribs we had heard so much about and that we wanted something "chocolaty" for dessert - all our preferences were graciously accommodated)
One important note - it's important to adjust your expectations in terms of portion size. Afterall, this is a tasting menu! Diners expecting seven heaping courses will be disappointed. The portions on the tasting menu are just that - tastes! You will be satisfied (but not annoyingly "stuffed") after completing your tasting menu - but you need to adjust your expectations accordingly.
Our first "taste" was a succulent duck risotto - I'm a big risotto fan and this was done right. We then moved on to sweetbreads - I've never been such a fan, but heartily enjoyed it (was glad it was only a taste). We then moved on to a succession of steaks - hangar steak, skirt steak, rib steak and the long-awaited short ribs. Each dish was carefully and creatively presented and balanced with a variety of sauce, salad, potato (and even egg) and other accompaniments. I really enjoyed the (Pomegranate) hangar and skirt steaks - I happened to scoop up a few pomegranate seeds in attempting to lance a piece of the steak - the explosion of flavorful meat and pomegranate seed that occurred in my mouth was one of the highlights - and the Chef's creative abilities were clearly on display. Out of the 6 courses, the only one that we were slightly disappointed in was the short ribs. Although the meat was quite succulent, we felt that the chocolate sauce overwhelmed the meat/overall flavor. We were expecting a heartier, more bbq flavor and felt that the taste in general should have been bolder so, in hindsight, it was a really good choice to go with the tasting menu which allowed us to sample menu items we wouldn't have otherwise tried vs. "betting the farm" on the short ribs.
Chef Seth came out to greet us after course 5, and we enjoyed speaking with him about our experience. He was extremely friendly and patiently talked to us about what we had eaten and was genuinely receptive to our feedback (and yes, I did tell him my thoughts about the short ribs, which he took in good stride).
And then came dessert - chocolate fudge with coffee ice cream. Let's just say that the waiter returned to the kitchen with three plates licked clean! Delicious!
I'm really glad my friend suggested we try the tasting menu. It was a great way to experience the full range of ETC's offerings. I give top marks to ETC for creative presentation and the quality of its food. The chef's passion is evident and it seems like this relative newcomer to the Teaneck dining scene is really hitting its stride. I plan on being a repeat customer and my friends enjoyed the experience so much that they have already decided to treat their parents to the tasting menu as a gift.