Photos are here: http://www.donuts4dinner.com/2011/04/...
My boyfriend noticed that the latest Eater.com Heatmap included newcomer Tenpenny, which has been getting rave reviews for its pretzel bread, lobster gnocchi, and giant rack of pork.
The only problem is that all of the reviews we saw were filled with terrible dark, grainy photos where the bread could’ve been barf and the pork could’ve been poo, so we were a little unsure about what we were getting into. At $68 for six courses and $115 for seven courses with wine, though, we were willing to give it a shot.
• complimentary pretzel bread
So greasy! So yummy!
• Tenpenny chips: roasted garlic & gouda, red beet & gorgonzola, chipotle & tomato
We were so amused when the first course turned out to be an appetizer sampler, because these were exactly the three we were most interested in and had considered ordering additionally just to make sure we got to try them. Talk about exceeding expectations.
The chips were extremely crispy, puffed little slices of potato. The very spicy chipotle one was my favourite, and although I did like all three of the flavors, I think the other two appetizers were more delicious and complex, and I’d be more apt to order them again.
• crispy artichoke, lemon aioli, stallard’s hickory-smoked trout roe
Not that you can do anything wrong with artichokes, but frying them is particularly great because all of the layers get crispy. I’m used to smaller, firmer types of roe that aren’t so juicy, so the way these little trout babies popped so easily between my teeth and leaked out all their fishy goodness was a little surprising. Not unpleasant, but surprising. This was certainly the most challenging of the appetizers, ifyouknowwhatImean.
• pork belly croquette, potato flake, hard cider sauce
My grandmother makes a ham loaf that’s celebrated among my family members on every holiday. Up until recently, I didn’t get it. Why would you grind up ham and form it into a little sauce-covered turd when an unadulterated slice of ham is as good as it gets on its own? Well, I got over the mindblock a few holidays ago, and now I look forward to the ham loaf as much as the next gal. I was going to miss Easter back home in Ohio this year, but wouldn’t you know it, Tenpenny is serving my grandma’s famous ham loaf.
Only their sauce hardens on the outside of the croquette, making it sweet and crunchy. It’s just the perfect little bite of ham, and I could’ve easily eaten a plateful of these on my own.
• spring vegetables: raw, cooked, pickled, and crunchy; “ranch”
I like vegetables, but usually only when they’re served alongside an intimidating slab of meat. I have friends who don’t eat green things. I have friends who literally don’t eat vegetables period. But this was a plate of vegetables that I truly believe could win anyone over. They were heavily dusted with dehydrated ranch flavoring and tasted like junk food. It was like eating a bag of chips, except that every once in a while, you’d run into a fresh radish.
The mix of raw and fried, sweet and spicy was brilliant. We loved the contrast between the soft carrots with their tops still on and the crunchy sunchoke “soil” underneath, which were like bitter bacon bits. I would definitely, definitely order this again, and I wouldn’t even care if there wasn’t a hunk of meat in my future.
• seared scallops, chanterelles, scallion, crispy chicken skin
The puree garnishing this dish was far more vegetabley than anything on the last plate, funnily enough. We loved the texture play of the granola-like crispy chicken skin, the slick scallop, and the chewy chanterelles. Like most kids, I grew up avoiding black licorice, but I’ve come to appreciate anise as an adult, and it was used especially well here.
• potato gnocchi, butter-poached lobster, black truffle, sunchoke
I could not wait to taste this. I truly love gnocchi, and I was so excited to see how the soft little dumplings would interact with that special segmented rubbery thing that lobster has going on. The gnocchi were the lightest little pillows of hash-brown-y flavor, and I loved the added texture the sear on them provided. Plus, that earthy, rich truffle in the sauce? Come on.
• halibut, artichoke barigoule, kalamata olive, meyer lemon
Now, you know I’m no sucker for fish, but you drop a dehydrated lemon with all of its condensed tart flavor on top of a piece of perfectly-seared halibut, and I’m sold. This was one of the better fish dishes I’ve had with those soft onions and artichokes underneath. I’m still pretty anti-olive, though, and the bitterness of the paste on the side of the plate was too much for me, especially since it looked like sweet, sweet chocolate.
• heritage pork rack, savory apple pie, dandelion greens, bourbon
I’m not sure if my picture of this didn’t turn out well because I was trashed or if it’s because it’s just a hard dish to capture with its plate-spanning girth and ceiling-reaching height. Either way, what you see doesn’t in any way compare to what I tasted, which were tender, well-crusted slices of pork complimented by a what amounted to an apple pot pie.
When we saw “savory apple pie”, we thought, Yeah, right, but it really, truly was not sweet! I think a lot of its non-dessert-ness came from the caramelized onions inside. It was just such a great play on pork chops and applesauce that we were sad when the pie ran out.
• petit fours
Dessert was a little tray of two salty walnut financiers, melt-in-your-mouth hazelnut truffles, and gummy strawberry pate de fruits. Now, even as a dessertphile, I didn’t mind that this was the only sweet course. Most tasting menus, no matter how many courses they claim to be, include a little plate of petit fours much like these after the actual dessert course, but having not seen the dessert menu, I thought maybe they just didn’t do sweets. My boyfriend was disappointed, but I said, “Hey, if you’re not good at them, I’d rather you not try to fake it.” But I later looked at the dessert menu online and saw that they have a lime tart and a chamomile panna cotta, which both sound like totally real desserts!
How could you do that to me, Tenpenny?
Another thing Tenpenny did was mess. us. up. They did a great job with drink pairings, but it was almost too good. They started with a cocktail–a Negroni–gave us a white wine, and then slipped in a few reds, all of which were nicely paired. Then the pork rolled around, and we got both a beer and a shot of bourbon. Then the dessert tray came with two liqueurs! All in all, it was nine drinks, and the best part was that Managing Partner Jeffrey Tascarella told us, “We start out with small pours, but if we see that you’re enjoying something, we’ll bring you more.” HA!
“It’s criminal!” we said on the walk back to my boyfriend’s apartment. “They should be arrested for that!” But we sure did enjoy it.
My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Tenpenny is casual and cool, with exposed brick on the walls and Wilco and Radiohead on the speakers. Chef Chris Cipollone‘s dishes were all so outstanding that we had a hard time choosing our favourites. Was it the homey pork with the unexpected savory pie? Was it the vegetables that were so good they should be considered junk food? Was it the lobster with the gnocchi? I don’t know, and I want them all again. I’m hoping that Tenpenny’s unassuming location, the Gotham Hotel, will keep all the other eaters away, but this is a restaurant deserving of its hype.
16 E 46th St, New York, NY 10017