Little Park in Tribeca

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a little park brunch

If you want to know where your eggs come from, and if you want to truly taste the farm on your table, then try the seasonal brunch at Little Park, Andrew Carmellini’s restaurant in the Smyth Tribeca hotel. Little Park sources its ingredients through the longstanding relationships Carmellini has forged with local farmers, rangers and foragers, and that earthy kinship really shows in these brunch dishes.

poached eggs with hen of the woods, heirloom grain porridge and pine nut
poached eggs with hen of the woods, heirloom grain porridge and pine nut

The poached eggs tasted like they were freshly hatched in the middle of an open pasture, so fresh and natural that the bits of mushroom and earthy debris were still on them. It’s the kind of bowl that you eat on a cool fall day, when you need something warm and comforting to fill you up inside. The closest thing I can compare it to is a bowl of congee.

beetroot tartare with horseradish, rye and smoked trout roe
beetroot tartare with horseradish, rye and smoked trout roe

The beetroot tartare took the farm to table motif one step further. It arrived on a plate looking like the chopped beets had literally been plowed from the depths of the earth, an illusion served by the sprinkling of crushed rye surrounding them. It appeared all very raw and wild, but the layer of creamy horseradish and the wonderfully smoky and vibrant trout roe smoothed out the rough edges and transformed this bite into an intriguing one with many layers and textures.

baked eggs with artichoke and lamb chorizo
baked eggs with artichoke and lamb chorizo
toast with jam and butter
toast with jam and butter

The baked eggs arrived in a stew of lamb chorizo that was intensely seasoned and spicy like a bowl of chili. It was certainly delicious, but a little too much to eat plain, which was why we ordered a side of toast to go with it. While the toast was intended to be a neutral surface, it had its own merits, especially when you slathered on the creamy butter and the jam. As you can tell, any dish, big or small, was going to leave an impression. Little Park may be its name, but its flavors are anything but.

Little Park
85 West Broadway (between Warren and Chambers St)
New York, NY 10007
(212) 220-4110

Bar Primi, Sitting Pretty on Bowery

Bar Primi is one of those restaurants that gets by on its looks. It sits pretty on a very attractive street corner on Bowery, furnished in that Eurochic way that gets all the beautiful people coming, and of course, it doesn’t hurt that celebrity chef Andrew Carmellini’s name is attached to it.

But when you get right down to it, the food is decent, but it is not exceptionally amazing. It’s good enough to hold your interest, and it is sufficiently satisfying, but there is better pasta being made elsewhere. Like literally down the street on Bleecker–Bianca is much more low-key, cheaper and tastier than its flashier neighbor. I suppose for a scene-y restaurant, you could probably do a lot worse, and having dinner in a stylish place that turns out competent food is not a bad use of time.

Bar Primi does not take reservations, which isn’t too much of a problem, since the tables for two turnaround fairly quickly. But make sure the staff is taking down the size of your party correctly, because they can be a little spacey. We put our names down for a party of 5, which the hostess clearly acknowledged, and then were shown to a table meant for just two. To be fair, the restaurant addressed the error and remedied the inconvenience and extra wait time by sending out complimentary appetizers, but it could have been avoided entirely.

The portions here are small, so you could probably share two appetizers and three pasta courses between two people without feeling overly full. For appetizers, we shared the ricotta bruschetta, the eggplant bruschetta, the stuffed meatballs, the brooklyn arugula salad and the grilled organic broccolini.

bar primi - ricotta bruschetta v2
ricotta bruschetta
bar primi - grilled broccoli
grilled organic broccolini

The ricotta bruschetta was the universal favorite–you can’t go wrong pairing soft, creamy cheese with fresh and delicious figs. I was also a fan of the broccolini, which actually had something interesting to say in the world of grilled vegetables. The language it spoke was smoky and spicy, with some sour, pickled notes sprinkled in, and a few currants to sweet talk you into submission.

bar primi - stuffed meatballs
stuffed meatballs
bar primi - eggplant bruschetta
eggplant bruschetta
bar primi - arugula salad
brooklyn arugula salad

Carmellini’s duck meatballs at A Voce were legendary, but the stuffed meatballs here were extremely dense and heavy handed. It felt like it was comprised mostly of filler, as I could only really taste the cheese stuffing, and not much of the ground beef. The eggplant bruschetta was decent, but other than the overpowering goat cheese, it wasn’t that compelling. The arugula salad was probably the most bland, which was surprising, as the server sold us pretty hard on this one. It literally tasted like fresh arugula out of a salad bag sprinkled with some cheese. Which is fine if you’re making a dinner from your Blue Apron subscription, but not when you’re paying $11 for it.

Our first round of pastas arrived–the orecchiette, the bucatini and the paccheri with shrimp. Be warned that the flavors of the shrimp feature very prominently in the paccheri, as if all the murky seawater and kelp from the fishing nets were cast directly into the pasta water. I admire bold flavors, but something about the paccheri felt a little half baked. The flavors were a little too strong and rough, as if it were still in the preliminary stages of being refined.

bar primi - orechiette
orecchiette with sausage, broccoli rabe and chickpeas
bar primi - shrimp pacceri
paccheri pasta with shrimp, peppers and olives

The orecchiette also fell a little flat. Again, the pasta and all the individual components were prepared well, it was very hearty and robust, but it could have benefited from some lighter or sharper flavors so that it wasn’t so one-dimensional. I felt like I was just filling up on dense pasta ears and chickpeas, and without any purpose.

bar primi - bucatini
lamb bucatini

The restaurant finally broke some ground with the bucatini, which really held my attention. The pasta was perfectly al dente and slightly starchy and salty. The lamb was tender and flavorful, although it was a tad gamey. But you might want to risk embracing lamb’s wilder side, because the thick sauce and delicious noodles make it all worth it.

bar primi - sausage boss
sausage boss

The next round of entrees included the fiore di carciofi artichoke pasta, the rigatoni and the special of the day, the trademarked “sausage boss.” First of all, let’s talk about this “sausage boss.” How could you not order something off the menu with a name like that? And yes, this sausage was definitely boss. It was delightfully chunky and tangy, with a great casing that held back all the delicious meat bursting from within, and even better were the incredible yukon potatoes that were served alongside it.

bar primi - fiore di carciofi
fiore de carciofi

I felt like Bar Primi finally broke some real culinary ground with the arrival of the fiore de carciofi. Interestingly enough, most of the members in my group didn’t like it, but I was very impressed by its visually arresting arrangement and the striking flavor pairings that I couldn’t quite place anywhere. It arrived in the form of an extremely long, narrow ravioli stuffed with artichoke and pecorini cheese, rolled up to look like some sort of a cinnamon roll. Already it challenged the way you engaged with pasta, as you had to cut into it, as opposed to mostly leveraging your fork. And instead of that comforting and familiar bite of mellow cheese and meat, you were met with this sharp and earthy flavor sensation. Who knew that artichoke could draw out such qualities in a cheese filling?

bar primi - rigatoni
rigatoni with eggplant, basil ricotta salata

If you’re more into the traditional crowd favorites, then the rigatoni is the pasta for you. It’s classic Italian red sauce done extremely well. We were all fighting for the very little that was in the small group serving.

bar primi - tiramisu

We were comfortably full by this point, but we did have enough room for the tiramisu. I don’t remember this dessert all that well, but it was very pleasant–light and not too sweet. Although Bar Primi didn’t hit it out of the park with every dish, it was good enough to make me want to return. It’s like regularly watching a mildly amusing sitcom like The Mindy Project on TV. Sometimes the writing’s tight, and other times it’s a little weak, but the overall story is good-natured and funny enough so that you would go out of your way to revisit past episodes on On Demand.

Bar Primi
325 Bowery
New York, NY 10003
(212) 220-9100

Lafayette – Andrew Carmellini’s New Noho French Brasserie

lafayette interior 2There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the opening of Andrew Carmellini’s new French restaurant Lafayette. The foodie PR machine has gone a little overboard in its love for Carmellini, dedicating monthly posts over the past year obsessively monitoring the progress of the restaurant. The long wait is finally over, as Lafayette officially opened for dinner service this week. I dropped by for a meal last night to see whether the restaurant lived up to all the massive hype, and the answer is no.

Don’t get me wrong, the food here is good, and I would definitely come back for another visit. But I wouldn’t rate my meal a 9 out of a 10, it was more like a 7+. Everything was well executed, but the flavors weren’t perfect. To give Carmellini credit, his style of cooking is certainly very distinctive, and if you had to pick out a Lafayette steak frites out of a line up, you definitely could. I just wish originality and taste could have been a little more balanced.

While the cuisine at Lafayette is mostly French, hints of Spanish, Italian and American influences also make their way on the menu. My personal favorite was the linguine noir with seafood and chorizo. I quite enjoyed the delicious, brine-y flavors of the squid-ink pasta, and I thought the bread crumbs and chorizo gave the noodles some nice, salty texture. On a future visit, I would love to try the spaghetti niçoise with tuna and spring mushroom risotto. The grilled Mediterranean octopus appetizer was less successful. I wish the octopus were crispier, and I thought the flavors weren’t very sharp. The smoky eggplant gave the dish too much of a muddied taste, and while the peppers from the pipérade provided some nice acidity, they weren’t enough to compensate for the overall disappointing effect.

grilled mediterranean octopus
grilled mediterranean octopus
linguine noir with seafood and chorizo
linguine noir with seafood and chorizo

The most classically French dish we tried was the steak frites. We ordered this medium rare, but there were certain parts that were definitely overcooked. I also wasn’t a fan of the bernaise sauce, as the herbs were overly prominent in the butter. The fries were fantastic though. The side of broccoli that we ordered was very underwhelming and irrelevant to the meal. A neighboring table ordered a duck au poivre, which looked delicious, as well as a wood-fired dorade, which they graded a C-.

steak frites
steak frites

For dessert, we decided to grab a few treats from Lafayette’s in-house bakery. An enticing spread of macarons, cakes and breads made it hard to choose, but ultimately we decided upon the butterscotch eclair and the birthday cake macaron. The desserts had unique, refined flavors and were visually stunning, but I wouldn’t go back for seconds, which is crazy for someone like me who has a sweet tooth.

beautiful cakes
beautiful cakes on display!

The space inside Lafayette is beautiful and massive, and you certainly feel as if you’ve been transported to a gorgeous, modern-day Parisian brasserie. The diners are as beautiful as the surroundings, enhancing the elegant aesthetic with their vibrant presence. Come here dressed to kill for a special occasion so that you can blend in with the socialites and power brokers who seem to frequent this place. Lafayette’s stock is a clear buy, although I personally think it’s a bit overvalued and will wait for the hype to die down before getting back in.