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.
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.
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.
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.
85 West Broadway (between Warren and Chambers St)
New York, NY 10007
Sushi Azabu is one of those restaurants so under the radar that you can’t even see it on the street. For awhile, it used to be in the basement of the Greenwich Grill, and now it’s underneath an izakaya place called Daruma-ya. You might wonder how a restaurant with such a low profile can survive in this town, but with sushi this good, strong word-of-mouth will keep them coming.
You can either choose one of the omakase options, or you can order dishes a la carte. We opted for an abbreviated omakase titled the “omotenashi course”, which featured a different assortment of sushi, sashimi and small hot plates, as well as a hot bowl of soba at the end. We supplemented that with the nigiri special, a chef’s selection of 10 pieces of sushi, a maki roll, an egg omelet and some miso soup.
The fish truly has that soft, melt-in-your-mouth quality that can only be found in the freshest catch. I was also struck by how much I liked the sushi rice. The rice was a bit al dente, but with some cohesion between the grains, and there was a subtle sweet and tangy flavor aspect that was very appealing. According to their website, Azabu uses a unique blend of sushi rice imported directly from Japan and from a prior year’s crop so that it avoids the overly-high water content that you find in fresh harvests of rice. They always say the difference between sushi places is really the rice, since all the best restaurants source fish from the same places, and I didn’t really appreciate that until now.
The cooked dishes were just as good as the raw courses. The dreamy blend of rich, briney uni and salty salmon roe in our tofu dish was just so effortlessly good, and the yellowtail collar had been cooked perfectly so that the crackling skin unearthed a plethora of tender, mild meat. The deep fried taro potato with duck was certainly rich but also very clean. so that any sense of heaviness was very much contained.
Really, the only thing I didn’t like about Azabu was the physical space. The booths were arranged along the walls so that there was an odd, open space in the middle. The atmosphere felt a bit cold and impersonal, and it didn’t help that with all the mood lighting and clubby music, that you felt like you were in a hotel lobby. Obviously there are worse things in life than eating fantastic sushi in a nice hotel lobby.
428 Greenwich St (between Vestry and Laight)
New York, NY 10013
Office lobbies suck. You’re usually there because you’re waiting to check in for something unpleasant like a dental appointment or a job interview or an eyelash procedure. But the office lobby of 220 Church St will renew your faith in office lobbies. That’s because you will be greeted by the wonderful smells of butter and pastries wafting through from the ovens of Arcade Bakery, as opposed to a bored security guard asking for some form of identification.
Arcade Bakery is run by Roger Gural, who used to be head baker at Bouchon Bakery and French Laundry. But you wouldn’t know about any of that pedigree, as the bakery seems perfectly fine with keeping a low-profile. Unless you really follow the food blogs or live nearby, you probably haven’t heard of it. The hours of operation are extremely limited, open only during the work week from 8-4 pm, so clearly Arcade Bakery isn’t interested in taking advantage of capturing a broader weekend audience and is intent on flying under-the-radar for now.
This essentially means that I can never make it out to Arcade Bakery unless I get called for jury duty again, which is a bit frustrating, because the pastries here are absurdly good. I almost wish I were back at Citi just so I could buy the almond croissant everyday, which completely blew my mind. I’ve never had anything so buttery and flaky and crispy in my life. I’m not sure what the secret is, maybe it’s that they use a lot of butter, or the best butter there is, but it’s like King Midas gave this pastry the golden touch and every other croissant simply feels gold plated.
The chocolate walnut babka was also excellent, although I still think the one at Breads Bakery is my favorite. The one at Arcade Bakery felt more airy and brioche-like, whereas the one at Breads felt more like a dense pastry, and I probably like my babka all concentrated with chocolate in every layer. There were so many things behind the counter that looked amazing, but it just wasn’t possible to consume them all on one visit. And given the bakery’s hours and the out-of-the-way locale, I probably can’t return any time soon. Good for the waistline, bad for gabbing and gobbling!
220 Church St (between Worth and Thomas St)
New York, NY 10013 (212) 227-7895
When I walked into Bâtard on Saturday night, I was struck by how austere the dining room looked. For a fancy restaurant, I was expecting some more flash, but I felt like I was inside of an old school schnitzel place. Aside from two small chandeliers and some gold wallpaper, the place was pretty much bare bones and no fuss. It was all very Berlin and not very Tribeca. Then I learned soon after that Chef Markus Glocker is of Austrian decent, and the stark Germanic design sensibilities made a lot more sense.
Luckily, the food at Bâtard is anything but bare and simple. It’s beautiful and creative, and the only German thing about it seems to be a dedication to technical excellence. The fish in particular is one of the restaurant’s strong suits. We ordered the ora king salmon and were floored by how a filet could be so rich and buttery, literally dissolving into a pool of creamy, smokey liquefied seafood. There was no way the branzino could top this, but then this handsome filet with the most perfectly seared skin and a posse of sweet orange and squash arrived, winning us over with such sublime flawlessness. Deciding which one was our favorite was like asking a parent to pick a favorite child–impossible to do, you love them equally the same.
While the fish dishes were more rooted in tradition, the octopus pastrami highlighted a much more out-of-the-box approach. The octopus legs were deconstructed into a rectangular terrine-like fashion, perhaps to resemble a slice of pastrami deli meat, while small rye croutons were scattered about to complete the “sandwich.” I wasn’t entirely won over by this dish, as it lacked the robust juiciness and the sharp tanginess that truly define a superb pastrami sandwich. A substitute for Katz’s, this is not.
For our main, we shared the beef cheek “pot-au-feu” for two, a hearty beef stew of French origin that celebrates “the tables of the rich and poor alike.” I suppose this phrase came about because, although the dish features beef cheek, a cheaper cut of meat, its flavors are good enough to transcend class and please not only the king but his whole court. As good as it was, I was just overwhelmed by how much meat was in here. These cows must have had the fattest cheeks, the yield was so much, and then there were generous slabs of bacon piled on. The braised vegetables were a welcome respite from the dense meatiness, and the sourness of the blood sausage bread, which tastes a lot better than it sounds, also helped. It was a great stew, but you can only have so much beef cheek at one time.
We capped the night with the caramelized milk bread, another one of Bâtard’s heralded signatures. It resembled a fluffy brioche covered in a caramelized glaze, a creme brulee “toast” if you will, and it did live up to expectations. As we waited for our check, which almost killed the mood because it took so long to get, I looked around and noticed that almost everyone looked like they were in their 50s or 60s. I could have been in the lobby of Lincoln Center, for all I knew. Ruoxi basically summarized it as, “if I were a middle-aged divorce(e) looking for a good time, I would be hanging out here right now.” This doesn’t surprise me, because fancy dining in Tribeca of all places tends to attract this sort of crowd. But why fret about age, it’s nothing but a number–what matters more is how much you like the plate in front of you.
239 W. Broadway (between Walker and White St)
New York, NY 10013
Hellooo spring! The weather could not have been any more fabulous for the 2014 Taste of Tribeca food festival. Not surprisingly, the crowds came out in full force for the best neighborhood block party in town. Families with children and local foodies intermingled within the culinary triangle that is Duane, Greenwich and Hudson St. Despite the crowds, the lines moved quickly, and there was plenty of food to go around. The Taste of Tribeca is a well-oiled machine–when you’ve been in the biz for 20 years (what a milestone!!), you’ve got the whole operations thing nailed down.
And it helps that this is all for a good cause. All the proceeds are going towards the arts and enrichment programs at local Tribeca public schools PS 150 and PS 234. How could you not support all the cute kids in pursuing their creative dreams? Who knows, maybe that tiny girl serving you your VIP tray or punching your tasting card might grow up to be the next Lady Gaga! The heavy-hitters on the Tribeca food scene were all here to serve tasty bites to the hungry crowd. Old stalwarts like Tribeca Grill, Bubby’s, Bouley and The Odeon were there, as well as some fresh new faces like China Blue and The Butterfly. The food offerings were impressively broad and deep–Italian, Chinese, Laotian, Mexican, hot, cold, savory, sweet–you name it, you got it. Here’s a recap of what we gobbled and gabbed our way through on Saturday.
China Blue’s 3 Cup Chicken and Pan Fried Pork Buns – This was my absolute favorite. Who doesn’t love a little dim sum in the middle of the day? The 3 cup chicken was fantastic–the tender, juicy chicken was marinaded in a sauce where the critical elements of sweet and savory flavors were in perfect harmony. Just like the kung pao chicken of your youth, only much more elegant!
Brushstroke’s Oregon Washu Beef Over Rice – The washu beef was divine–it was tender and sweet, and at the slightest touch it would blissfully dissolve into your mouth. Happy cows produce happy meat–this is what you get when you feed them sake and massage their muscles! I felt like I was eating quite possibly the best bowl of bulgogi over rice, and I’ve had many beef bowls in my lifetime.
Telepan Local’s Ramps w/Asparagus, Wild Garlic, Lemon Ricotta & Sorrel – Nothing says spring like a plate full of fresh, green ramps. These light, seasonal vegetables were a refreshing change of pace from the heavier options that hit the food festival circuit. You could tell from the vibrant flavors that these vegetables were definitely sourced locally, and the amazing lemon ricotta cheese gave just the right touch of richness to round out the dish.
The Odeon’s Coconut Ice Cream – Eating ice cream from a cone during an outdoor festival is a must. Not surprisingly, people were constantly lining up for the delectable frozen treats at The Odeon stand. The coconut ice cream really hit the spot–it was just a tad sweet, creamy and not too dense, a perfect treat for a sunny day.
Ninja New York’s Sushi – Ninja certainly knew how to work the crowd. The energetic servers were handing out free ninja headbands to those who walked by, getting them into a raucous state of mind for their colorful sushi rolls, which were surprisingly tasty and filling. I’m glad that there was some substance to their ninja schtick!
Marc Forgione’s Fluke Fish Taco – This fish taco was small, but what it lacked in size it made up for in flavor. The fluke was impeccably seasoned–the fullness of the avocado and cream was a very pleasant sensation, while the salsa verde added some nice, sharp complexities into the mix. Tacos are a hot trend right now, and Marc Forgione’s definitely places high in the rankings.
Jungsik’s Seawood Soup Paella – Jungsik did a repeat showing of its miyeok seaweed soup paella. It was just as good as last year–the rice was coated in a salty, briney veil that paired very well with the excellent kimchee on top. Certainly blows all the other birthday soups out of the water.
Bouley’s “Chef Surprise” – The culinary powerhouse classed up the cheese and cracker plate with a very innovative rendition. The cracker itself was made from kuzu, the root of a Japanese plant that grows wild in mountainous regions. It was extra firm and crisp, and the truffle topped aligote cheese was delightfully decadent. The sweet portion of the Chef Surprise reminded me of a strawberry icee with cream and bananas, which was an absolutely refreshing treat.