Wednesday, October 11, 2017

THE FLOWER SHOP




Just because The Flower Shop is located on the cusp of Chinatown doesn't mean it is at ALL Asian.  In fact, it is pretty much as American as American can get, sorta 1970's retro American at that.  At least in vibe and decor, this cute little joint way down on Eldridge Street seems pricey for the neighborhood, but reasonable given New York standards.  The food is very good, although not exceptional.  More along the lines of tasty and drink-friendly rather than cheffy.  It does have glimmers of finery, though, with black garlic fancifying the mayo on a hearty burger, and more exotic ingredients like burnt lime and togarashi.  But the theme here is more risqué and
retro than avant garde: the wallpaper has funny water-colored line drawings of whimsical characters, and the tchotchkes that clutter the funky little space exemplify the throwback soundtrack, complete with ceiling fan and leatherette banquettes.  It's like a cross between (unfortunately closed) Mr. Donahue's and The Eddy (who lost their magnificent chef, Brendan McHale).  So maybe it can swoop in to fill a niche.

It's no diner, though, quaint as it is: the food is much more refined than that.  For example, we started off with an English pea tostada smeared with whipped ricotta under a dollop of trout roe, and a Scotch egg slathered in whole grain mustard, so there are far-flung influences.  Our server explained that the menu was designed for sharing, 
which servers seem to love to say these days.  But nothing was conducive to such: either you'd have to cut things all apart to divide and conquer, or dole them out in portions, but neither were sharing plates nor communal utensils provided for any of the dishes.  So while the menu doesn't break down into any categories, it's pretty obvious which ones would work for apps or entrees, and it's really easier that order going that route.  

So the aforementioned egg and tostada can be "snacks", and then there are some salads to fulfill the appetizer quota.  There is a beet one chummed up with burrata, kumquats and pistachios, or a summer vegetable crudite plate, inexplicably described as "boiled in oil" (??) but still raw.  We didn't get it, so I don't know exactly what that meant.  But our heirloom tomato panzanella could've use a little more pane, as the super-ripe and juicy fruits released quite a pool of liquid to the bottom of the shallow cerulean bowl,
 with not enough croutons to soak it up, but a tasty concoction nonetheless, although not being a watercress fan I would've preferred it festooned with arugula or sorrel. 








Bigger plates were just as individualized; sure, you can share 'em, as pretty much anything is cut-in-halfable.  Like that hamburger with its black garlic mayo, zippy pickle, cheddar and fries.... the fries of which definitely got shared amongst us.  Especially since the rib eye steak frites came with more of them, pretty good ones too: straight-cut classics, golden and crispy.  They come with their own little crocks of ketchup, but the steak got a brown butter hollandaise, which was kind of gilding the lily in terms of richness, but a delicious sauce.    Fried chicken comes in a
 what would appear as a bucket, but it's a nifty ceramic vessel, stuffed at the bottom making it look like more chicken than you
 actually get, but still there is ample bird.  The burnt lime here makes sense with the intense curry sauce provided for dipping.   Line-caught cod provided a lighter sounding option, but when it arrived, cloaked in parmesan, I feared they were hiding something.  But not to worry:
 the cloud-like filaments soon dissolved into almost nothingness, although they did contribute so added salinity to an already saline dish.  Ribbons of summer squash wrapped around the plush hunk of fish, seasoned with togarashi to liven things up a bit.


"Desserts" (sic) are dessert: housemade soft-serve accompanied with fresh fruit  and honeycomb is your only option, but it is, finally, probably shareable.  And it's really besides the point.  The Flower Shop is a really fun appealing destination, with just the right balance of sophistication and quirk to give it personality.






107 Eldr107 Eldridge Street
(212)257-4072                                        .   
idge St.
New York, NY
212 257 4072

Monday, October 9, 2017

LIL' GEM (preview)

Still a little rough on the exterior...
My visit to Lil' Gem was for only a soft opening, but while they had only about half the menu up and running, the potential for greatness is maxed out.  This cozy lil' (sic) nook is the brainchild of Lesly Bernard and chef Melissa O'Donnell will feature the Lebanese delicacies of dips, flatbreads and small plates that they're starting off with now, eventually including more substantial offerings like a whole market fish, roasted lamb and various shawarmas.



The restaurant illustrates its name: it will seat but thirty or so at one time, but they will be well fed, and happily so.  Given Bernard's background in clubs and bars, the cocktails are a don't-miss- not-too-sweet concoctions that are not so middle inspired but go well with the food.  A gin-based Purple & Bubbles channels pink lemonade
 in the best possible way, a fresh summer closer, but there are boozy Grandpa-pleasing tipples as well, in addition to beer, wine, and a novel Spanish cider.
















Cold and hot mezze open the menu.  Go for any or all of the dips, such as a savory muhammara, which is basically romesco swapping out almonds for walnuts. I wished the miso-fermented hummus would've been even miso-ier, but it's a luscious spread nonetheless.  All these come with chewy, crisp-edged flatbread, but if you're in the mood to totally carb-out, go for the za'atar one (ordered separately),
which arrives warm and is the size of a medium pizza.  True, it risks ruining your appetite if you're not in a largish party, but the zesty spice mix is worth it.  Plus, as I found, these flatbreads keep well,
 so any leftovers of, say, the version smeared with hummus, chunky mushrooms roasted with fragrant spices and sweetly caramelized onions can be successfully toasted right back up again in a warm skillet.  The plums being pickled in another one
 alongside figs and a goaty ricotta allow it to handle the same, as well is its fruity-cheesiness giving it double-duty potential for dessert as well, although the zippy leaves of arugula spritzed with crunchy salt crystals keep it in its place.




Lil' Gem does not negate the end of the harvest bounty currently in farmers' markets, showcasing thick discs of smoked eggplant languishing in a heady puree of black garlic, brightened with vibrant hillocks of minced beet tartare.    Fried cauliflower is done so ever-so-gently, served with juicy lemon wedges encrusted with pulverized sumac, both contributing a crucial acidity: one bracing and familiar, the other slightly musky and exotic.




Dessert will probably be an eventuality, but in the meantime I nursed the remainder of my Purple & Bubbles, not really sweet enough to qualify as dessert, but perfectly refreshing after such a feast.  As good as it was with only half its menu to explore, Lil' Gem's got big potential.










 

29 A Clinton Street
Phone forthcoming
                                                                                 

Monday, September 18, 2017

KING

King isn't the easiest rezzie to procure, so I was so happy that I could get one, on relatively short notice.  I was so excited to visit- I had heard and read only great things- so even the early reservation time wasn't problematic.  The only problem was that I apparently didn't complete the whole reservation process (they use Resy) so the reservation I thought I had, I had not.  Which was unfortunate-ish, except for that the hostess was so sweet and accommodating, and found us two prime seats at the bar, so in my world, all was well.  As long as the full menu is offered, I normally have no preference between a table and the bar.  And here, especially, the bartender was so cool and convivial that I feel like it might've even been a better choice.  At any rate, we were in, and I was glad.



King is tiny, although the dining room behind the front room that includes the bar uses the space to the utmost advantage.  Despite the close quarters,
it has a light and airy feel, cleanly white-washed with a lofty rustic bouquet of flowering branches that are more emblematic of the female ownership than is the very bold and meat-focused menu.  I suppose that's ascribing to antiquated gender bias, but I'm not judging.  And not only meat-focused, it is just focused, period.
  As in, brief.  There are but four starters and three entrees, and these are almost indistinguishable aside from a doubling of price.  I don't think poached ox tongue would ever be my first choice as
 an appetizer?.. but there it is.   Otherwise, tagliarini in a creamy pesto with haricots vests can be
considered a primo, Italian-style, but is a little bland.   I was thrilled with the one veggie offering, however, a roasted vegetable salad with a plump fluff of whipped ricotta to mellow the richly roasted peppers, sweet onions and eggplant aside an oil-slicked ruffle of assertive arugula.  Before that, we were greeted with a hunky bruschetta dripping with oily tomato juices rife with garlic.  Dribble-down
 your chin good, and sort of renders the $10 pannisse or the $16 grilled bread (two other appetizer choices) with crushed favas and olives redundant.





Perhaps the most telling incident, however, aside from my reservation error, was our wine order. We went for a bottle, but when it arrived, the nose was exquisite, but the wine inside just a little flat.  My tablemate, aiming for diplomacy after they were so hospitable about seating us, decided it was drinkable, just a bit of breathing required.  But as it is with dining at the bar, we struck up conversation with the gentleman adjacent, he remarked what a lovely wine we had chosen, and that opened up the can of worms.  And it turned out he was the owner's friend, so obviously told the management, and after much more drama than it was all probably worth, they comped us the bottle. Which was more than magnanimous since we drank the whole bottle anyways.  But that's who is taking care of you at King, and that mentality pervades.


Just as stellar were our entrees.  There are but three, but had there been nineteen I probably still would've chosen the grilled halibut with asparagus, lentils and sorrel.  Despite the mound of lentils obscuring the fish, it was a sizable filet, crowned with an exquisitely crisped skin, and the savory, earthy legumes were an excellent counter to mildly lemony sorrel and woodsy grilled asparagus.  I could've done without the marinated anchovies, but they were easily siphoned off, and then added just a hint of oceanic salinity.   Rabbit with sage was our other option, but instead we went for chargrilled
 lombatello perfumed with rosemary and served with an artichoke puree and slung with slippery leaves of hearty Swiss chard.  The steak was strikingly vibrant inside, juices bright and meaty,  in contrast with the robust char from the grill.




Desserts are simple: there are a few selections, seasonal as well is calendar-defying stalwarts like tiramisu.  The colonel, a snappy lemon granita served with a shot of vodka to pour over, would be an ideal summer closer had the late summer weather upon our visit not felt like late October.  But ice cream is seasonless, and capitalizing on excellent strawberries this summer produced made a simple fruity sundae a lovely closer.   King offers the perfect balance of cozy neighborhood farm-to-table with a destination worthy culinary occasion.  It's not cheap, but few of things of this caliber are.  Especially these days where one might question how well a democracy works, King certainly feels like the  kind of monarchy that would.












tel.
+1 917 825 1618






Thursday, September 7, 2017

THE GRILL

Should they have called themselves Midas Food Group?  Aside from Parm and Sadelle's (the latter which I have not tried), Major Food Group's arsenal of restaurants rank among my favorites in the city.  Their latest, a revitalization and reinvention of The Four Seasons restaurant might be their shiniest gem yet.  I came in with high expectations... I know their game and I know the stakes.  The Grill superseded them.

They weren't allowed to muck around much with the landmarked property, and even if they were, they are smart enough not to do so.  The room that was designed in 1959 exudes the same swank and panache that it did back then.
The happy accident of the undulating beaded drapes and the
 striking bronze Lippold suspended from the ceiling looks as if they could've been created today.  And inspired by that sense of timelessness, Mario Carbone created an updated menu that reflects the finery of the bygone era modernized for a 2017 palate.



And while the luxury and extravagance is inarguable, MFG demonstrates a noticeable playfulness throughout, an energy that infiltrates the menu, the dining room and all its inhabitants.   A groaning buffet channeling an abundance akin to Pan's Labyrinth is set up at the entrance, displaying an array of both tropical fruits and a local farm bounty and showy multi-tiered cakes I'm not sure every make their way onto anyone's plate.   There is a menu section titled The Buffet, but none of it seems to be sourced from this purely decorative extravaganza.   Its whimsy, however,  carries over to a florist-worthy arrangement of crudite, obfuscating one's view of the dining room until munching away at the ice-crisp, super-fresh veggies once again clears the vista.  A trio of dips accompany to daub spears of cucumber, whole carrots, leaves of romance and more, the best of which is a tomatoey condiment with a rich,
 sweet-sour balance that really enhances the cold veggies.  Also from the Buffet (the menu one) come a goose terrine, a variety of
 raw bar items, and some pickled mushrooms, which are very pickly.  I'm not sure pickling is the best way to showcase these pristine king oyster beauties, but the acidity sure does perk up your appetite.  And they pair well with the complimentary bread basket, offering a sweet, toasty brown bread, salty pretzels rolls and warm, butter Parker House rolls.



Moving through the menu (which is sizable, leather-bound and scant on descriptions) one arrives upon more appetizers, both hot and cold, plus three soups and three salads, these ranging in price from $19-$36, and we're just getting started.  If anyone complains that this new iteration of the space doesn't measure up to the old one, it's prices sure rival it.  And it is the kind of place that it is well worth it if your pocketbook can comply, for as Major Food Group has proven time and time again, it is dinner and a show and a memory and quasi-bucket-list type experience, if this is as much your kind of thing as it is mine.  So while a $22

chopped salad sounds extravagant, I'm still
thinking about it weeks later, how perfectly the chop had been executed to allow for manageable mouthfuls, and the herby-fresh dressing would've been good on just about anything, and certainly flourished with the crisp mound of salady delights.  A little less commanding for a repeat performance was a mock-turtle soup, a bit salty and wan, but my assumption that the "mock" in the broth was mushroom was completely erroneous and much to my retrospective dismay, I found that I had effortlessly consumed tripe with no nefarious consequences.  So, in the least, I had a learning experience, if not actual delight. Plus, we got our first tableside attention (there is much of this throughout the dining room) the fragrant broth poured into a wide, shallow bowl.... tres elegant.  The service is such that the more exposure you have to them the better, for their enthusiasm (had I needed any more) is contagious, or at least reciprocated.




That said,  I'd recommend the minted black bass even if its vibrant sauce was not anointed tableside.  The sweet hunk of piscine goodness was voluptuous, it flaky flesh rosy with flavor, and crowned with a tender tangle of mild cabbage accentuated with the herbal mint sauce, green like liquified emeralds and pleasantly saline.  On the more decadent side, a filet mignon, prepared in the Peppered style,  was sluiced in gravy worthy of a bowl.  I wasn't beyond stealing spoonfuls every time I could finagle my way in there, and that utensil was also all that was needed to delve into the buttery meat.  Had it been my entree, I think I might've gone for Florentine, though, and missed out on
 that lusciousness, but the most intriguing sauce might be the Peconic: I remain uncertain as to what that might even be.  I'm restraining myself from bothering the restaurant to ask, but I'm close.  As the mains are plated fairly sparely, supplemental side dishes are available for just twelve dollars more.... and at this point, although one could buy a estimable, if modest, meal in Manhattan for that same amount, the fee seems negligible.  And there are quite a variety to choose from: currently, that garden dominator, zucchini, heads up the green veg, but I'm sure soon enough it will morph into a fall-friendly cauliflower or Brussel.  For the time being, however, a simple grill of the squash artfully shaved into thin, well-salted ribbons filled any veggie void.  Jack's pie might've been a more ambitious order, but given the volume of food we already ordered, having a pie as a side dish would seem excessive.  It's not actually a pie, though, but a steamy puree of asparagus under a dome of pastry, and its name has even steamier roots, hinting at the scandalous relationship between President Kennedy and Ms. Monroe.

And then comes the grand finale, which would be almost illegal not to order a flambe, just for the sheer theatre of it all.  Here comes the trolley navigating itself between crowded tables, Tom Ford-suited server in tow, to incinerate the unruly eyebrows off of any guest who might get too curious.  Of course that is not his primary goal, instead it is to burn off the brandy enhancing fat slices of peach nuzzled into creamy vanilla ice cream drizzled with vibrant raspberry sauce in a heavy glass cupola.  A flounce of toasted
 slivered almonds adds a bit of texture, but otherwise it's more about the show than the dessert.  This is not the case with banana fritters, plated as a trio.  They are caramelized golden torpedoes filled with molten banana puree and absolutely incredible.  They made me appreciate the melba's ice cream even more, however, so by all means, do enjoy both if that is an option.

So... to Grill or not to Grill?  I think the answer is obvious.  But save it for a special occasion, or realize it IS the occasion and make it special itself.  And plan on curtailing your dining budget for a few months preceding and another few post-prandial ones while you are at it.
















99 EAST 52ND ST, NEW YORK, NY 10022
1.212.375.9001 (information only)

RESERVATIONS@thegrillnewyork.com