Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Greenmarket... errr- GREENSQUARE TAVERN

At first, I was a bit miffed that the Greenmarket was being so proprietary about their name. I mean, I think they were called greenmarkets before New York City's farmer's markets began being so called. So Greenmarket Tavern changed it's name to Greensquare, and went on its local, sustainable, organic way. I'd walk past it frequently, as it's only a few blocks from my house. Usually sparsely populated, I attributed this somewhat to its newness, and more so to the foreboding scaffolding that has been erected about it at a quite untimely moment. As if it is not difficult enough to get one's footing in the NYC restaurant scene without a huge, obfuscating mass of plywood and tension rods cloaking the facade. At any rate, I was feeling adventurous.... and I had tickets to an 8pm showing of The Hangover II, just around the corner. So into Greensquare we ducked.

The room is bright with white tile and simple furnishings, a bit sterile but for some enlarged photographs of farmy looking provenance. Lucky for us that the menu is pretty straightfoward, because the waitstaff is pretty much exclusively Hispanic, and of unintelligible accent. It is broken up into three parts, simple small, medium and large plates, plus a smattering of market sides. Quite a few of the dishes seemed a
little heavy for mid-June, so I fell back on my appetizer mainstay: the beet salad. Theirs is fine but unspectacular, a typical beet and goat cheese duo with some diagonally sliced hearts of palm thrown in with the frisee. Big, though, enough salad for two for just ten bucks. Three other salads, a soup and a stew share the small plates section. Medium plates don't seem any smaller than the large ones, just less expensive and simpler: mostly sandwiches and pasta.

From the large plates we tried the Painted Hills Ranch All Natural Sirloin Steak (many of the menu items boast their pedigree, which is a trend I thought we'd overcome). The steak comes with fries and, although June, brussels sprouts. Not that I would ever disparage brussels sprouts, but given the ramps,asparagus, fiddleheads and peas in the REAL Greenmarket, they seemed pretty out of place. And they were just all right. The substantially sized steak was a good, beefy cut, lean and flavorful, although cooked to what I would deem rare but requested medium-rare. Trying to remember it is verging on bikini season, salad subbed out fries, and this was probably a poor decision. A couple of even
mediocre fries would've been more rewarding then the bland greens that appeared. Pan seared sea scallops were no more exhilarating. They came with some tough snow peas but respectable forbidden rice, and a tepid squiggle of innocuous wasabi aioli that did no harm nor good. From those market sides, we chose the roasted seasonal vegetables... or at least I thought we did. Rereading the menu, it was roasted vegetables with seasonal herbs, although this was also a misnomer, unless there is a particular seasonality given to dried oregano. Most of the seasoning done here is via dried herbs, and not much else. The vegetables on hand turned out to be more brussels, along with broccoli, cauliflower and celery root, which spoke more of November than June. Showtime approaching and nothing on the dessert menu appearing much different than any generic diner's traditional refrigerated offerings, we skipped any more damage. Certainly you could do worse in the neighborhood, but you could easily do exponentially better. You could get commensurate quality for less money at a handful of places (Eataly, Le Singe Vert, RUB, to name a few), and for a few pennies more (this place is not cheap) you could be at Novita or Veritas! Gramercy Tavern!! ABC KITCHEN!!! , for Pete's sake! At any rate, our server offered an inscrutable farewell, and I was off to buoy my spirits with Bradley Cooper. No wonder the Greenmarket wanted their name back.

5 West 21st street


He wouldn't admit to the derivation of the name, but given New York's Dutch antecedents, I'm guessing it's a bit the influence of respecting its roots.  And The Dutch does this well, rooting itself in an iconic New York neighborhood and a sound base of locavoric, responsible, and ultimately, phenomenally delicious, food.

Even Midas can't touch Andrew Carmellini's success rate.  He left A Voce at the peak of its popularity, and opened Locanda Verde with even greater aplomb and accolades, appealing not only to the foodiest of foodies, but the trendiest of hipsters. The Dutch will trump the deuce, charming farmings and socialites, critics and tourists. Right now, A.C. can do no wrong. And on the night I was in, he didn't. There was one service mishap, but more on that later.

We've got that same room that Roman & Williams has perfected. A mish-mash of lamps,
not less than five different styles, touches of red, antique moldings and brassy fixtures. It suits the ambiance, the name and the food, but I'm starting to yearn for some whitewash or blonde wood. SOMEthing different. And I don't know which is more atrractive, anyways, the decor ... or the diners. It's a comely crowd that's appreciating The Dutch right now.

For starters, there is a luscious potted eggplant served with addictive savory crisps, a somewhat elevated chips-and-dips indulgence. "Don't forget your bivalves" encourages the diner to partake in a succinct curation of oysters, as well as other chilled finery from the sea. A beet salad is the platonic ideal. Roasted
(as they are always best), are partnered with a dice of smoked, hard-cooked egg to achieve a unique smoky sweetness, sprinkled with toasted sunflower seeds for a nutty crunch. Humble ingredients all, but which form a very elegant trio. We also had the ruby red shrimp on fried green tomatoes, both components vying for the honor of tenderest and juiciest- and I'm not sure who won. A mild vegetal pepper sauce and rings of pickled onion tempered the crispy fried crust of the tomato slices: quite a perfect, balanced small plate.

We stayed on the piscine side of things in terms of entrees, although the smoked and roasted chicken looked impeccable at the next table. Grilled black cod with chili peas and scallions
wasn't my pick, but when the dish came out I would've ordered had I known what was coming. I guess I inferred a more Asian flavor from those ingredients, but it instead sang of the Basque region, a fresh filet of fish in a savory Spanish red bean stew of sorts. Not spicy, but sumptuously and richly flavored, in that bread-required-for-soaking-up-the sauce kind of way. Which was one flaw, because a tender-crumbed scallion-flecked cornbread that was offered at the onset was whisked away upon the arrival of entrees, so there was nothing but a spoon with which to salvage each last drop of sauce.
That wasn't such a problem with my humongous scallops, four of them, whose flavor, enhanced with meatiest bacon ever, was concentrated within and about the fresh spring peas and ramps
that accompanied them. An exceptional side of asparagus rounded things out, delicately swathed with crispy citrus breadcrumbs and slices of roasted lemon that is not meant just as garnish: mete out a bit of the fruit with each bite of asparagus for a flavor so robust you won't even notice there could've been a couple more spears (and I still wish I had that cornbread back).

And then our waitress came with the dessert menus... until she looked as if she had made some hugely offensive error, turned on her heel, and disappeared. We looked befuddled at one another, and then deduced the obvious: chef must be sending out dessert. Moments later she reappeared, beaming, with two plates, announcing, "Compliments of Andrew." Now, mind you, I'm not going to besmear anyone for giving me free anything, but at the same time, there is ONE good thing about being an adult: you get to choose for yourself. Except when you don't, and that's how we missed out on the spring sundae, a refreshingly decadent sounding concoction of buttermilk-lemon sherbet and rhubarb on a brown sugar blondie... some of my favorite dessert elements packed in one. The other, a classic strawberry shortcake, but this one made the CORRECT way: a crusty biscuit with a tender crumb, bulging with ripe strawberries and thick, malty vanilla ice cream. My mom would approve. There are even
homey daily pie specials that have garnered somewhat of a cult following. Instead, we got a lemon tart and a piece of cake. All right, the tart was lovely, a plush, tangy curd on a buttery (if somewhat firm) crust. Sprinkled with sea salt, it achieved the sweet-salty-sour trifecta, with an added dose of cool and creamy
from coconut cream sorbet on the side. Chocolate cake (a dessert I've never ordered) boasted my favorite icing: a glossy, marshmallowy swiss meringue subtly spiked with black pepper, over layers of fudgy cake filled with an even fudgier mousse. White Russian ice cream bumped it up to PG-13, and all the better for it. Perhaps withholding the other, more seasonal desserts in favor of these was a ploy to entice a return visit, which, given the brilliance of the repast, wasn't remotely necessary. Even the desserts we "didn't want" were pretty damned fantastic. But it did, if anything, accomplish nudging me towards a more expedited revisit, since the exuberantly seasonal menu doesn't guarantee how long that shortcake nor the rhubarb will endure.

CALL 212-677-6200

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I like Marc Forgione much better than I like MARC FORGIONE

 We came early, specifically to make sure Chef hadn't left the kitchen before we got there.  We stayed late, too, and Marc came out to say hello upon our departure, so I know he was in there.  And he's a charming fellow, makes you want to love what he does. That said, I know he can do better.  When I ate at the same locale back when it was simply called Forge, I agreed with its Zagat rating of 24.  This meal would be lucky to earn a nineteen or twenty.  So, it's not terrible, mind you.  It's all edible (mostly); it's just I was expecting much, much better.

The room is dark and dimly lit, heavy on the exposed brick, stained wood and wrought iron, the strongest light coming from small, flickering votives. This decor aesthetic is getting a little played out, let alone being much more successful October through March than the other six. In fact, Marc seems to have a bit of an obsession with things autumnal: his biceps tout the purported date of the first Thanksgiving, which was the theme for his victory dish on Iron Chef. The date even hangs on the far wall, "1621" in wrought iron numerals. in His food, too, might be stronger with a weaker mercury. This balmy late spring day, few of the dishes on hand seemed to be hitting their stride.

We began with one of the two tastiest things we would have all night: a complimentary amuse-bouche of The World's Tiniest Falafel (seriously, the size of a single grain of Israeli couscous) atop a dollop of lemony Greek yogurt.  I actually would've loved it even more had the falafel-ette been  ever-so-slightly bigger.  You only got crunchy and no earthy, beany interior which would've added a little more interest.  But still, it was tasty.  The other spooned amuse  was a mushroom caponata.... I think.  Because it was hard to intuit from our heavily accented server (charming smile though he had), and since the first chew was greeted by the abrasive crunch of glass (or perhaps sand, but regardless), it didn't spend quite enough time on my palate to determine ingredients before abashedly spitting it out back into the spoon.  So far, we were fifty-fifty, but I would've been respectively pleased had even that ratio held up.

Apps next, and knowingly, I shouldn't have ordered such a simple sounding salad. But those at Shorty's .32 had been so delightfully overqualified that I guess I was hoping for a repeat. Instead, the only snowpeas perceptible were three julienned shards atop, mostly masked by abundant cheese, and one more lurking at that bottom. Three mild (read: tasteless) slices of radish added a little color, but that was all. The rest of it was just a toss of leaves and a sort of acrid, bitey dressing that did more harm than good. Mirthfully, another starter
was the other marvelous dish of the night, chili lobster on Texas toast. A Texas-sized portion of moist lobster meat, roasted in the shell came in a pool of a kicky, chili-spiked reduction of seafood stock, redolent of roasted shells and ample butter.  Perched aside were two pillowy triangles of grilled white toast, which just got better and better the soggier they got from absorbing the pungent sauce.

Since the lobster was so good, our hopes were buoyed. But then came the entrees. I had to (and wanted to) order the halibut en croute with sauce "proposal". Apparently, it is so named because a customer proposed to Marc after tasting it.  For my own part, and as charming as Marc is, I wouldn't even call it sauce "engagement", or sauce "first date" for that matter. The halibut itself was perfectly cooked, gently, it's "croute" simply a thin slice of soft, white bread toast broiled onto the top, which was a sort of homely amusement, and tasty enough. Within that sauce "proposal" lurked 1/2 and 14 of a small fond of artichoke, despite our waiter specifically iterating that all the entrees came with "substantial vegetables". This
amounted to approximately three tablespoons of vegetables, maximum. (Perhaps his food pyramid is different than mine.... and Michael Pollan's.) Or maybe he was counting the cranberry beans and whole, roasted hazlenuts, in equal amounts, that surrounded the fish.  Which is a lot of nuts, and was nothing but odd in every sense, in addition to being completely unwieldy to the fork. At any rate, I went ahead and ordered some "insurance" veggies, chef's choice, since there are no side dishes offered on the menu. Out came a cute skillet of past-due peas and shaved asparagus, tasting of barely anything but a little stale funk and oil. All this when the markets are heaving with the newest spring harvest (and this was a Tuesday, so no weekend left-overs excuse).

Just as ho-hum was the  red snapper in green puttanesca. There was nothing discernibly puttanescan about the sauce, which is funny: a whore with no zip. The fish itself was fresh and seared crisp on top. Another dish, though, sent out by the chef, rivaled the lobster in novelty and flavor. Thinly sliced Wagyu spritzed with chimichurri cooked atop a blazing brick of golden-pink salt, adorned with a small piquillo pepper and some spring onions. Depending on your doneness preference, you could leave it there to cook to jerky, or snatch it up upon arrival, quasi-bloody. The beef was rich and marbled and juicy, and the chimichurri a perfect rendition.

So we wagered dessert. Not hungry enough to sample more than one, we enlisted the help of our waiter to decide upon a strawberry shortcake. If we had been at Applebee's, it would've been pretty good. But the berries were too jammy, the ice cream already melting, and the bottom layer of sponge just a sogged out smoosh of the three. It wasn't terrible; if your eight year old had made it for you on your birthday you might think he had a flicker of Payard in him. But for a restaurant with a Michelin star, the cloud cover has begun to set in.

134 Reade Street New York City 10013

Friday, June 10, 2011

SHORTY'S .32 c/o of Josh Eden

Josh Eden gave his restaurant his own nickname.  He earned it  for his diminutive stature. Coincidentally, I share the same nickname, derived from a much more ironic perspective. Another thing we share: an appreciation for the kind of food his kitchen puts out. The .32 of the name is the number of tables in the small, square room (plus eight additional seats at the bar), plus an association with a thirty two caliber pistol: compact (like Josh), shooting clean and straight, with high velocity and energy. Which is exactly what makes the tiny dining room here work.  It also describes his cooking style.

The most effortful part of eating at Shorty's .32 is deciding what to have. Not that the menu is so large, but the offerings are all solid. Seasonal influences abound, but more often than not, garnish a steady cast of menu stalwarts, comprised of dishes that Eden knows his way around. Preparations and flourish change more than the main players. Thus, skate, a favorite of Eden's, so order it if it's on that night. Shrimp, too, (could these also be a thematic nod?) are regulars.
This summery evening they found themselves poached and flecked with crunchy pinenuts and plumped golden raisins, raveled by water spinach and luxuriating in an unctuous, lemony Greek yogurt with just enough of a saline nuance to bolt it from the breakfast category. The shrimp, I think, would've have been better seasoned and grilled, but they were fine, flavorful shrimp at that. Another starter I would've tweaked was a cool, clean, green pea soup, kissed with mint and a tangle of tendrils.... but lurking beneath were some chewy squares of bacon- fine in and of themselves, but out of place in the refreshing verdant broth. Cold bacon loses a lot of its magic.

Beyond those two very subtle (and forgivable) missteps, the meal progressed splendidly. There are a battery of summery salads, one better than the next. The crispiest calamari nestle in a wild nest of frisee, and an unassuming bibb lettuce salad
shines with housemade Thousand Island dressing and crunchy little tidbits of golden brown frizzled onions. The best one, though, was a snowy pile of slivered endive, shaved turnips, roasted hazelnuts and a fluffy blanket of finely grated parmesan atop. Lightly co-mingled with the earthy vegetables was a rich beurre noisette, echoing the toasted nuts and adding a touch of rich, but subtle, decadence.

But man cannot subsist on salads alone (although the ones here could make a really convincing argument). On the meaty side, the burger has garnered national acclaim, garnished with housemade pickles and the most perfect of fries. Just as soul-satisfying, but with a slightly lighter calorie footprint are seared sea
scallops with asparagus riso and salsify. Eden attains an ethereal crust, golden brown and salty, while the tender muscle of the scallop remains soft and sweet. Alaskan cod enjoyed a similar jaunt in the pan, and then joins those seasonal harbingers, ramps, with an abundance of meaty porcinis and dense, buttery fingerlings in an emerald green pesto. And speaking of emerald green, a picnicky side of garlicky, sesame oil green beans made the transition from its similar winter version, but now served crisp and chilled, and just as good.

Startlingly absent from its website menu are any dessert offerings, which I regret to admit we also made due without that evening. But a little googling uncovered some examples that reflect Eden's aesthetic just as his savories: poundcake with Tri-stars, a chocolate bread pudding, a warm apple tart. And even though I couldn't enjoy them that night, there's no doubt that they're as big on flavor as everything else is from that kitchen. The only thing small at Shorty's is the name: his portions, flavors, and energy are all as big as his heart.

199 Prince St (between Sullivan & MacDougal)
New York, NY 10012, tel: 212.375.8275