Tuesday, May 29, 2012


If I didn't live where I lived, I'd totally be a forager.  When I'm back home in Portland, my favorite thing to do is gather the blueberries from the garden and cut fresh lettuce.  Okay, it's not like I'm hunting morels or plucking up knotweed, but I love the seasonality and immediacy of eating what is growing right in front of you.  At Forager's City Table, they've done the foraging for you, so all that needs to be done is get a table.

There's no rezzies here, so first come, first served.  The place is busy at this point, but not so much that you'll have to fret the 1 1/2 hours waits like at Tertulia or Red Farm.  The restaurant finds itself in the base of The Gem Hotel in Chelsea, just behind the grocery Forager's Market, that similarly touts an array of local and seasonal specialty products (as well as some standards).   But as for the restaurant, I met the executive chef Douglas Monsalud (what a fitting name...) who explained the philosophy:  organic veggies straight from their own farm, an in-house butcher, sustainable fish and local farmer's bounty.  The fact that the whole conglomerate is actually owned by a farmer speaks volumes.  The open kitchen lets you watch the transformation of these precious comestibles into the tasty fare that awaits.  The menu sports a decidedly Asian flair: easier, perhaps, with May's pea shoots and green garlic than the brussels sprouts and parsnips of December- but we'll see.  At any rate, it's not traditional Asian at all- a snack of chicken fat potato chips with sage and yuzu salt pretty much epitomizes that.   After Snacks, the menu is divided into Cold, Hot, Noodles, Large, Sides and Desserts, from which it is recommended choosing one from each to share.

 The Spring Hearts salad from the Cold section jumbled aspargagus, hearts of artichoke, palm and escarole with crumbled hard-boiled eggs and an herby dressing.  The diagonally sliced hearts of palm mimicked similarly sliced egg white for a playful coup d'oeil that was as delicious as it was unique ... and lovely.  Emerald green spring pea tendrils (a Side) were ensconced in a sweet soy that wanted for nothing but perhaps a bowl of rice, so as not to waste any of the sauce.

We skipped Noodles in favor of two Larges: black cod and the butcher's steak (I mean, the butcher WAS right there doing all that work and all...).  The fish was smoked in black tea and refreshed with pearly little green peas, cutting some of it's signature fattiness, but the heirloom tomatoes swathed in bacon (which could have been exponentially crispier) brought it all back.  A bit disparate, the components to this dish, but not necessarily off-putting.  A side of miso butter mushrooms baked in parchment helped pull this all together, but these were just a fortunate side order.  Very fortunate, in fact: they might have been my favorite dish of the evening (although I really did love that salad).  The steak that we ordered medium came rarer than I would've liked, but it was a robustly flavorful cut of meat, maple and soy enhancing its umami to great effect, with crisp, peppery watercress and sweet juicy pears for earthy balance.

The only real downside to a meal at Forager's is dessert: because while we were fully sated and in absolutely no need of dessert (of course, when DOES anyone actually NEED dessert?), with the markets bursting with rhubarb and strawberries, the potential for some marvelous concoction led to ultimate disappointment in a paltry array of ice creams and sorbets- house-made or not.  We settled on a duo of maple walnut and green apple: the former benefitting from it's hard-to-findability on the East coast and the latter really having no redeeming qualities whatsoever: it was anemic and frosty.  If they don't get their dessert thing going for themselves, perhaps they can make a deal:  20% off at Billy's or Empire?

300 West 22nd Street
tel: 212-243-8888

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