Thursday, June 28, 2012


As unlikely as is a sprawling vegetable farm on the east side of midtown Manhattan, so is a sophisticated, elegant establishment with an uber-celebrity chef to be categorized as something so humble as "farm-to-table".  But Tom Colicchio's Riverpark  has succeeded at both, and turned out a desination-worthy restaurant in the far reaches of the city's Timbuk-nowhere.

The closest thing to here is Bellevue Hospital, and then dive in the East River to swim to Brooklyn.  (Ew.)  But this very remoteness is probably what allows for the real estate to cultivate New York's "most urban farm".  You'll enter through its stalked pole beans and caged tomatoes, and it's worthy taking a stroll amongst the robust vegetables you will soon be consuming.  The proximity of these lovely growing things inspire executive chef's Sisha Ortuzar's emphatically seasonal menu to grand effect.

Inside, you'll hope for a table as far east as possible,  towards the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lolling river, passing yachts and- if you've amazing vision- the hipsters of Greenpoint.  But if you are not so lucky (as I was not), the interior of the vast dining room is in no way unpleasant, if you manage not to trip on the elevated platform upon which the tables are situated (substantial design flaw, but both times I've been the staff has been extraordinarily cautious to notify newcomers of the step).  Artful lighting and looming floral arrangements compensate somewhat for a lack of a river view, and lend a convivial warmth and a magical twinkle to the room.

The cocktail menu is as inspired by the farm as the dinner menu, and a rhubarb Pisco sour lived up to my hopes.  The tart pie vegetable subbed out the lime from the classic, with albumin fluffed like cotton candy to ease the tang.  It's a beautiful drink, amongst many tempting options to imbibe.  I am enamored of their uber-fizzy Cava rose from Spain, gloriously pink and quite possibly the perfect summer wine.   So far, so flawless.

The menu is well-formatted and respectfully priced, given that the elegant atmosphere could command more formality and steeper fares to boot.  They seem to attain the perfect combination of fancy and farm at Riverpark.  So a humble mass of farm greens and lettuces arrives in an abundant heap, mingling with marinated herbs and vegetables in a refreshing Champagne vinaigrette.  Mushroom consomme, poured a table, shared its heady aroma with caramelized shallots and ramps, and a savory pecorino crouton  culminating in an umami trifecta.

Pastas are offered in primi or secondi sized portions, but even a mid-course size of the cheesy smoked ricotta gnocchi could satisfy a reasonable appetite, just for its richness.  The pillowy dumplings seemed to require  the thick sauce of pecorino to hold them down, studded with bright, emerald peas and ephemeral  morels for a wonderfully gluttonous dish, even with its few ingredients.

Mains offer much to choose from: three fishes, two poultries and three meats on the night of my visit.  Diver scallops were seared to crisp, brown crowns with chewy bits of bacon, then tumbled with zesty shallots, tender asparagus and melted endive.

Both the grilled chicken and duck arrived under a flurry of sprouted leaflets, plucked, I am sure, just moments earlier.  The duck borrowed morels and peas from the gnocchi,  but introduced them to a tangy rhubarb glaze and miniature spaetzle, changing their flavor profile completely.   Grilled chicken was less exciting but nonetheless delicious for it- adorned with uber-seasonal sugar snaps and  ramps it nestled into a  bed of nutty freekah, moistened with lusciously oniony pan juices.   There are vegetable side dishes offered as well, certainly more as a showcase of the farm's delicacies than a necessity to augment the well-balanced plates.

I was hoping, hoping for rhubarb on the dessert menu, but it was only present in a rhubarb-cardamom sorbet, and I wanted to try something cheffier.  We went for two: a torrone semi-freddo loaded with chunks of pistachio nougat and white chocolate, brightened with a compote of tangy redcurrants on one side and a crumble of crisp pistachio granola on the other.    A deconstructed tart divided a fudgy circle of smoked ganache from a smear of toasted marshmallow and a quenelle-shaped scoop of buttery popcorn ice cream, all components bedazzled with crunchy clods of nutty caramel corn, like sweets from a country fair, at once fancified and then blitzed in three.  Which is pretty much how it goes at Riverpark.  It is unarguably, and quite possibly THE most proximate farm-to-table in Manhattan.  But it is still one fancy table.

450 E 29th St. New York, NY 10016
Reservations 212.729.9790

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