Saturday, October 20, 2012


Colicchio & Sons kept coming up in foodie circle conversations, which is notable at least in that it is no newbie: the restaurant opened its west Chelsea doors in 2008.  It's been open long enough to have been on and off my go-to list for awhile, but when an opportunity to dine at the Taproom arose, I thought it would be the perfect test-run for the main dining room, which definitely a big-ticket affair.  Tom Colicchio is the headliner here, but researching a bit the restaurant's website, the functioning chefs James Tracey and Luke Bergman are also ably pedigreed.  The address's prior incarnation, Craftsteak, may have its ghosts haunting the space, however: both menus are distinctly protein-centric.  There's hardly a vegetarian option on either menu, which is at odds with how I interpreted their manifesto. The elements of simplicity, however, are in full swing, and the attempt at a Danny Meyer-style graciousness, is well-evident.   Whether or not they do this on all fronts, they are certainly aiming to please.

And mostly they do.  The trick was navigating the menu. I was not dining with a bunch of rabbit-food eaters, either, but a lot of people want a salad or soup to begin- of which there was one on the entire menu.  So of a table of five, four beet salads were ordered, and I ventured out for variation with seared sea scallops.  Which were actually a lot more interesting than the beets, which were pretty much.... well, just beets.  There were dollops of goat cheese (of course) and shards of julienned pear strewn across quartered golden and ruby varieties.  But it wasn't anything to get too excited about.  But at least they were vegetables, which are notably scarce anywhere on the menu.  Scallops had a touch more panache.  Seared and plonked atop a
thick puree of butternut squash they were, festooned with crisply fried leaves of brussels sprouts masquerading as verdant potato chips (again, not totaling one whole, so hardly contributing to your five-a-day).    The other appetizers consisted of chilled options, oysters and
 a seafood platter, and a beef tartare.  P.E.I. mussels in a tomato-ginger broth was large enough- and flavorful enough- to stand in as an entree, wading in zesty tomato broth spiked with ginger.    Terrine, cassoulet and and stuffed quail rounded out the first courses, so it is sort of go meat, or go home.   The more I sussed the situation out, the more I saw that the Taproom is definitely tap-oriented "bar" food (although elevated), instead of what I was expecting of a more casual version of the dining room.    And that tap should be taken advantage of: I sampled a gorgeous seasonal hefeweizen that tasted almost not like beer at all but caramel, bananas and spice.  It went down smooth and easy- a good thing since it was a full pour in a very, very tall glass.

Entrees go well with the finery of the tap, but exhibit a similar paucity of produce as the appetizers:  a mushroom and taleggio pizza was all taleggio and almost no 'shroom, and if there was any shaved white truffle atop was so faint it was lost in the unspecified pesto that appeared instead.  The burger, on the other hand, was big enough to lose yourself in, and that would've been a decent fate.    The juicy pink patty was smothered in Drunk Onions and pecorino, and sided with chips of both the darkly russet, kettle-cooked potato variety and bread-and-butter pickled.  The tender, sesame-seeded bun gave good grip and didn't over-starch the meat.  And of course, skate was on the menu and consequently ordered....
as well for the fact that it was sided with some welcome roasted cauliflower as for my predilection for this fish.  And it was great, just flour-dusted enough to enhance its texture, and bedecked with pungent little caperberries and two tiny sections of grapefruit to counter the roasty richness of both the brown butter and the unctuously smooth puree beneath.   And speaking of rich, a pork belly entree (which unlike the mussels, seemed more appetizer-sized)

 (but, then again, how much pork belly can one consume?) (unless you're not Josh Ozersky?) (Sorry, I digress), sided with crispy panzanella croutons and a Lilliputian head of romaine.

Onto desserts, none of which tantalized from their descriptions, but we nevertheless tried two.  A butterscotch panna cotta tasted more like its accompanying pumpkin ice cream than butterscotch, and the pudding was more moussey than traditional panna cotta.

It was covered in a sort of rubbery cranberry gelee that not only didn't taste like cranberry: it barely tasted of anything.  The best part was the delicate pepita brittle, appropriately shaped like a Phoenix rising from the rest of the lackluster concoction.  Zeppole were better, but heavy finishers for such a solid savory menu.  The powdered sugar orbs teamed up with a creamy milk chocolate ice cream and a luscious orange-butter sauce in which to dip them.

Nothing wasn't good here in the Taproom, but it certainly didn't live up to the buzz I anticipated. Using it as a gauge for the main dining room I think was an error:  signs indicate they are saving all their sparklers for the main dining room.  The Taproom is perfectly sufficient for a tasty dinner in a gorgeous room (fulfill your fruit and veggie quota elsewhere) with well-choreographed service.  So instead of dissuading me from wanting to experience the Colicchio & Sons dining room, the underwhelm actually bolstered my interest.  Tom's magic is lurking in that grand space somewhere, and something makes me think it is on the opposite side of the glass walss of the elevated wine cellar.

The Taproom
85 10th Avenue
tel 1(212) 400-6699 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


My new friend Andrew Cote, the notorious New York beekeeper, recommended I watch the movie "Colony", a recent  documentary on the demise of the honeybee population.  Ever since I saw it, I've had a different colony on my mind: the one out in Brooklyn's picturesque Brooklyn Heights neighborhood.  Its sister restaurant, Governor, recently received two sparklers from the New York Times, but I forgot about it before setting out to Colonie... on the early side, of course, because Colonie is another one of those no-rezzie Brooklyn spots that'll run up your tab waiting at bar if you get there at prime time.  We, instead, were seated swiftly, ushered past the bar

 up front past a nice, frondy living wall of ferns and coleus and spider plants, to the dining room  beyond.  There are tables at the periphery, but we sat right at the counter surrounding the kitchen- and got to experience a little bit of the incendiary heat that these guys suffer through (or revel in?) whilst creating their magic.  On a balmier night, the emanating heat might be somewhat unpleasant, but this evening a bit of autumn chill had begun to set in, and the stove's constant fire                of tnnn            added to the  coziness of the room.

We also got a little preview of what kind of food Colonie is dishing out.  The name comes from Brooklyn's original nomenclature of Bruijkleen Colonie, from the Dutch, and the food boasts a similar, hearty and rustic traditional flair.  Simply put, there is no fear of butter and sauce, of salt and seasoning.  In fact, if you do NOT want to know how much butter and salt go into your vittles, you might think about requesting a table out of direct view.  All the food we tried was robustly flavored, tipping the scales on the heavy side but evening things out with seasonal produce and the freshest

of ingredients.  Starting off lightly, we tried a modest beet salad, a melange of both golden and ruby, settled on a white porcelain plate smeared with a mustardy violet-scented beet puree which added novelty to its simplicity.  Nudging a little heartier were a small dish of ricotta gnudi with Sweet
100 cherry tomatoes, saucy little gems that burst (sometimes too enthusiastically) their juiciness over the tender dumplings.  Nicoise olives were minced over top, with snips of fresh basil, but nary a lick of sauce or dressing to provide coverage.  Luckily, the tender little pillows were unashamed to display themselves in their full splendor.

I'm not saying that there isn't care and finesse in Colonie's cuisine: plating a dish of seared scallops with sugar snaps and tiny carrots evidenced the usage of tweezers.  My halibut, however, came simply sauteed to bronze, squat atop a garlicky chiffonade of black kale, just softened with heat.  The pan juices werethickened and drizzled on top, and given a littering of bottarga.  Hanger steak was a classic preparation, served with a pungent garlic

and devastatingly good fries, irregularly cut so that some are crisp as the devil, some tender and spud-y, some skin-on, some center cut: something for everyone.  Served, these are, with a demure little crock of nothing less than Sir Kensington's ketchup (of Brooklyn, of course).    Goes without saying we couldn't resist a side of brussels sprouts, but these fried specimens almost had all the brussel cooked right out of
them, tasting more like savory popcorn than a vegetable, although nonetheless tasty for it.  Just very rich; the big bowl was unfinishable.  Colonie's vegetables prove even dirt candy can be "junk food".  Cauliflower in brown butter evidenced the wild abandon of butter usage: a huge knob of
butter hit the cast iron skillet, then another, then three meaty knuckles of the vegetable and a handful of plump caperberries.  Seared to a crust on each side, then slid with all its buttery lubrication onto a rectangular dish studded with crispy croutons, and veiled with a grating of lemon zest and a fat, silvery anchovy reposed languidly atop.

And with that, dessert was rendered superfluous, especially since the offerings at hand followed the lusty tract of the savories:  an apple tart or stone fruit cobbler might have retained its appeal, but sticky date cake, doughnuts or chocolate fondant waxed all too leadenly jejune to attract much enthusiasm.  Luckily, my generously poured Arneis lasted throughout the meal, and the final sips warmed to the room, taking on a sweetness masked by its initial chill.  With the richness of the meal, this was all the dessert I needed.

127 Atlantic Avenue
(718) 855-7500