Pretty great for a joint named after a cow. Narcissa is a "beautiful and feisty" bovine living at the organic farm upstate where this seasonal-produce focused mecca sources much of its fodder, and Michelin starred chef John Fraser finds inspiration more in her surroundings than her species (she, herself, is a dairy cow, anyways). While there is a luscious ribeye on the menu, there is a palpable concentration on flora rather than fauna, carrots stealing the spotlight in a vegetarian take on the classic Beef Wellington, for example. But it is by no means a vegetarian restaurant: all ingredients are given their due respect, and coaxed into their most delectable possible iteration.
I think our waitress wanted us to indulge in a cocktail, and indeed the menu of libations is celebration of the season. The wine list is commensurately strong... and long, tending a bit pricey, although there are some options in the mid-forty dollar range. But I come to a restaurant not to drink, specifically, but to eat, and the spectrum of temptation on this menu is so vast, I feared compromising my appetite with tipples. For a veggie-focused restaurant, this food has a LOT of punch. Flavors are as robust as any steakhouse's (if not more so), and there is creativity and verve at every turn. Housed in the new Standard Hotel in Cooper Square, the bar scene is just a thumping as it MPD cohort. Make your way past it and there is the option of a more serene dining room to the right, and an open-kitchen annex to the left. Given the choice, I would've kept to my left, but not knowing (and not having been given an option) we were guided to our table in the dining room, which did overlook a nice garden behind (although it didn't seem to be open yet, or else the early spring evening was still just a bit too chilly for an outdoor repast). But it was sunny, and the colorful globe lanterns and tangled plants were nicer to observe than graphic mural covering the wall behind me.
Starting off, we got the much-hyped roasted beets, which lived up in every way. Personally, I don't get roasting beets in their skins... all the "roast" gets slipped off when you peel them and all that's left is beet. Not to fault the beet!, but at that point, it's hardly different than boiled, whereas roasting them already peeled, as Fraser smartly does, results in a chewy, voluptuous sphere that puts its skin-on cooked brethren to shame. So sweet and dense, the pleasant sour of thick yogurt spiked with zesty horseradish is a masterful foil, brightened with a verdant drizzle of herb-infused oil, and lightly steamed,
While that Carrots Wellington was intriguing, I wanted to try some more of the non-vegetable fare, although Fraser has more than proven his prowess with any manner of flora or fauna at Dovetail, his other restaurant located on the upper west side. But I haven't been there in quite awhile, and Narcissa's scallops had my name written all over them. Replete with those marvelous harbingers of spring, fiddlehead ferns decorate each fat scallop, their turgid earthiness magnified without cooking. The scallops were meaty and moist, flanked by tender golden beets, these steamed, halved and perched upright against parapets of delicate spaghetti squash. Giving the whole dish oomph was a pickly green garlic relish that added brightness and dazzle to this consummate springtime dish. I was less impressed with the branzino, which was faultless but unexciting. Simply filleted and piled with shavings of fennel and leaflets of
coats, supergreen spinach was shrouded beyond recognition under a layer of miniature, herbed potato chips, but underneath that crunchy strata
hid a steaming tangle of lightly creamed spinach
amped up with garlic-sauteed leaves as well, thus creating a double-whammy of spinach on spinach.... supergreen, indeed.
It will be nice to see how Fraser unfolds Narcissa through the seasons. I'm imagining, as good as it is now, it will hit it's peak as does the growing season. I'm not a cow nor a narcissist (argue with that as you will), but I'm happy to say Narcissa suits me just fine.