Thursday, May 22, 2014


Jack's wife's Freda's daughter's son's wife-and-partner's chef is a girl.  She's Julia Jaksic, also in charge of the grub at Employees Only, but the two joints in no way seem too much for her to handle.  The food at the cumbersomely named Jack's Wife Freda (the owner's grandparents) is comparatively simple, retaining the soul of a Jewish grandmother and international panache of the owners' cosmopolitan roots.  The food is here is buxom and satisfying.  Creative, but they are not here to test your psyche- they are here to fulfill it.

And filled, too, was the dining room: this restaurant is small, verging on cramped, and as energetic and noisy as it is well-attended.  Your server is not aloof or inattentive- she's more likely overwhelmed with navigating the non-existent space between the tiny, clustered tables barely capacious enough to support the plentiful dishes.  Nothing is skimpy here- not the vibe nor the portions.  The prices are actually the most diminutive things, and I sometimes wondered if they couldn't benefit from slightly smaller portions and cheaper price tags, for an even more convivial and affordable experience.  Either that, or plan on sharing pretty much everything, because Jack's Wife Freda is not going to let you go home hungry.

A Greek salad almost seemed bottomless, crisp kale subbing for the typical romaine, with chunked tomato and cucumber topped with a weighty slab of salty feta.  Matzo ball soup looked conquerable, but the behemoth dumpling was deceptively filling.  The broth was fragrant, imbued with a profound chickenness and dusted with fresh dill.  It felt like it could have cured any ailment it confronted (though I couldn't really test that theory, not having any at the time).  The matzo ball floating atop was light and fluffy, enormous, and surely would have made Freda proud.  And Jack happy.  Since it's not that easy to share soup, it is listed sort of in its own category, hovering between Shares and some uncategorized meat options, above Salads.

Sometimes it's difficult to tell off the menu which dish is intended as what.  The Shares themselves, however, are unmistakable shareable.   Tantalizing roasted cauliflower could provide vegetable fodder for a four top, but it's also buttery and decadent enough barely to qualify for your five-a-day anyways.  Fortunately, what appears to be a shower of crumbled cheese atop is actually just a mince of raw florets, which lighten the dish significantly rather than vaulting it into the stoner-food category as cheese would
 have.   I even liked it spritzed with a bit of lemon juice to cut some of the richness.  In fact, hearty as it was, probably half of it remained uneaten by the end of the night, but our plates were whisked away
away in a moment of distraction, and I forgot to ask for the rest a la doggie bag.  When I noticed the lapse, I asked our server if it had already been dumped (it had) and she was so apologetic, she said she'd see what she could do.  What she could do turned out to be a whole, fresh new order of the dish, packed up with the dressing on the side and utensils to boot.  This was a completely unexpected, unprecedentedly gracious and hospitable gesture that made up for any inattention that might have surpassed throughout the evening.

Mains are similarly sizeable: a steaming bowl of ruddy vegetable curry appeared excessive to its orderer, but so delicious she had it down to lick-the-bowl-ibility.  The sweet-tangy house chutney atop brightened the rich curry that soaked down into its moist couscous base, achieving that palate-engaging quality that elicited each subsequent bite... until there was none.  Steak and Fries had some wonderful additional grilled scallions thrown in not mentioned on the menu, although size-wise it needed no further accoutrements.  It's  easily big enough for two, with probably a good ten ounces of meat and a mountain of expertly crisp, hand-cut fries, your own little crock of ketchup aside.

Unfortunately, we didn't leave time for dessert, because.... malva pudding, a spiced cheesecake or seasonal fruit crisp- any of which I'm sure would be executed marvelously.  Solid renditions of simple, classic recipes that feel straight out of Freda's recipe box.   Jack's Wife Freda, and Jack, for that matter... I would've liked to have known them.

Monday, May 19, 2014


As rents and overhead skyrocket, restaurant are getting pushed to the periphery.  For me, Tribeca, where I first found chef Nick Curtin, was quite distant enough, thank you.  But after Compose closed, he has recalibrated and relocated to the lower lower east east side... shoved to the cusp of Chinatown and the crux of courthouse buildings, but in actuality, it's quite a nice little neighborhood, while not particularly conveniently located next to anything.  The last Manhattan subway stop on the F train, however, is just a hop, skip, and jump from its front door, and with that your welcomed into the quaint little window-front address that is Rosette.

The restaurant is dark, a bit subterranean in feel.  But actually the dining room is perched above a private party room, forming a balcony overlooking it and a verdant, viney "living wall",

aglow from square skylights that illuminate while the sun is still up.  As it sets, a
continuous loop projector chronicles the lifespan of a blooming chrysanthemum, from its green and yellow bud to a voluptuous pinkish-purple blossom.  Thus, the botanical theme resonates in decor as well as in name, and Curtin's vegetable plates are similarly some of the strongest on the menu.

 Snacky bites which open the menu, rich little tidbits of bacon or nuts, cracklins and chowder.  Nothing is exactly as it might seem, tweaked to break with tradition into novel little renovations of classics.  Onto appetizers, the ember roasted leeks were phenomenal; the fibrous stalks rendered silky and mild, with just a hint of smokey ash brightened with dessicated huckleberries, pecan butter smoothing it all out.  Beets spend three
hours in a wood-fired over, but they retain just a hint of toothsome firmness within, their exterior soft and sweet as it nuzzles into a yogurty onion cream studded with subtle pops of young capers.    A seasonal duo of ramps and asparagus are anointed with a tart, verdant vinaigrette under a sprinkle of hazelnuts.  Beware to nut allergics: several dishes feature a them in garnish, although all are well-specified on the menu.  Baby octopi were grilled in their ink, tender atop a perfectly plush bed of luxuriously moist, snowy rice.

   Something in the seasoning contributed an aggressive fishy flavor, whether it was the ink or the fish sauce, but it came across a bit too profoundly.  Alternate bites that featured a greater percentage of rice and peanuts to cephalopod were more successful.  But what helped most was a stolen drizzle of the asparagus' sauce which brightened things up significantly, so if you're lucky enough to have them both on the table concurrently, do not hesitate to make that introduction.  If not, perhaps request a wedge of lime.

Or better yet, if you are looking for a piscine option, opt for the black cod bathed in a honey glaze and flanked with earthy braised artichokes.  If the main dishes appear a little spartan, request a bread basket, which are buttery orbs of brioche, fragrant and yeasty.  Otherwise, the options that present themselves as Sides are a little aggressive to perform as such.   They are, however, some of the tastiest dishes on the menu.  Brussels sprouts that are virtually incinenerated take on a potato chip-like quality, anointed with tamari and a triple-crispy partnership of toasty quinoa and cashews.  Slices of fuji apple attempt to add some

 lightness to the dish, but still it would be better off as a bar snack with a frothy beer than to accompany really any of the entrees.  So too a roasted avocado, buttery as all get-out and crowned with
 feathery bonito and crisp puffed rice.  I can't imagine this paired
  with your roast chicken

and sweet pea compote so much as  slathered on a toasty hunk of country bread (but that's not an option here).  Try it on the brioche, which pair up luxuriantly, or as a decadent starter.

Desserts that sound like novel riffs on the classics end up more traditional than you might expect.  Chunks of pound cake atop a dollop of jammy huckleberries present pretty cake-and-ice creamy, although the lemon curd and white chocolate contribute a nice balance.  Ricotta cheesecake plays up its dairy element with orange and basil, an amaretti crumble keeping things on the sweet side, pot de creme gets its chocolate smoked, just to keep things on the tipped side of normal.  Sometimes I wish things tipped a little further, 'cause I know Curtin is up to the task.  But then again, maybe better safe than sorry.

171 EAST BROADWAY, NYC 10002   (212) 933-1176