Saturday, July 12, 2014


I was happy to hear that chef Scott Bryan has a new home after his departure from the  lovely Apiary: I really liked that place.  Prior to that he was at the helm of Veritas, a laudable and elegant restaurant that was probably under recognized for its entire existence.  Bacchanal continues his wine-centric culinary expertise, where his wonderful ability to balance light and bright with touch of luxury shines, here deep down on the gritty cusp of the Bowery.

The room simply designed, raw and garage-y but with touches of whimsy, like the fanciful scrolls on the ceiling connecting the wiring between suspended lamps and twinkling, sparse lighting.    While it is scarcely windowed, something in the lighting or the openess of the room and exposed concrete, make it feel like a party being thrown in an abandoned warehouse.  But when the food arrives, Chef Bryan's culinary artistry shines through beyond the capacity of any house party.   As a result of this, I'd wager Bacchanal is here to stay.

Summer 2014
Despite the deep and vast wine list, we both started with cocktails, mine the wonderfully seasonal Summer 2014, blending absinthe, sherry and aquavit with snap peas, lemon thyme, and verjus, which although my tablemate likened it to "drinking salad", it appealed to me immensely.  It was a tad too sweet:  perfection would be achieved if we could take the sugar down a notch, and if my dining companion thinks it tastes like salad, well, he shouldn't be dousing his greens in simple syrup either.  Their Old Fashioned with a boulder of smoked ice would've knocked my dad's socks off; actually, I would recommend Bacchanal for cocktails alone, the drink menu is so broad and appealing.

But that's to stray from the real genius of the restaurant: Bryan's food. We started off with the refreshingest of refreshing chilled corn soup, tumbled with halved cherry tomatoes and subtly bumped with zesty roasted poblanos, an immaculate balance of sweet and earthy, tang and heat, with a crunchy slurry of plump, fresh corn kernels hovering underneath the smooth, basil-flecked surface.  Toying between the fennel & crimini salad and an appetizer of roasted beets, our server steered me towards the latter.  The dense, sweet beets hid underneath a tumble of frisee, and although the beets-and-chevre
photo credit: Katherine S. of Yelp
combo is nothing new, this one hit all the right notes, adding precious marcona almonds for a nutty crunch and heft.  I suppose I sort of wished for a cheese variant, or some novel tweak, but this was a flawless rendition of the classic, if not much different from many great examples you may have tried.

Our waiter passed by frequently, dispersing a noticeable number of annoyingly cliched scripts, like "how does everything look?" and kept offering his "help" with everything from additional beverages to Anything in General, etc.  I guess if you notice someone is saying something too often or it inspires discomfort, there's something to be worked on.  And the service was attentive and friendly: ours just needed to polish his verbage.  But by the time we were "helped" to our entrees, all linguistic woes were forgotten: both plates we tried were outstanding.  The Test of a Great Chef, the roasted chicken, was all out
perfect.  The meat was so tender and flavorful it could've been spooned, the polenta underneath that is intended for a spoon as creamy and corny as the grain allows.  I kept stealing chanterelles from my tablemate's plate (this was his entree), defending myself by offering him a few manilas from my cod.  Not that I wanted to sacrifice many of the plumply meaty clams that bedecked my plate, but those mushrooms in that madeira jus were just magnetic.  And the clams were plentiful, as well as the hunk of Atlantic cod sizable enough to fulfill protein requirements on its own.  Bronzed to a golden crust, it luxuriated in a buttery, garlicky broth, thickened with a dense white bean puree than dissolved into the rich saline broth,  just screaming to be swabbed up with hunks of the fresh, chewy slices of excellent, thick-cut bread provided.  Both entrees had such
profound umami qualities that my mouth is watering all over again just writing this.  Bryan isn't testing the spectrum of inventive gastronomy here, but what he makes tastes really, really good.  I mean REALLY good.  I was glad we had gone veggie in our appetizers because there aren't any sides listed on the menu, but somehow the table aside ours had a dish a fat, grilled asparagus topped with fricasseed mushrooms... where did those come from??? Our waiter sheepishly replied they were a special of the night, but theirs had been the last portion, and although one might try to avert my attention from roasted vegetable matter anywhere in a forty-foot vicinity, you'd be unsuccessful.  The lucky table that snagged it actually offered me a spear, but I (my unadvisably mannered side) politely refused, regretting it to this day.  It looked outstanding, though.

To console myself for the minimal veg, we opted for a fruity dessert of peach tart tatin with creme fraiche ice cream and caramel, although the empting assortment of dessert-worthy cocktails was commensurately tempting.  But the tart was  impressive, profoundly caramelly and heavily dusted in confectioner's sugar.  The puff pastry fought the fork a little too assertively, overwhelming the intensely peachy peach slices and their small dose of ice cream- I might tweak the proportions of this dessert somewhat, but the flavors were spot-on.   As was the case with the entire meal at Bacchanal: in terms of Tests of Great Chefs, Scott Bryan passes magna cum laude.

NEW YORK, NY 10013

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