Monday, July 7, 2014


Jesse Schenker is one of my favorite chefs in the city, and not only because of our rhyming surnames.  His other establishment, Recette, in the West Village, is one of the most wonderful, slightly off-the-radar gems in the city, quaint and intimate, but lively and refined.  The Gander, on the other hand, is a substantially larger restaurant, having taken over the old Alison Eighteen space, with
exponentially more satisfying results than Alison ever got.  The sprawling room is a little bland and subdued, in muted greys and greens:  the kind that relies on a roomful of happy diners to augment its appeal, as opposed to newcomer Claudette (review, hopefully, imminent), which is so pretty inside you almost don't want to mar it with humans.  Unfortunately, this late afternoon  midsummer lunch found the dining room practically empty, but for one other table of two.  That said, our server said it was an anomaly: that they had been very busy lunch AND dinner, and deservedly so.  At any rate, we had the full attention on the chef, and the results were pretty much flawless.

I chose The Gander for my birthday lunch mostly because of my pure, raw admiration for Schenker, but also because their lunch menu is not wholly dissimilar from the dinner one.   It's not just an afterthought conglomeration of salads and sandwiches like some places offer, seemingly out of necessity.  So we began with a gorgeously verdant chilled pea soup, an aqueous, thin broth rife with vegetality and the ballsy punch of raw green garlic, which congregated at the bottom of the bowl with toothsome bits of al dente peas, adding texture and variance to each spoonful.  A lovely little borage
flower adorned the top like a delicate culinary corsage- an already  pretty soup now ready for prom.  Her date would be meaty slices of hearty roast beef stuffed into a soft, whole grain roll along with some punchy sauerkraut, mustard and mayo to compliment generously layered slices of cooked-to-order meat.  The sandwich came sided with a cone of expertly crispy, pale golden fries: the kind to which McDonald's aspires, but attains only mythologically.    I know I usually go for fish in terms of the entree, and there was an attractive sea trout with celery root and lentils.... but there was, too, this Roasted Elf Mushroom that grabbed my attention and wouldn't relent (there seems, too, something magical about eating an elf on your birthday).  The plate arrived with not only elves,
but a hodgepodge of various bronzed fungi atop a lightly crunchy, brightly sauteed bed of cabbage, all of which was anointed tableside with a fragrant
sherry broth.  There are house-made Parker House rolls available upon request: steaming buns of buttery gold bedecked with crystals of salt, which are perfect accompaniments for the brothy saute.  And speaking of accompaniments, Schenker's side are mandatory, as he performs valiant feats of flavor with his vegetables.    The grilled asparagus with the green garlic was smothered with the incinerated allium, its pungent
with the incinerated allium, its pungent bite tempered into an earthy, ashen mince.   A wedge of cauliflower was baked rotisserie-style
 under a crust of mild lemon zest, and less-mild anchovy and capers, where if you got a bite of sizeable piece (which were prominent)... well, you'd know it.  I preferred the roasty edges that were more nutty than fishy, but the silvery bits do add a lusty complexity.

Our waitress, having but one other table to attend to, gave us cursory check-ins throughout the course of our meal, but she was a little cold and unwelcoming.  Perhaps just an off day, or maybe she just didn't like us.  But I hope she's in a better mood when you go if you get her.  She did convince us to stick around for dessert even though our lunch time allotment was dwindling down; it was a celebratory occasion and all.   But if you've already leaked that the kitchen is going to send out a no-longer-surprise dessert, it wouldn't hurt to inquire the  recipient's taste preference.... especially when the menu touts such delicacies as creme brulee semifreddo with bacon and caramel! and most enticingly. a poppy seed angel food cake with rhubarb, berries, lemon and cloumage, of all things.  How dare they deny me cloumage?  'Cause what IS cloumage, you ask (I did)?  Why, it's a unique, fresh lactic curd from Shy Brothers, that despite my profound desire for all and every component of this dessert, this intriguing cheese made me even more bitter that what was sent out as my Birthday Cake was a generic little mocha concoction, although to be fair, it was fine for what it was, and the fresh whipped cream upon it was notably delicious.    Also,  a pink, stripey birthday candle really atones for a lot.  I'm sort of kidding here: most people generally like chocolate and coffee- I'm just not most people.  Whereas I think I could've dedicated an entire blog post to that rhubarb and cloumage ensemble.   Additionally, what could've gone better with the magic, the elves, the marvels of Schenker's artistry than cake named after angels?

   15 West 18th Street
   between 5th and 6th Avenue
   tel  212.229.9500


No comments:

Post a Comment