Saturday, October 11, 2014


Blenheim glows just like a restaurant on the cobbled streets of the west village should.  It beckoned as I past by one night,  having already dined elsewhere, but an enthusiastic waitress popped out to greet us warmly, reinforcing the atmosphere of the restaurant.  With her disclosure of the chef's pedigree, Blenheim simply demanded a visit.  Ryan Tate comes most recently from Tribeca's Michelin-starred Le Restaurant, but his time at New York institutions Cookshop and Savoy can be seen in his execution, combining his earthy Michigan roots with the sophisticated gilded edge brought by fifteen successful years in the industry.  Thus, the cuisine reflects a midwestern simplicity and farm-to-table authenticity derived from its namesake farm in the Catskills, buffed to a precious, polished sheen that mimics the alluring glow that attracted me in the first place.

It is the farm-philic rusticity of the restaurant's appearance that provides its appeal, some of which is lost in overwrought presentation and elevated pricing.  I wish it could've clung a bit more ardently to its bucolic connection than its Michelin one, although to their credit,  I think they have achieved precisely the ambiance they envisioned.  The walls are hung with an array of antique farm implements, various tools and tchotchkes create an organized rural clutter.  The menu is a bit scattered as well, a long list of intriguing possibilities in a loosely progressive order, but it leaves a bit of interpretation up to the diner as to how to format a meal, but a well-informed waitstaff is gracefully on hand to assist.  A simpler, but even pricier option, is to go with the chef's tasting menu at $95.   The smartest tactic might be the $45 prix-fixe, which we were not made aware of, unfortunately, because in retrospect this seems easily like the most cost-effective approach.
 Although going that latter route would've deprived me of my first course first choice- a roasted beet composition dusted with bronze fennel (even the spices have precious metals) and tiny leaflets of marigold that presented more prominently in the menu description than they did on the plate.   The beet were intentionally positioned like a planet at aphelion: as far away from me as possible, pushed to the distant periphery of an extremely large, otherwise empty platter.  Maybe it's to provide a workspace for combining, like the empty rectangle beneath a Sudoku: Tate's food requires a bit of effortful coordination.  Perfectly balanced bites are not achieved without snips and swipes at leaves and sauces.  A tiny smudge of black currant bavarois plus a spring of greenery atop a beet combined for a truly successful amalgamation of
flavors, but sampled independently can result in the spectral ends of the assertive-to-bland flavor scale.  Similarly, a portion of Tasmanian sea trout supplied three fat planks of the oily fish, adorned with orbs of roe and spherifized mustard, nasturtium leaves and blossom puree, and seabuckthorn crisp and cloud.  Yes, Blenheim has foams and spheres, clouds and ash.  This, I suppose, it what justifies its prices, but there the element of d.i.y. combining isn't as welcome.   I would prefer, at these price-points, that the integration of ingredients be taken care of for you, by Mr. Tate.  I suppose it has to do with the artistry of plating, though, which is admittedly attractive.  Both appetizers we tried were enhanced by the complimentary bread provided, my favorite of which was a nutty flax cracker (notedly gluten-free) that was lovely with my beets, while a sturdy cheese roll held up on its own.

Scrolling down the menu arrives at more substantial plates, although there is no distinguishable break to differentiate starters from mains.  Prices are the best indicator of size, and they escalate chronologically. So my entree of roasted kind trumpet mushroom could've served as a large, shareable appetizer or small plate, but I was content to keep it to myself.  The spatzle that accompanied benefitted from a bit of maillardization, giving the tender morsels a crisp-edged nuttiness that the mushroom, which was just simply steamed, would've also enjoyed.  Fanciful wisps of crisp fennel floated on dollops of anise-hyssop foam, which dissolved a mild sweetness into a savory compote of sauerkraut bedding the dish.   Monkfish arrived as three small medallions (someone forgot to remind the kitchen that this
"poor man's lobster" could be portioned a little more generously for its $26 price tag).  Mustard greens and seeds were more abundant than the fish, although it was deliciously moist and flavorful for what there was of it.

But Blenheim is a fancier restaurant than I had made it out to be, perhaps even more than it makes itself out to be.  Deceived by rusted-out milk jug lamps and unfinished, distressed wood paneling, the menu is decidedly more gilt and finery.  Even on menupages, it's $$ (out of four) ranking wants it to be a more affordable restaurant than it turns out to be.  That said, West Village real estate will do that to a price tag.   Anyways,  I'm projecting, at this point, what I wanted Blenheim to be as opposed to what it is.  Although a little more precious than I had presumed, it is still a masterful execution of farm-to-table cuisine.   Just make sure to tuck in your best flannel.

283 W. 12th St.

New York, NY 10014


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