The dining room itself is an interesting conglomeration of subdivisions by bookcase and banquette, creating myriad novelties to admire while waiting to order, or after you have. Dining at the bar, our server most certainly needed a little warming up (bad day, perhaps?) but as soon as he did there really wasn't a single blip throughout the evening's course of events. Sitting at the bar affords you a great view of the kitchen, as it's just right off the the left of it. You will not, however, be able to appreciate as much the hodgepodge of action figures, miniature cacti, books and other tchotchkes that fill the cubicles. If you're smart enough to order too much food, apparently one of these toys might serve as a reminder and receipt that your leftovers are waiting for you in coatcheck.
As to the too much food you should order, starting off with the smoked mussels are a good way to start killing that appetite. They're especially cute, too, served in a small glass jar alongside a dollop of creme fraiche and a quartet of sturdy wheaten crackers. They're too small in portion to do much damage, but they are meaty ones and robustly flavorful, so a nice punchy way to start things off.
Heftier options would be a mini-sandwich of ham and cheese served with gribiche, or country-fried liver and onions. On the lighter side there a couple of salads, but more interesting is an ultimately springy bowl of English peas, studded with sweet poached red shrimp and chewy nuggets of lard, and apparently a kiss of mint but I don't really much recall detecting much of that. It's wonderfully green enough, though, without it. Big enough, almost, to serve as a main, too, if you're not tremendously hungry. But as good as that is, and the dish I'll be remembering for some time is the grilled asparagus with rye crumbles, farm egg and choron sauce.
I don't know why restaurants use "farm egg," as if there were some other source, but I here I would trust that the farm is reputable and the egg pure and clean, 'cause that's how these boys roll. If I could nitpick anything about this dish, it would be that there might have been a little too much of the rye crumbs, or that they were a little coarse. And the yolk of that farm egg was cooked a little too firm to runneth over the spears. but the sauce below swooped in to to provide some lubrication, and the combination of elements was absolutely superb - enough to re-order even with the (very, very negligible) flaws.
|c/o Mike T. on Yelp|
puny filet of sea bream sided with a platter full of cannelloni beans. While the braised octopus and artichokes were listed before the beans on the menu, they were definitely NOT a larger portion of the dish, and the most prominent flavor was that of olives. Any artichoke at all was absolutely obfuscated by the saucy beans, and the fish and octopus ended up seeming like an
|c/o Molly C. on Yelp|
So yeah, our smaller plates were exponentially more successful than our entrees, but this was all erased from the slate as soon as dessert arrived. I haven't been more impressed with two desserts on one occasion in a LONG time, if ever. First, there was a Rhubarb and Camomile Cake, something full of components I would typically order. Loving rhubarb as I do, it's astounding to avow that the most compelling aspect of this dessert was not the sweet-tangy fruit (okay okay I know it's not a fruit) compote but the spectacular, dense and luscious beeswax ice cream. But the real show-stopper was the humbly titled Brown Butter and Rye Pudding, a dish I had seen on the website and mistakenly took for uni on a bed of ice. Instead it turned out to be a louche fried pear, halved and lolling atop a spiced rye pudding surrounded by a haunting pine-scented ice, fluffy as clouds and rife with the perfume of fragrant pine
needles on a damp forest floor, dappled with sunshine. This was a brilliant culmination of imagination, nostalgia, and modernity and an absolute must for as long as it stays on the menu, which should maybe be forever- which is as long as I hope Simon and The Whale sticks around. They say once you become a recognizable regular at a Happy Cooking resto, they might greet you with applause. I look forward to that day.
The Freehand New York
23 Lexington Avenue