Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bits and Morsels

Poached Maine Lobster Salad at Duo.

by Erin Frankel

If you are as well attuned to foodie street trends, you may have noticed a new neighborhood burgeoning on the New York City restaurant scene. In the area south of Herald Square, north of Flatiron, and east of Chelsea you may recall a few barren streets known for its wholesale hair wigs, perfume retailers, and flower shops. This once culinary wasteland is changing before our very eyes, and NoMad (North of Madison Square Park) is quickly becoming quite the happening place to live and eat, well.

April Bloomfield instantly transformed this territory just a couple years ago with the opening of The Breslin and The John Dory Oyster Bar, both in the swanky Ace Hotel. The ensuing restaurants that popped up in NoMad have been colossal and glamorous, and at times brazen. Now it's Duo's turn.

Raspberry and Blood Orange flavored Vodka Shooter.
Vidalia onion rings.
Duo was inspired by two adventurous city ladies who draw much of Duo's vision from their Russian origin. The maven sisters, Lorraine and Sabina Belkin, possess a supreme confidence and fervor about Duo and maintain a strong presence at the restaurant at all times (whether it be by the bar, conversing with guests, or even in their portraits on the wall).

The Belkin sisters clearly spared no expense when decorating this venue, with its highly pronounced glitzy decor. Like its owners, the entire room has sex appeal and glamour. This begins with a long circular back-lit bar, crocodile skin columns, a long velvet-covered wall, hand placed Swarovski crystals (including a seven-foot crystal chandelier in the center of the room), and gold-leaf features on nearly every wall leading up the soaring ceiling.

From here on out, you'll have the option of starting each weekend by sipping on Duo's signature shooters and sampling thin-crusted duck and beautifully seasoned Mediterranean Branzino.

Your experience starts with very cool electronically lit menus. You'll definitely want to hydrate with a shooter — a mixture of vodka and a fruit-based flavor of your choice. I suggest you try the blood orange or raspberry shooters. The appetizers are delicate and sophisticated, both in presentation and texture. We went with the creamy Burrata with heirloom tomatoes finished with an aged balsamic; and the Poached Maine Lobster salad, which is a long row of lobster chopped and wrapped with avocado, cucumber, red and yellow peppers, and jalapeno drizzled with a unique champagne mango 'caviar'.
The bar at Duo.
The main dining room at Duo.
As for the entrees, nearly everything on the menu is delicious. I suggest you go for a grilled fish like the Honey Tamari Glazed Chilean Sea Bass accompanied by wilted pea shoots, baby corn, seasonal vegetables, lightly seasoned with a citrus lemongrass sauce. Or the Mediterranean Branzino, which is drizzled with broccolini, oyster mushrooms, capers, Niçoise olives and finished with a balsamic reduction.

If you are in a 'fowl' mood, definitely try the Aromatic Glazed Duck, which is served with an interesting combination of french green lentils, baby rainbow carrots and caramelized peaches, and seasoned with a sweet and refreshing honey-ginger ponzu sauce.

As for the sides, the grilled asparagus and the crispy Vidalia onion rings will do you right.
Grilled Asparagus.
Burrata with Heirloom Tomatoes.
Honey Tamari Glazed Chilean Sean Bass. The Aromatic Glazed Duck.
The Mediterranean Branzino.
Make sure to leave room for dessert. Everything here is a 'duo,' so when you order the cheesecake, you get a double chocolate cheesecake with malted milk chocolate gelato along with a blood orange honey cheesecake with candied citrus sorbet.

And while your waiter brings this menagerie of desserts to the your plush corner booth, you’ll take notice of the enormous and seductive 8-foot portraits of each Belkin sister as they watch over your every bite.

72 Madison Ave
A chocolate cake and a Peach cake.
Red Farm. This Chinese bistro's rustically elegant digs are heavily wooded and decorated with sparsely strewn kitschy knick knacks is the brainchild of the same team who brought us Shun Lee Palace and Chinatown Brasserie.

Situated in an 1820's townhouse in the West Village, Red Farm's farmhouse vibe houses a well-renowned chef and two famous restaurateurs. This cozy space, which contains a mere 45 seats, is precisely casual. Small booths which are upholstered in red and white gingham, fitting merely one person on each end, line the entire restaurant, while a long wooden oak table fills the inner space.

As I sat down with owner Ed Schoenfeld to discuss his menu, he made it clear his focus is not on 'anything modern,' nor is he trying to 'just be' authentic. After eating here, the menu seemed to me a hodgepodge of influences — some from your Chinese grandma and others from new and evolving young chefs — but unmistakably Chinese.
Yuzu-Wasabi Shrimp (shrimp with walnuts).
Crispy Duck Dumplings (a sting ray shaped pastry with curry dip).
Mushroom & Vegetable Spring Roll with a sweet and spicy sauce on the side.
Shrimp with Rice Wine, Tomato, Basil and Very Thin Rice Noodles.
Spicy Sauteed Black Seabass.
The dishes are unpretentious yet playful, like the inventive yuzu wasabi shrimp, the crispy Sichuan duck dumplings or, for a lighter take on the fare, the spicy sauteed black seabass in a light soy sauce. But don't get too attached to Chef Joe Ng's menu. It will change daily.

Red Farm
529 Hudson St
Litchi Mousse.
Photographs by Erin Frankel.
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