Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bits & Morsels Welcomes Spring

Hand-cut nettle pasta, ramps, white asparagus and morels at The Monarch Room.
by Erin Frankel

Hello Spring! It's finally time to start roaming the city's newest culinary hidden gems, and tasting our way through thousands of sweet, savory, spicy, refreshing seasonal dishes; some from established chefs and others from new culinary talents. And, as per usual, spring openings offer fresh insight into the new trends in the restaurant space — consistent styles of décor, culinary techniques, prevalent ingredients, and dining inclinations. I've narrowed my list down to my favorite restaurants doing what are fun, tasty and IN. Stay ahead of the curve and read on ...

Roasted Hake artichokes, clementines, endive, tapenade at Narcissa.
Our commitment to eating healthy food has metamorphosed from a diet into a lifestyle. It has become mainstream to eat produce that is fresher and healthier. And, this is reflected in the prominence of locally sourced veggie-centric dishes all over menus from the city's top culinary talents. Vegetables are now the main ingredient replacing red meats in entrees and mixers in cocktails.

We see this most notably at Narcissa (21 Cooper Sq.), where established restaurateur and Michelin-starred chef, John Fraser, brings his culinary prowess downtown to hotelier Andre Balazs' uber-chic Standard East hotel.

Fraser earned his stripes at his original Upper West Side establishment, Dovetail. He continues to impress diners with his innovative culinary techniques and pristine preparation of locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant's name, Narcissa, originates from a cow on Balazs' farm in upstate New York, where the restaurant sources the chef's produce and dairy products. Flavorful veggie crowd-pleasers that reflect Fraser's farm-to-table commitment include his slow-cooked rotisserie-crisped beets with bulgur salad, apples, and creamed horseradish, the carrots Wellington with bluefoot mushrooms, sunchokes, and gremolata and the roasted hake with fresh artichokes, clementine, endive, and tapenade.
Narcissa: Carrots Wellington with bluefoot mushrooms, sunchokes, gremolata.
Narcissa: Rotisserie-crisped beets bulgur salad, apples, creamed horseradish.
At The Monarch Room (408 West 15th St.), Executive Chef Michael Citarella (formerly at Freeman's) crafts a refined brasserie-style new American menu where you can quite literally order spring in a Dish with The Monarch Room's newest incarnation to the menu, the hand-cut nettle pasta. This is a simple spring dish comprising fresh tagliatelle pasta made from the leaves of the stinging nettle plant. The sauce is made with sautéed ramps, morels, white asparagus, white wine, cream and Parmesan cheese.
The Monarch Room
408 W 15th St.
(646) 790-7070
At the most recently opened Brazilia Café (684 Broadway) everything is methodically sourced and cooked fresh daily by a team of culinary experts under the leadership of Malcolm Stogo, (CEO of Fal Foods Worldwide), Executive Chef Danny Lachs, and Pastry Chef Robert Ellinger. Brazilia Café is devoted to providing the freshest ingredients in all of the seasonal items they serve throughout the day — from the Brazilia Coffee, grown and harvested at their own bean farm in Brazil (perfectly roasted and hand-crafted by coffee concierges at the coffee bar) to their juice and smoothie bar, to the soups, salads, sandwiches and tapas made fresh to order on premise, to the Brazilia gelato, produced in small batches in a variety of natural flavors.
Soups, salads, sandwiches tapas and more are made fresh to order on premise at Brazilia Cafe.
Brazilia Cafe
684 Broadway
(212) 858-0732
Cucumber cocktail at Chalk Point Kitchen — who ever said drinking can't be healthy?
Within a week, Matt Levine's newest incarnation with chef Joe Isidori, Chalk Point Kitchen (527 Broome Street, 212-390-0327), has already become a spot for a notably chick crowd of media moguls and fashionistas who want a nutrient-rich diet without sacrificing an occasional cocktail.

Chalk Point Kitchen takes this pervasive treatment of local, sustainable, and organic products and vegetables a step further; their extensive cocktail menu is made up of fresh squeezed organic juices, like a delicious (and nutritious) kale martini.

The market-to-table menu mimics the restaurant's farmhouse-inspired décor; small authentic touches like the antique lighting, wooden tables, luscious garden surrounding the perimeter, and the small daisy at each table complemented by a small personalized chalkboard to round out the personable vibe.
Chalk Point Kitchen: Montauk Pearl oysters topped with toasted curry, sudachi, and salmon caviar.
Chalk Point Kitchen: Creamy handmade Burrata with fenugreek, meyer lemon, & cucumber.
Chalk Point Kitchen: Roasted heirloom carrots with feta and black truffle lemon.
Chalk Point Kitchen: Hudson Valley pan chicken with house gravy, Chinese greens, & whipped potatoes.
Michael and Alan Stillman of the established Fourth Wall Restaurant Group (most notably including Quality Meats and Quality Italian), have veered away from the heavy meaty concepts of old and opened a new market-driven restaurant within the former Hurricane Club space called General Assembly (360 Park Ave. South).

Strictly Roots is a Martini made with Jamaican Rum, Fresh Pressed Carrot Juice, Ginger & Lime.
This gargantuan space houses a large bar area up front along with three distinct dining rooms. And as of this week, the restaurant is open for lunch with a $32 pre-fix special!

For a refreshing cocktail, start with former Clover Club veteran, Bryan Schneider's special spring cocktail, the Loose Cannon, made with tequila, a "House Elixir," fresh lime, and celery ribbons. If you like it spicy, wait a while for the ingredients to infuse with the jalapeno at the bottom.

Chef Craig Koketsu's new spring dishes include the Soft Shell Crab Louie Salad topped with Green Goddess dressing and Spring Asparagus; the Crispy Skate Po-Boy with a Bread 'n Butter Pickle Remoulade; the Skuna Bay Salmon with Grilled Ramp Aioli and Rhubard Chutney; the Slow Roasted Pork Sandwich topped with Garlic Aioli and Rapini; and the Chicken A L'Orange Salad topped with fresh Farro, cherries, and almonds.

The General Assembly is in session!
The (happy) bar at General Assembly
360 Park Ave. South
Celery Root Salad at General Assembly.
The opulent, traditional 5th avenue Peninsula Hotel now houses one of NYC's most prominent restaurants with an elevated New American fare. Chef Brandon Kida, of Asiate and Lutèce, oversees the kitchen at Clement (700 Fifth Avenue) where he skillfully sources ingredients from the Northeast. Kida turns out sophisticated, contemporary dishes with locally tracked ingredients like a beautiful heirloom carrot with farmhouse yogurt, pumpernickel, and lemon vinaigrette; and an earthy Pennsylvania lamb dish with a kale puree.
Heirloom carrots at Clement.
700 5th Ave.
(212) 903-3918
An authentic farm-to-table theme dominates both the charming décor and immaculately crafted dishes at Flatiron's quaint new farmhouse-designed County (34 E. 20th St.). This intimate New American restaurant is definitely for New Yorkers who favor their produce from local farmers (along with a super-chic countrified barn ambience) and who have larger concerns about sustainability and the environment.

Executive chef Jan Feshan (of ABC Kitchen & Fourth Wall Restaurants) utilizes the restaurant's proximity to Union Square's Greenmarket to source local ingredients for his market-driven menu, which includes farm-to-table favorites like fresh made ricotta (sourced directly from Saxelby Cheese) with honey, chili, mint, olive oil and grilled country bread; Tuscan kale, perfectly spiced with slices of jalapeno, dressed with a roasted garlic vinaigrette topped with fresh Pecorino; a roasted market vegetables entrée with organic quinoa, soffrito, miso mushroom, roasted carrots, topped with egg; or a side of Brussels sprouts flaked with bacon and rosemary within a pickled onion vinaigrette emulsion.

The cocktail list is loaded with fresh locally-sourced veggie-centric ingredients as well, like the Hudson Swizzle, a concoction of vodka, fresh blueberry & lemon, ginger, pomegranate, orange blossom water; and the Vodka East Side, a mixture of vodka, cucumber, fresh lime & fresh mint.
34 East 20th St.
New Yorkers are also experiencing an increasing pervasiveness of Mediterranean cuisine this spring. The Mediterranean diet is very appealing; loaded with lean proteins, fresh vegetables, healthy fats, and homemade cheese and pasta. And many chefs are embracing the trending culinary movement towards these wholesome, nourishing foods.

Owner and Executive Chef Fabio Hakill capitalizes on this within his elevated Italian cuisine in midtown's new, breathtaking Italian gem, Fabio Cucina Italiana (214 E. 52nd Street).
Fabio Cucina Italiana
14 E 52nd St.
(212) 688-5200
Executive Chef Fabio Hakill.
The restaurant's open, contemporary space with an old-school charming design accents the fine Italian cuisine, which rotates seasonally to provide nature's best ingredients. Hakill offers an ample sampling of exceptional wines from around the world (64 varietals by bottle and 18 by glass) to pair with his homemade fresh Italian dishes, which include creamy burrata and house-made pastas (such as the astortelloni al pomodoro and fettuccine with porcini mushrooms). The room, decorated with Gothic chandeliers and plush red & gold banquettes, makes this an ideal spot for the Midtown crowd seeking an ambience that offers both a refined client lunch and an intimate, romantic dinner.
Spaghetti Alle Vongole with baby clams, garlic and olive oil.
Homemade fettuccine with veal, porcini mushrooms and truffle.
Elena Fabiani and Markus Dorfmann (of Aurora and Emporio) adeptly make Italian comfort food staples nutritious at Baker & Co. (259 Bleecker Street). Here, Executive Chef Ricardo Buitoni creates a simple Italian menu all from local market ingredients, and the result is absolutely delicious. The chef endows traditional Italian staples with healthy seasonal ingredients within signature dishes like the Baker's Mac and Cheese, "Cacio e Pepe" prepared in the traditional Roman way with fresh local cheese and pepper and the wild striped bass, fished locally, served with spring vegetable salad and a Vidalia onion emulsion.

The cozy rustic space, formerly Zito's Bakery for 80-plus years, retains much of Zito's original charm — like the original flooring and ceiling panels, the reclaimed wood tables, and the traditional vintage baking items — making it feel like the restaurant has been there forever. But come warmer days ahead, Baker & Co will invite patrons to the outdoor garden.
Baker & Co.
259 Bleecker St.
(212) 255-1234
Baker & Co.'s outdoor garden.
Baker & Co. Hamachi, flash seared, kumato tomato, saffron gigante beans.
Baker & Co. Market greens, shaved vegetables, Parmesan, tahini. Baker & Co. Burrata cheese, artichokes, greens, mullet bottarga.
A number of restaurants have sharpened their expertise in the small plate sharing department. The tapas are varied and tend to be introduced to the table one plate at a time, so diners have the chance to relish the global, ethnic flavors of each dish while sipping on a diverse array of varietals.

In fact, the whole urban winery trend is accepted as a norm. The wine and tapas bar is adaptable for anyone — the large group, the pre- or post-dinner drink and snack, a girl's night out, a first date, or even the loner.
Wine Spot
127 Macdougal St.
(212) 505-1248
Greenwich Village's cozy Wine Spot (127 Macdougal Street) is perfect if you need a place to unwind in a quiet, snug candlelight shabby chic setting while watching highly skilled dancer Rebeca Tomás and dancer/singer Barbara Martinez strut their Flamenco stuff. Owner Gabriela Arzola has transformed the space's original Tea Spot into a two-level wine and tapas bar, featuring a large selection of reasonably priced wines from around the world, along with an assortment of yummy tapas. This laid-back hidden gem is ideal for a wine, cheese and cured meats pairing (the eclectic selection is sourced from neighborhood standbys, i.e. Murray's and Despaña).
Wine Spot cheese & meat platters.
It is indeed becoming mainstream to explore new cultures through food. More and more people want to experience the density of flavor synergies, but we want something more edgy, yet accessible. We see this most notably in chef Brian Tsao's (formerly of Telepan) Mira Sushi Izakaya Bar (46 W. 22nd St., 212-989-7889) where chef Tsao posits an ingenious twist on Asian street food from his half Korean, half Taiwanese youth.

This is most prominent in his oyster tempura po' boys with pickled daikon, jalapeno ranch, tonkatsu, and cherry tomato on a sweet Hawaiian bun; the beef bulgogi tacos topped with Kimchi slaw, Korean pear, scallions and toasted sesame in a wonton shell; his spicy tuna pizza within a crispy roti topped with guacamole, masago, kani, and furikake flakes; and even in more familiar Japanese items like the dynamite roll, which he manipulates with wild blue crab, seared spicy scallops, fried vermicelli, and spicy mayo. Chef Tsao skillfully allows each flavor — sweet, savory, tangy, and spicy — to shine within his complex combination of diverse ethnic seasonings, resulting in a perfectly balanced symmetry and flavor permutation.
Beef Bi Bim Bap.
Bulgogi Taco.
Kyoto Crunchy Sloppy Joe.
Pork N Rice Cake Skillet.
Silken Tofu MST.
Spicy Wontons.
Sushi Pizza.
Sushi Plate.