2013 New York City Summer Restaurant Week
If you’re a fan of television food shows, not necessarily “celebrity chefs”, or if you just happening to be flipping through the channels on a rainy Saturday, you may catch “The Iron Chef”. If you’re really lucky, you catch an episode featuring BUTTER Restaurant Executive Chef Alex Guarnaschelli. I dig that chick, although sometimes her critique may seem like nit-picking. But, I’ve always wanted to try her restaurant. Actually, I’d love to go behind the scenes in her kitchen and sample some of her creations. (Alex, call me.) Located on the strangely wide Lafayette Street in the East Village (or what they’re calling “NoHo”), I’ve passed it countless times, just never went in.
This, folks, is the reason why I try to take advantage of Restaurant Week in New York City. Sure, the menu during the weeks — yes, plural — of Restaurant Week are often scaled down and “cheapened”, but when the restaurants do it right (not necessarily perfectly), I’m inclined to spread the positive experience far and wide.
It’s been five days since my visit. I’m late with this post, I know. But it’s been a busy few days.
The Space: You walk in and proceed down a short hallway that opens into a seating area to the right. To your left, through the slivers of areas in the wall with an almost “peek-a-boo” effect behind mason jars, is the kitchen. You can’t help but see the absolutely gorgeous domed ceiling that has a massive feel over the dining room just beyond the bar area. I thought: “This is grand.” It actually made me think of Grand Central Terminal. Interesting. We were escorted down a flight of stairs. “Oh, we’re not eating upstairs?,” I thought. No. Although the downstairs dining area was nice, it certainly could not compare to the grandeur of we knew lay above.
The Food: There were enough choices on their Restaurant Week menu. My main course, House Made Ricotta and Saffron Ravioli with Oven-Roasted Oyster Mushrooms, was seemingly loaded with butter — and cheese. But, that’s not a complaint. On the contrary. It was rich — wow — and the sauce was a bit addictive. It may have been a tad too salty, but thankfully, the portion was perfect and I water and my cocktail handy. Just enough for me to be satisfied, not necessarily bursting. My foodie partner-in-crime for the night had the same main course item. The idea of having pasta, saffron and oyster mushrooms — um, do you really think we’d pass that?? *pulls up chair*
But, I should take a step back. For appetizers, my friend chose a cold cucumber soup. I tasted it. It was incredibly creamy, very light, very fresh and very cold. It just exuded a feeling of coolness with each spoonful. Beautifully done. I had Braised Prince Edward Island Mussels with Smoked Trout, Dry Vermouth. Again, butter was apparently an ingredient? Not sure, but who cares? It was so good, I wanted more. The mussels were cooked perfectly. They slid easily out of their shells after a gentle pull of the fork. There was a slight smokiness in the taste. There was quite a bit of liquid, i.e. sauce, so I requested a spoon. The idea of letting all that goodness go to waste…nope, nope, nope. If I was home alone, I would have put the bowl to my head. (Keepin’ it classy…in public. In private…not so much.)
We finished the meal with Sweet Corn Crème Brulée with Cinnamon Biscotti and Strawberries and Strawberry Black Pepper Sorbet with Brown Sugar and Lemon Verbena Marshmallows. I, of course, chose the crème brulée not because it is one of my favorite desserts (see here, here and here) but because of the interesting component — sweet corn? I had to see what that was all about. I can report: Smooth, no corn bits. My friend had the sorbet. Hmmm…. Again, pleasantly surprised. I guess strawberry and black pepper does work. Who knew?
Final Thoughts: My choices and the choices of my dinner buddy were more than good enough to want to return ASAP. I need to try items from their “real” menu. The Charred Octopus and Butter-Poached Maine Lobster — I want those. I was a bit disappointed we did not get to experience the upstairs seating but maybe next time. When we were leaving, the bar was definitely “hopping”. A lot more people had obviously showed up for Friday “Happy Hour”. On second thought, perhaps eating downstairs was a blessing. At least we could hear each other speak.