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First Tastings of New Fall New York Restaurants
“The menu is designed for the table to share,” our waiter at the new Bloomingdale Road announces.
I look at the list of “snacks” just above “small plates and sandwiches” and “soup and salads.” “How many smoked deviled eggs on the plate?” I ask.
“Three,” he says.
“But we’re four.”
“You can always get two orders,” he responds.
“I don’t need six eggs.”
“Well, they’re big and you can cut them in half.”
“But then I’ll have six halves. How about the suckling pig meatballs?”
“Three,” he says grinning. “I could just bring you four anyway.”
“Bring us four and charge for the extra meatball,” I instruct. “And we’ll have four chowder shots too.”
This is not just another lineup of comfort food. It’s playpen time. It’s the homey and weirdo hour. We have chicken lollipops-Buffalo with blue cheese fondue. Country ham is roasted with Coca-Cola. Everyday fries? Not here. Smoked fries, Old Bay fries and bone marrow fries. The tuna ribs are chili and honey glazed. Country-fried quail comes with biscuits and gravy. This unquenchable exuberance and desperate need to fry up something not yet invented might be inspired by how many restaurants are in countdown phase all over town (especially Fatty Crab and Tom Valenti’s West Branch, imminent not far away on Broadway – which was once called Bloomingdale Road).
I wouldn’t be going into all this today if I hadn’t actually liked some of Chef Ed Witt’s dishes since, I must confess, I accidentally barged into Bloomingdale Road on its first night, thinking it had opened a week earlier. And I wasn’t the only trigger happy Upper West Sider piling in the door as if starved. The duplex, bar and sidewalk tables are jammed with yuppies and yippies, seniors and younglings in startling juxtaposition.
If I’d hated every bite I would have left the place to expire of terminal silliness and possibly come back eventually if it rallied, just to be fair. But the fabulous chowder shooters (not exactly drinkable in their shot glass – we had to ask for spoons), the sensational smoked fries with not-too-much cheddar and the Road Food Warrior’s whole wheat fettuccine with spicy shrimp, grilled squash and marjoram actually live up to Witt’s resume – Rubicon in San Francisco, Restaurant Daniel, Il Buco and the ambitious but doomed Varietal.
We’re all wild about the brioche baked in a tin can – “Watch out,” says the waiter, leaving a small ramekin of herb-black-pepper-honey doused butter. “That’s really hot.” Yoicks! I discover he’s not kidding as I try to pull the puffed-up top free from its baking tin, a lawsuit in a can in this litigious town. “Want more bread?” the runner asks. Even devout carbophobes want more. A second pouf comes in a burning hot ramekin (easier to extract without injury). “I’ll leave this used butter because we’re running short,” says the runner, the same guy who assures us the chowder shots are “chicken.” On the first night it’s almost amusing. (Even Sarah was amusing for 24 hours.) And the ancho-dusted scallops with corn and wild mushrooms are small but good (at least our fussy friend is impressed and her husband attacks the trout on chunks of potato slathered with horseradish cream with unabashed gusto).
The teeny suckling pig meatballs are lost in a smother of chipotle tomato sauce and not worth saving anyway. Mac and cheese Witt style is witless – macaroni cheese soup. It comes with a tripartite dish alongside sporting the crunchiest croutons I’ve ever tasted, bits of bacon and minced jalapeno. “You can run your macaroni over the condiments,” we are instructed. No. No. No. Impossible. (But save the croutons. They’re marvelous.) I’m not sure if it was something my grass-fed cow ate but the barely chewable strip steak smells and tastes spoiled. Still, those fries. The kitchen has them mastered. Well, I hope. Who knows what day 2 will bring?
More crowds, says Proprietor Jeremy Wladis, who knows the neighborhood’s consuming fervor from his two other ventures, Nonna (Columbus and 85th) and Campo (Broadway at 112th Street). But even he is reeling with the demand, walk-ins and reservations, “We fed 200 last night. We’re completely booked for the weekend.” And yes, the menu is still evolving. “We’ve been tasting the food for two months,” he confides, “but it’s one thing to do cedar roasted sockeye salmon for five tasters and another when every table is jammed. Some of our dishes are controversial. One table hates it. The next table loves it. You don’t know what to do.”
At six o’clock on the house’s fourth night Wladis just got handed the sixth version of the menu. I hope they’ll realize how mean it is to the middle-aged among us to have type that small and palest gray. “Order whatever you want me to eat,” our friend Harvey pleaded. “I can’t read the menu.” My guy passed him the flashlight.
Syrupy sweet apricot and bourbon glaze on brioche does not mean “bread pudding” in my book. And I probably should not have ordered peanut butter and jelly tart with marshmallow ice cream, although, like Elvis, I was once addicted to peanut butter and bacon with banana. I guess I’ve tossed that monkey off my back. This is my neighborhood after all. We’ll be back.
2398 Broadway near 88th Street 212 674 7400
Like a privileged first child in an ambitious family with excellent connections, Apiary has a top of the line nursery – slick modern design by partner Ligne Rosset, starring whimsical trompe l’oeil sconces and the company’s own sleekly squared side chairs upholstered in deep jewel colors – garnet, amethyst, graphite, cat’s eye, or shall I say, beet, eggplant, braised veal and chocolate. Managing partner Jenny Moon left Korea at 15 for this destiny – an American education, a degree in finance from Cornell’s hotel and restaurant school, then risk arbitrage on Wall Street, and finally, following her real passion to Restaurant Daniel’s skybox as Boulud’s executive assistant, finally, a stop at Eighty One, even while hatching Apiary.
With Moon as managing partner, Neil Manacle, Bobby Flay’s sidekick of sixteen years, at the stove and Cellar consultant Nick Mautone lining up the bottles (heavy duty alternative action in New York state labels and micro brews), Apiary brings remarkably good bones to the creeping gentrification of Third Avenue below 10th Street.
Should you be a local newbie freeholder just strolling by, the illuminated metal twists in the front window – a designer light fixture suggesting radioactive tulips – would surely stop you. But tonight, on my first tasting with friends, I see fork-tongued foodie first nighters ganged up at the bare black tables have left few spots free for curious walkins. Chatter gets magnified under the low ceiling. It will be noisy when the nomadic screamers move in but tonight, we can lean in and hear at least half of what we’re saying.
Lining up slices of sensational heirloom tomatoes on a thick toasted crostini with feta and arugula doesn’t make for easy bites of crostini but all the parts are delicious, as is the saltiness of Serrano ham played against the sweetness of fresh roasted peaches with shaved goat cheese in a mustardy sherry vinaigrette. But calamari are lost in too thick breading. Summer slaw piled on crab cake distracts from the simplicity of perfect crab. Agreed, the cake looks good, like Sarah the Warrior, with its cabbagey updo. Steamed mussels with sausage in a citrus broth is classic. And there is an elegant purity in giant prawns and sea scallops with cannelloni beans in a tangy shellfish broth. I’m discounting the failure to send out sauce spoons to a serving crew still in boot camp. While we wait for silverware I can scoop up a bit of these citric pools with mussel shells.
I can’t say that quite juicy smoked paprika dusted pork tenderloin or the chimichurri marinated hanger steak are flawed. It’s just that we had sensationally feisty hanger steak the night before at Morandi and the memory makes this version seem quite ordinary. Of course, I’m not surprised that a chef come of age in Flay’s aura overdoes on sweetness. And after all, this is Apiary. Personally, I hate honey as well as fruit vinegars in my vinaigrette. And I’m not going to be happy with sweet’n’sour fruit sauce tainting my spice crusted lamb. A side of spicy eggplant comes cold. That’s a surprise.
Blueberry compote turns out to be sticky purple streaks alongside goat cheesecake with lavender honey (yes, I hate lavender too). But the chocolate cashew tart with cashew ice cream is a hit and the vanilla ice cream on the peach crisp is just perfect. Not sweet at all.
Now how did that happen?
Though I’m betting East Villagers will be thrown by prices that would seem blissful in midtown, I’m not going to judge a chef with these credentials on just one dinner. It’s never easy to leave home and a protected adolesence. I want to believe that the man who Flay thinks is good enough to run his kitchens will grow into his own.
60 Third Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets. 212 254 0888
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