[Pigging by Wilfrid: July 7, 2015]
Excitement untrammeled as Gabriel Kreuther launches his signature restaurant in the vast ground floor space of the Grace Building--the 42nd street bskyscraper which curves appealing as it heads towards the sidewalk.
Kreuther is generally viewed as the chef who opened, and for almost a decade presided over, Danny Meyer's The Modern, the fancy restaurant at MoMA; although he arguably drew more praise for his inventive Alsatian-accented menu served at The Modern's bar.
But his roots go deeper than that. Many of us ate his food when he was chef-de-cuisine at Jean-Georges, and he made his first big splash opening Atelier, a superb restaurant inside the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South. That's where his signature croustillante of squab and foie gras made its debut, and where he stunned with smart combinations like cod and chorizo. It's interesting to see a whole new generation of diners lining up to be wowed by him.
Although nobody was lining up the week before the July 4th holiday. The room (or rooms) were barely 20 percent occupied on a weekday evening. I sat at a comfortable cream banquette within one of the areas which had been created within the overall huge space by encircling it with weighty timber pillars. The thing is, you can see between the pillars to further spaces beyond, which for all the comfort of the furnishings, gives it the feel of a dining area in an airport terminal. You see servers approach with your dish from far, far away. And what's with the frieze of little silver birds?
Is this a French restaurant? Alsatian? Viennese, perhaps? Dinner kicks off with a savory version of the tradtional Alsatian sweet cake, the kugelhopf, with a herby fromage blanc on the side. The tableware is, as one of my Mouthfuls colleagues pointed out, highly Secessionist--possibly on loan from the Neue Galerie. The general flow of the cuisine fits a new French model.
Two menus confront the diner. The six tiered carte ranges from raw, via appetizers, soup-pasta-grains, fish, and meat, to dessert. Four choices can be yours for $98 (about the same as The Modern and Chevalier); additional savory selections, $26, additional desserts, $16. Alternatively, you can ring the bells with a $185 tasting: 14 courses, and priced just short of Daniel, Jean-Georges, and Le Bernardin. It's an indication that someone, somewhere has Times 4 star aspirations for this place.
You might be tempted by the long form dinner, because that's where you see some exciting ingredients like morels, pig ears, and langoustines. But what do you know? The dishes I most wanted to try on the tasting arrived in mini-me versions as amuses to the $98 prix fixe.
An excellent fresh pea panna cotta with tiny shards of crisp pig ear and bits of morel. A Bing cherry where the sharpness of pickle juices battled the comforting sweetness of clove cream. A tiny tartare of langoustine with flying fish roe and hints of cauliflower and macadamia nut. I could have eaten more of any of these (but I was saving nearly $90 at this point).
The first starter proper was another hint that this restaurant is shooting high. This is highly wrought, carefully tweezered, consciously complex food. The cuisine it most resembles in New York right now is Shaun Hergatt's at Juni. (Unless things have changed mightily, you won't find anything this elaborate at Daniel or Del Posto.)
Brandt beef shows up as a skirt steak in the meat section. Here it was the tenderloin, cured in-house for 10 days, with a razor clam (you'd never guess) vinaigrette, some fresh grated horseradish, and several components which went undescribed. Along the edge of the plate, I'm assuming some beef tendon puffs. Inside what seemed to be a kind of soft won ton, a beef tartare. I'd say, though I can't demonstrate it, that there was some kidney in that mix.
Fascinating, right? It's only fair to say that these are early days, and my server said the dish was still underdevelopment, but there was a basic problem. If you cure meat or fish in a dry or wet brine, rinse it afterwards. Rinse it thoroughly. Or you have, as here, a salt bomb. There was some grit in the tartare, the horseradish was amazingly mild, but the salt was the big problem. Nothing that can't easily be fixed.
Anyone concerned about bread service in New York restaurants--no bread; a separate charge for bread; bread appearing two-thirds of the way through the meal--can relax here. The initial Alsatian bread service was followed by two house-made baguettes, one served between each of the savory courses. The first was curiously ebony-and-ivory in appearance, but it made no contribution to the flavor. Ash, I was told.
The second dish was where it all came together. Here was the deftness and invention of Kreuther at his best. Sweetbread and black truffle dumplings, light as feathers, fragrant, pillowy; and one quite perfectly made crisp sweetbread; sweetcorn purée in attendance. A light corn broth was poured from a little jug at the table (as the razor clam vinaigrette had been; as the beef reduction would be.
Cheaper cuts of meat are notoriously finding their way onto high-end menus--look at the current craze for lamb's neck. But the pork neck at GK ("Restaurant Gabriel," as it was announced when I called to confirm my table) is at least Mangsalita. That's the breed, of course, although it might as well be Hungarian for packed-with-creamy-fat.
I mean, it just looks like the pig version of Wagyu just sitting there--and of course it was rich and tender. A very soft puck of blood pudding--sorry, morcilla--backed it up. And unannounced again, there was a hunk of softly braised pork from a different cut flanking the slice of neck.
One observation, and one generalized complaint. This was a very classic reduction. One of those sticky, gooey reductions that just gets more concentrated as it sits on the plate. There's a place for this kind of saucing, but it's definitely old school. The complaint is not directed at GK, but everyone: can you stop throwing undercooked, charred fennel on the plate? We know what it tastes like; you can't cut it; you can't chew it; good luck digesting it. Incorporate it into the dish or leave it out; it's getting to be a like everyone's sculpted tomato.
Pre-dessert, a take on a margarita--sharp and citrusy. Dessert (I saw no sign of cheese), a sort of pistachio sandwich, with an apricot mousseline kind of stuck to the plate, roasted apricot, and a "ten flavor" sorbet (which ten flavors, I don't know). Pleasant. Chocolate twigs, and really first-rate chocolates in a little canoe to finish things off.
The wine-list is long, but at least takes a modest run-up to the ladders of Bordeauxs and Super-Tuscans. I went by the glass, and a red Chateau-Chalon, Domaine de la Pinte, sang beautiful harmony with the sweetbreads. I asked for a recommendation for the raw beef, and the sommelier came up with a fresh Catalan red blend, the Jordi Miro Enak.
Usefully, and very unusually, wines BTG are available as half pours--so you can start tasting at around $8. Less helpfully, wines are served in curious shaped glasses, which need to be turned almost upside down to finish the pour.
Gabriel Kreuther. Fine chef, big restaurant, early days.