Executive chef, Dan Kluger, expedites plates just beyond a table of fresh daily offerings from the local farmer's market.
ABC Kitchen (35 E. 18th St.)
Have you ever had a meal that literally made you simultaneously enraptured, sentimental, proud, reflective, and satisfied? A dinner that amuses each of the senses in both familiar and untapped dimensions? One that transports you to a not-so-long-ago time of digging holes in the backyard garden of your childhood home with a plastic shovel, tearing open packets of turnip seeds, and staring in awe at the beauty of the wedding band on your mother's hand speckled with topsoil, as she tenderly pats the ground tucking in the unborn vegetables? A meal that makes your chest swell up that you were brave enough to cram your few belongings into a white rental minivan, and drive across the country with your kid brother to move into your very first New York City apartment to pursue your far-fetched dreams, even though every single thing that had ever brought you comfort was now in the thirsty midwestern dust cloud settling behind you? A particular restaurant that you know exists no where else, and though thousands will plan entire trips around sampling its menu, for you it was only short ride from your apartment in a yellow cab, and for that you couldn't be more proud to live in this city of culinary creativity and brilliance?
I had that very meal just a few hours ago, thanks to the recommendation of a few friends who believe in my passion for food, my desire to share New York City's finest secrets with others, and my core belief that it is around a dinner table with loved ones that we grow closer and learn more about one another, our likes and dislikes, exchanging anecdotes, laughter, and the joy of sharing one of our most basic needs with those we cherish.
ABC Kitchen is the few-week-old restaurant in ABC Home, and newcomer in the trend towards being sustainable and green (even the menus are backed with pieces of recycled cardboard shipping cartons), featuring a market-driven menu that's just about as farm-to-table as you could get in the heart of such an urban giant.
Overhead in the main room, exposed beams from an old barn add a rustic suggestion of the farm-to-table philosophy in an otherwise pristine and white fairy tale dining playground accented with whimsical wrought-iron and glass chandeliers, an eclectic patchwork of antique saucers and silverware, alongside gorgeous dinnerware handcrafted by local artisans. Nearly all of the items are available in ABC Home, though our server only chuckled when I asked if they offer a rent-to-own incentive for returning patrons.
Our server was a refreshingly kind and sincere hostess who, although thoroughly well-versed on the nuances of the menu and wine offerings, mastered that hard-to-find balance of articulating specific components of various dishes and cocktails, while never once appearing rehearsed or robotic. The server uniforms, as we inquired, were simply dark denim jeans, button-up shirts with any checked or striped pattern, and a pair of sneakers (Chuck Taylors were preferred, she informed us). We felt as though our server had invited us into a friend's home where she had dined so frequently, she knew everything from the ingredients to the hobbies and personal preferences of the chef. When I enviously asked if she gets to enjoy a staff meal before each shift, she simply smiled. "You have no idea. Even the salads are absolutely incredible."
Of course the true star of ABC Kitchen is Jean-Georges Vongerichten, one of the most celebrated chefs in the world. Having just celebrated his fifty-third birthday, the youthful glow of his skin and genuinely benevolent countenance suggest he rinses his vegetables in the fountain of youth. Mr. Vongerichten personally guided us through his pastry area, where he explained each of the selections with a boyish enthusiasm. "Look here," he whispered to me, as he peeked over the counter at one of his pastry cooks who was sprinkling crushed caramel corn onto a salted caramel sundae. "You should get that..." he told me, "it's the best."
Though I obviously took his recommendation on dessert, everything that came before was equally delicious in ways both brilliantly new and yet hinting at something somehow familiar. Along with executive chef, Dan Kluger (formerly of Grammercy Tavern & Tabla), Jean-Georges has developed a carousel of plates that simply illuminate the natural flavors of their sometimes profoundly simple components. Nothing is masked with a sauce. If anything, the stars of each dish are boldly displayed on top of a tear-dropped paisley of puree, or a dollop of fresh cream.
Our meal was beyond superb, offered something unique to each of the six friends gathered at our table, inspired wonderful conversation and laughter, and left each of us dumbfounded at the brilliance of cocktails, pressed juices, hors d'oeuvres, main plates, and sweet endings that wrapped us in the familiarity of a favorite blanket, yet inspired us to see those ingredients we've always known through a new filter of creativity.
Unfortunately, until Apple develops an "iScratch-n-Sniff" or "iLick-n-Taste" App, you'll have to settle for a few captured images and brief descriptions. I hope you enjoy this sampling of some of the exceptional dishes we savored this evening.
A blood orange bellini of sparkling wine with freshly-pressed blood orange juice
A basil daquiri of light rum & basil lime infused simple syrup
Pretzel dusted calamari with marinara and mustard aioli
Roasted beets with homemade yogurt
Ginger-marinated mackerel sashimi
Shaved fluke with olive oil, black pepper, and blood orange
Raw Maine shrimp with grated horseradish
Ridiculously tender roasted turnips with a honey-thyme marinade
Peekytoe crab toast
Chicken liver toast (the secret ingredient is just a whisper of cognac)
Assorted cured meats and local cheeses (with pickled crudité, spicy mustard, and fresh honeycomb)
Sugar snap pea salad with parmesan dressing and herbs
Roast carrot and avocado salad with crunchy seeds, sour cream, and citrus zest
Black trumpet mushroom pizza with fresh parmesan and a farm egg
fresh mozzarella with olive oil and herbs
A buttery and smoky Maine lobster, roasted in a wood oven with oregano and lemon vinaigrette
Organic crispy chicken with escarole and mashed potatoes
Artisan pizza with clams, mint, parsley, and fresh chilies
Roasted asparagus with chantarelles
Grilled pork chop with apple-meyer lemon puree and swiss chard
Tonight's special was a flatiron steak with panko-crusted potato croquettes, ramps, and red onion compote
Baked endive with flying pig farm ham and gruyere
This double espresso showcases the beautiful antique chinaware
The coffee mug was crafted by a local artist, au lait in a graduated cylinder
Aforementioned sundae with salted caramel peanut ice cream, candied popcorn, whipped creme fraiche, chocolate sauce, and nougatine leaf
Chocolate cake with melted chocolate ganache and toasted marshmallow icing
Doughnuts stuffed with citrus and vanilla cream, with blood orange marmalade
Brown butter, chocolate ganache, hazelnut crunch tart. My personal favorite. Our server asked if I had ever tried Momofuku's crack pie (see my Momofuku Milk Bar post). After a fervent affirmation, she grinned at me... "Well, this is like crack pie on crack." It was absolute heaven in my mouth...
Cookie plate with mint chocolate crinkle, chocolate hazelnut biscotti, and satsuma (Japanese seedless mandarin orange) marmalade linzer
Vanilla chip ice cream cake roll with with vanilla sauce, shaved orange zest, sliced almonds, and orange sorbet
Meyer lemon meringue tart
Carrot cake with lemon buttercream frosting
A deeply heartfelt thank you to my friends, Mike & Aaron, who arranged our extraordinary evening