I made a date with Linda and Jess (an awesome gal, whom I met through Linda--not to be mixed up with my equally awesome co-worker, Jess) at Veritas this past week. Linda and I had been talking about Veritas over the last year (before it closed, when it closed unexpectedly, when there were discussions about the new changes, when it reopened and caught the attention of New York Times restaurant critic, Sam Sifton), and while we both tend to disagree with Mr. Sifton's reviews, we wanted to see for ourselves what was up at the new Veritas.
I had eaten at the former Veritas in 2007 with Derek, when we both enjoyed the menus French-inspired offerings as well as a nice bottle from Côtes du Rhône on the wine menu (at the time, I believe bottles were being offered at a limited-time discount of fifteen to twenty percent). It was certainly a quality, top-notch restaurant in the media's eye as well as in my book, but what put me off a little was the stuffy ambiance and atmosphere. It didn't seem very relaxed, but instead very pretentious and uppity, probably attributable to the crowd that frequented the restaurant at the time. Perhaps it was because we were probably the only twenty-somethings in the dining room, but what should that matter? We are bon vivants at heart and are always looking for something once in a while in which to indulge our taste buds (as well as our wallets).
With that being said, the restaurant's new renovations and extreme changes to the interior (both in the bar area and the main dining room) were simply astounding. I felt so much more relaxed and at home with the feeling emitted by the crowd, the modern design of it all, and the darker tones (in contrast, the former space was brighter, more whites and lights). As Veritas maintained the same wine collection with an "approachable" addition of wines under $50 and wines by the glass (still maintaining its reputation as having an "unparalleled wine cellar"), the interior design plays off this very well. You can see the hodgepodge of wine crates lined atop the hallway that leads to the dining room, which I find to be a refreshing, down-to-earth touch, as majority of the walls lined with wine bottles placed in contemporary-designed racks. The industrial-style lamps in the bar area is a nice addition as well.
The walls of the dining room lined with the similar wine bottle racks, which really puts emphasis on the restaurant's esteemed wine collection, drawing its reserve wines from the private cellars of Veritas founder and partner, Park B. Smith.
Other side of the dining room. I love the abstract art created by what looks like cork (another homage paid to wine). What also works well is the wood and organic colors of the cork art with the dark-colored floors and tables.
Closer look at the wine racks, part of the restaurant's interior design.
We started off the meal with a choice of sourdough bread, brioche bread, or olive bread, along with two types of salt to be paired with the unsalted butter--a sea salt and Hawaiian black lava salt. I really liked the extra grittiness from the black salt and the additional earthy flavors gave the butter a nice biting taste with the brioche I chose.
With the help of our sommelier (and our added preference for reds), we settled on a bottle (and another later on, haha) of red from France--Mas Jullien Coteaux Du Languedoc with a 2005 vintage. It was very delicious and went really well with all the dishes we had that night. Not sure how the three of us managed to finish 2 full bottles of this, but we were champs and drank it all!
Normally only offered on the bar menu, these were the duck fat fries drizzled with a Cabernet reduction. We asked our server if it was possible for us to order these in the dining room, and surely enough, it wasn't a problem. The three of us drooled over these fries, and they were gone in the matter of minutes. We came to the conclusion that cooking anything in fat (as unhealthy as that sounds) always makes it better. I really liked that the Cabernet reduction sauce was drizzled on freely, but not too much as to overpower the fries or make them soggy, and not served on the side as condiments for fries usually are. It gave the right amount of sweetness to the already savory fries. If there's one thing you order on the bar menu, it is this. No questions about that.
The menu at Veritas is divided into three separate sections: To Start (appetizers, starters), To Follow (main courses), and To Finish (desserts). I thought it was a nice twist to the typical boring headers on fine dining menus. Since we had been drooling over a few of the menu's particular offerings, we decided it would be best for the three of us to share starters and main courses all around.
In addition to the duck fat fries, we ordered a dish from the To Start section called Ocean & Land, fittingly so as it combined butter poached lobster with bone marrow served right in the bone. This was probably the richest dish I've had this year (arguably the richest ever). The lobster was so great--buttery, soft, and crunchy from the lightly breaded crumbs--where it melted in your mouth, and you just have nothing to say except, "OMG, ahhh that's soo good!" And the bone marrow--geez! What better way to serve it than in its vessel of origin, and what madder way to eat it than atop a single duck fat fry as we did (yes, it sounded like a heart attack waiting to happen, but one or two attempts of this combination couldn't hurt)!
Our other To Start course was the baby spinach salad with pancetta crisps and Point Reyes blue cheese deviled eggs. The dressing was nicely drizzled and mixed in, and the pancetta crisps added a nice texture to the leafy salad. I decided to be brave and try the blue cheese in the deviled egg. In the past, every time I've had a taste of blue cheese, I'd be immediately repulsed (I still find it to taste like stinky feet), but the preparation of the cheese with the deviled egg made it easier to eat. Nevertheless, it went well with the pancetta and the spinach salad, so for all you blue cheese lovers out there, this is salad is right up your alley!
As one of our To Follow main courses, this was the Niman Ranch loin of lamb with Tarbais beans and minestrone broth. We asked for the lamb to be cooked medium rare, as recommended by Chef Hazan. It had no gaminess (win!), and the meat was tender and flavorful--just the way any loin of lamb should be prepared. Per our server's explanation, the lamb is prepared bone-in, but the bone is removed when served, making for patrons to eat. This was Jess's favorite To Follow dish of the night, coming in a close second for Linda and me.
I think this course deserves a drum roll of an introduction, so imagine one as I begin to tell you about it. Another selection from the To Follow menu, this was the short rib raviolo (yes, one humongous ravioli) served with oyster mushrooms and pickled red onions. The raviolo was stuffed to the maximum with braised short rib meat, which was incredibly soft and full of very meaty flavor, which I'd say is much attributable to the awesome braising done by the Veritas kitchen. It was everything you could ask for and more in a generously sized raviolo with all the necessary accoutrement--hearty short rib filling, mushrooms, dark sauce, and onions.
The last of our To Follow dishes was the seared scallops with roasted cèpes (mushrooms), sunchoke (i.e., a type of sunflower) purée, and foie gras. The foie gras complemented the scallops very well, seared really nicely on their exteriors. The cèpes added a really great earthy flavor to the entire dish as well. Our only qualm about the scallops were they were slightly underdone in the middle (more so mine and Linda's--Jess's was perfect). Our server was gracious to ask if we would like them to cook them a little bit more, but we felt that it was at a point where it would just end up being overcooked even for a few seconds on the pan. We could tell the scallops were very fresh, and that they only a few seconds away from perfection (as Jess's was). The flavors were all there--just a little raw interior. All in all, I highly recommend this dish--when cooked exactly right, it's a great seafood course on the Veritas menu.
I'd just like to say that I'm that sneaky little person who always puts a little message in the note to the mâitre d' whenever I reach the confirmation screen on OpenTable, adding secretly that the reservation was made to celebrate XYZ's birthday. However, for our Veritas reservation, I forgot to add a note--so silly of me! So what did I do, you ask? Simple. The "where's-the-ladies'-room" trick where the guests at your table think you're simply going to the restroom, making no other detours, when in fact, you're scheming with the mâitre d' to have the kitchen add a candle (and maybe "Happy Birthday" in chocolate sauce) to the dish of dessert ordered by the special birthday gal or guy. Linda was the lucky recipient of this little treat that night! Happy Birthday!!
This was the Dark & Stormy which is a sticky toffee pudding (on the left) served with ginger lime ice cream (on the right). The sticky toffee pudding was dense but still soft and warm, making the ginger lime ice cream (served a la mode) pair well with it. It was like a deconstructed gingersnap cookie in pudding/ice cream form!
We also ordered the cinnamon doughnuts offered as the dessert special that night. It was served with chocolate and salted caramel dipping sauces. We added a scoop each of salted caramel and Valrhona chocolate (which was served with little malted chocolate balls mixed in) ice cream because we were dying to try them. The doughnuts were so fresh--still warm from being fried! Both dipping sauces went great with the cinnamon sugar sprinkled all over the doughnuts. Plus, the added bonus of both salted caramel and Valrhona chocolate ice cream made dessert that much better. Jess fell in love with the salted caramel ice cream, while Linda and I really enjoyed the Valrhona chocolate ice cream.
We were given an additional treat of some petits fours (i.e., small confections generally eaten at the end of a meal, served as part of dessert), which is French for "small oven." At the top was a vanilla macaron, followed by a chocolate hibiscus bon-bon, then pistachio pâte de fruit (i.e., chewy candies with intense fruit taste made from purées of fresh fruit or other ingredients).
Linda, Jess, and me at Veritas.
Veritas had us go home with banana-raisin scones as a parting gift. They are made fresh daily. I enjoyed mine the next day--went great with my cup of morning tea!
On our way out, the three of us ran into Chef Hazen (pictured with us above) and general manager, Aaron Zebrook, where we shared with them our wonderful experience at Veritas and how we were planning to back to the new restaurant before Mr. Sifton of the New York Times wrote his stellar review. It was a great conversation, and we can't wait for our next visit!
Findings: The girls and I had a lovely time at Veritas--the combination of well-executed, contemporary American cuisine with the new relaxed, modern ambiance and attentive service really did it for us. The wine list is one of the most epic tomes I've seen--what an extensive and notable collection of wines Mr. Smith has in the cellar of his at Veritas, with over 3,000 selections. But just because the atmosphere is more relaxed doesn't mean the haute cuisine offered by the restaurant's kitchen is compromised at all--in fact, it is the utter opposite. The Ocean & Land along with the duck fat fries and the short rib raviolo--I would say those are all around must-orders for any dining audience. What topped our visit to Veritas was being able to chat with the Chef Hazen, the restaurant's executive chef and owner, once and for all authenticating the restaurant's newly embraced down-to-earth milieu. It was like we were over at his house for dinner, and he was just wishing us well on our way out after a wonderful meal hosted by his truly. What I also love about Veritas is that there is a bar menu designed to for enjoying the restaurant's comprehensive cellar of wines, without committing to a full-course dinner. All in all, Veritas has certainly returned with an amazing bang, and I look forward to future visits to try new items on the menu as well as exploring the wine list! A big thank you to the team over at Veritas for making us feel so welcome!
Price point: $95 for each bottle of 2005 Mas Jullien Coteaux Du Languedoc, $8 for the fries, $14-22 for each To Start, $29-35 for each To Follow, $11-12 for each To Finish.
--March 31, 2011
43 East 20th Street
New York, NY 10003