During Amy's last day of her visit to the East Coast, we made lunch plans at Riverpark, a very unique restaurant which Chef Tom Colicchio opened in October of 2010 with adjacent to it. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our lunch happen to coincide with Summer 2012's Restaurant Week promotion, so the real assessment laid ahead to see whether the restaurant could create a delicious, value-worthy three-course lunch in the tight, economic parameters defined by the promotion's price point of $24.07 (pre-tax, pre-gratuity). To be honest, Restaurant Week gives me a wee bit of anxiety because I worry that I'll leave disappointed with regret for believing that a meal under such pretenses wouldn't be watered down and that I should have just pinched my pennies to go during a more regular occasion. So I kept my fingers crossed tightly that Riverpark would rid me of these needless preconceptions.
Riverpark Farm is located next to the Alexandria Center for Life Science (Riverpark, the restaurant, is located inside it) and has a direct relationship with the Center (more on this later). As a result of this relationship, the Farm supplies fresh, local produce to Riverpark, making it "one of the largest and most urban farms in New York City." Measuring 15,000 square feet, the Farm is located at the future site of the Alexandria Center's west tower, where construction was temporarily suspended due to the worldwide financial crisis in recent years (one of 600 in New York City alone). For that reason, the Farm is "a landmark example of the temporary alternative use of a stalled site to stimulate local interest and economic activity, benefit the environment, beautify an area, and engage the community." Once construction of the west tower resumes, the Farm will be relocated to another part of the four-acre Alexandria Center campus.
Also attached to the Alexandria Center is The Cube, "a glowing glass fixture overlooking the Farm with its own outdoor patio," where its "panoramic glass walls and dramatic high ceilings let in the city lights that saturate the space and host a clear view of the iconic Empire State Building."
Amy, outside the entrance to Riverpark.
Love the organic-modern interplay happening in the interiors of Riverpark. Definitely was reminiscent of Chef Colicchio's flagship restaurant, Craft, only with more natural light because of its prime location by the East River. This all made me wonder if this space was also designed by Bentel & Bentel Architects -- turns out, I was right! The interior space at Riverpark is "composed of natural materials, including burnished bronze, weathered oak, and brushed limestone" as well as floor-to-ceiling windows." The restaurant, "with its elegantly festive overhead lighting, features a movable glass wall by artist Karel Martens," entitled Dutch Clouds, which "create a delicate outline of clouds in the reflection of the room." The concept reminds me of an indoor dynamic two-dimensional painting-sculpture version of Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate in Chicago. So cool!
The outdoor space of Riverpark is located on a "unique garden plaza overlooking the East River" as the restaurant "reflects Chef Colicchio's overall vision as restauranteur, showcasing his thoughtful approach to dining." Chef Sisha Ortúzar, formerly of Chef Colicchio's 'wichcraft, "developed the concept for Riverpark and provided the creative vision for its modern American menu, which can be enjoyed along with beautiful views of the East River."
Another reminder of the restaurant's actual execution of a farm-to-table approach to cooking and dining -- that today's lunch would be made with produce grown here at Riverpark Farm. I was also shocked to see six choices per category (i.e., appetizer, main course, and dessert) offered on the promotional Restaurant Week menu, when in practice, most restaurants limit it to three per category. But then again, it was the only menu offered for lunch (no a la carte or alternative menu), so I guess that made sense! Nevertheless, win-win-win for us -- woo!
So just a little background on Chef Ortúzar to begin! Having grown up in Santiago, Chile, Chef Ortúzar moved to New York City in 1996 to begin his cooking career, where he met Chef Colicchio a year later during their time at Gramercy Tavern. Their relationship led Chef Ortúzar to help him open Craft, helping to play a "crticial role in the growth of Craft Restaurant Group." Later in 2003, he created the 'wichcraft concept, serving as its chef and creative director, "building on his original version of serving hand-crafted food in unexpected flavor combinations." Now at Riverpark, Chef Ortúzar combines "his inventive and skillful treatment of high-quality market ingredients with New York City's international influences."
To begin our three-course lunch, we each had a non-alcoholic beverage from the Temperance Coolers section of the drink menu. On the left was the Bees Knees (vanilla-honey, lime and soda) for me, and on the right was the Maiden Voyage (pineapple, fresh citrus juices, and Peychaud's bitters, which add a small amount of alcohol) for Amy. The Bees Knees had a non-dairy ice cream float quality to it (probably the fresh vanilla seeping through the mixed drink), yet was super light (the non-dairy part, of course) and refreshing (thanks to the lime and fizzy soda). The Maiden Voyage had visual characteristics of a tequila sunrise (i.e., liquids of different densities creating that haze of grenadine in orange juice) where the bitters floated atop the warm-colored citrus juices like an ombre gradient. Thought the Maiden Voyage was slightly heavier in taste and texture than the Bees Knees because of its multiple kinds of citrus juices and use of bitters, it still served as a cooling beverage as we enjoyed the warm-ish weather outside.
For my first course, I opted for the panzanella salad with tomatoes, basil, croutons, and garlic. The salad itself was very delightful as the juiciness from the colorful medley of freshly picked tomatoes from the Farm. There may have been a little too much vinaigrette, but the croutons helped diffuse the acidity. The perfect addition to this salad for me would have been some tiny balls of fresh mozzarella (though that would make it more of a caprese salad than a panzanella one). Either way, this dish certainly showcased the flavorful potential found in the fresh produce crops at Riverpark Farm.
Amy went with the chilled corn soup with red peppers and shiso. Upon stealing a sip of the soup, I admit that I may have converted to believe in the world of chilled soups. Without the normally haunting warmth of a hot soup, the sweetness from the kernals of white corn along with the flavors from the red peppers were emulsified into a chillingly awesome (please pardon my horrible pun here) starting course. Who knew something cold like this could carry and exhibit just as much dynamic taste as a hot soup? Besides, the composition of the soup proved to be so aesthetic that you almost didn't want to disturb it at all. Yummm!
For my main course, I opted for the roasted dorade with bacon, roasted corn, and beans. The filet of dorade (i.e., git-head sea bream) was roasted to a nice quasi-fried crisp and was super flavorful. The corn made it a summer dish, while the beans made it a little heartier for a main course. The bits of bacon were very generous (thickly cut cubes) and had a great crunch to them too. When everything was swept up in pieces on my fork (with the sauce whose description escapes me now), it all melded into something really amazing. It had all the right elements where the accompanying ingredients didn't take away from the dorade but instead made it taste even better! Fish can be really hard to do -- the fine line between barely cooked and overcooked can fade away easily, even to the most seasoned chef. Chef Ortúzar, on the other hand, really knows what he's doing when it comes to sea fare.
Amy had the poached chicken and quinoa salad with nicoise olive vinaigrette, summer vegetables, and herbs. The chicken was evenly poached, allowing the summer veggies and herbs to dress it up nicely in color as well as in ripe and summery taste. The quinoa salad was a lovely alternative to the usual starches (potatoes, rice pilaf, etc.), as it was perfect for a light, protein-centric lunch. The niçoise olive vinaigrette had some bold dimensions to it (almost a sharp balsamic quality to it), but when paired with everything else in the dish, it worked very well. Again, loving the resulting color arrangement here!
For dessert, I always seem to run into beignets when I'm dining out with Amy, so I figured, What the heck, might as well! These pillow-shaped beignets were served with a berry sauce (with more of a jam consistency), and they were a bit on the heavier side than I would've liked. Beignets that are more my style are the ones that are fried with a lighter doughy texture. So overall, these were pretty decent, especially when eaten with a dollop of the berry sauce.
Amy had the chocolate tart with citrus glaze and crème fraîche. It was a delightful sliver combining the richness of chocolate and the tartness from the citrus glaze, so that it wasn't too heavy with which to conclude the meal.
Amy and me right before heading to Riverpark for lunch.
Findings: All in all, our dining experience at Riverpark was very unique from any space that I've eaten at in New York City, especially when considering the design of the dynamic space and the ingredients that came directly from the urban farm (of the same name) located, quite literally, right next door. The portion of each course was very generous, considering the restaurant's participation in promoting Summer 2012 Restaurant Week, as if we had come for Riverpark's normal menu. The food certainly spoke for itself -- the photos included in this post were taken using just my iPhone 4S (along with minimal editing with SnapSeed). I was very impressed with the dishes that were crafted using the fresh, seasonal produce grown right at Riverpark Farm. It was really nice to see real and pretty literal farm-to-table action (and not just in words or concept/philosophy) in such an urban landscape such as Manhattan and done so well, too! If Riverpark can put out such a stellar meal under such limiting parameters as a Restaurant Week prix fixe lunch of $24 or so, then I can only imagine how extraordinary a full-throttle dinner menu
Either way, Riverpark and Riverpark Farm at the Alexandria Center Campus are both work checking out, even if it's just for drinks or a full-blown meal. If you're lucky to be around during NYC's restaurant week, I highly recommend a stop here! It will be a seemingly magical experience any way you put it, but I'm sure you get a totally different vibe during lunchtime (more relaxed and lots of natural light) and evenings (elegantly darker and illuminous). The atmosphere and scenic view are worth it alone, but as I've already said, the cuisine is also very much worth sticking around for as well -- you'll be in for a real treat! :P
Price point: $24.07 for a three-course lunch under NYC Summer Restaurant Week 2012 promotion, $5 for each temperance cooler.
--July 30, 2012
450 East 29th Street
New York, NY 10016