Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dinner | Jones Wood Foundry

Jess and I returned back to Jones Wood Foundry a couple weeks ago -- we loved it so much the first time we went (about a month or so prior to this second visit) that we wanted to come back with Marcus and her two sisters, Jill and Jen, in tow especially given Marcus's proclivities for a mean order of fish-and-chips as well as Jill's inner anglophile (plus I really, really wanted to get some decent photographs this time around with the DSLR I had forgotten to tote with me last time -- my iPhone just couldn't handle the serious lowlight here). Jess first heard of Jones Wood Foundry from Jill actually --  she had stumbled upon it while watching an episode of Unique Eats on the Cooking Channel where the program interviewed the gastropub's chef and its English-driven menu, including its specialty dishes (read: sticky toffee pudding).

Located in the Upper East Side, Jones Wood Foundry is "rooted in the proud tradition of the United Kingdom's public houses as genial gathering places for convivial eating and drinking." Chef Jason Hicks also co-owns this restaurant with Yves Jadot, both hoping to embody "a nurturing sense of homey comfort -- a reassuringly relaxed throwback to a less hectic era."

The restaurant's window display boasts UK-savvy paraphernalia, decked out in European football jerseys, flag pennants, beer taps, and other knacks.

I also wanted to share a little history behind the restaurant's moniker. Before the neighborhoods of Upper East Side, Yorkville, or Lennox Hill were established here in Manhattan, the area between 66th and 77th Streets (framed by what are now Third Avenue and the East River) was known as Jones Wood. At the time, it was "the most densely forested land on the island of Manhattan and was named after John Jones, who had purchased more than half of its 150 acres in the early years of the republic of the United States of America." By the nineteenth century, Jones Wood had become a popular destination for Manhattanites as "a verdant escape from the increasingly urbanized landscape" with attractions such as bowling, billiards, beer gardens, and facilities for sporting events and large public gatherings. As such, Jones Wood has been characterized as "America's first amusement park" and was part of 1853 state legislation which designated it as possible land for the location for "a great park, reminiscent of Europe's lavish public spaces, that would address the recreational needs of the growing city." The acreage that had been selected was what was to become Central Park, "an area deemed more suitable than Jones Wood because it was more conveniently located and thus more accessible to the populace it was to serve."

While Jones Wood remained as a relaxing, comfortable retreat for New Yorkers for the remainder of the century, its demise was soon approaching, as its location "was steadily encroached upon as the city moved northward" and was further destroyed by an 1894 fire that depleted eleven acres of its greenery. By the beginning of the twentieth century, real estate developers "gobbled up the rest of Jones Wood, leaving virtually no trace of the once lush forest, except for a little known space called Jones Wood Garden, a private hidden plot surrounded by twelve circa 1870s townhouses on 65th and 66th Streets between Lexington and Third Avenues." This secret garden is now joined by Jones Wood Foundry "in a salute to the memory of the long lost woodland as a welcoming gathering place for convivial pursuits."

The restaurant as a whole is comprised of an expansive bar at the front lined with all sorts of wine bottles . . .

. . . a cozy dining room in the rear as well as a communal table overlooking its secret courtyard garden (part of the aforementioned Jones Wood Garden).

The menu "represents the best of time-honored British culinary traditions that have been reinvigorated for twenty-first century palates."

Because I loved it so much from my first visit, I had to have the Kopparberg pear cider from Sweden. It was like biting into a fresh piece of fruit -- very refreshing and luscious. Jen followed suit and ordered the same! :)

While Jill and Jess each had the English organic honeydew pale ale by Fuller, Smith and Turner (i.e., a very light and refreshing beer -- like the fruit from which it is derived), Marcus went with the Chimay Blue, a strong dark ale from Belgium. Chimay Blue is a Trappist beer, i.e., beer brewed by Trappist monks in either one of the eight monasteries across Belgium and the Netherlands. It had a distinct after taste as well as a hearty, thicker consistency than the lighter beers that he's used to having (but not as intense as say a Guinness). Marcus really enjoyed the Chimay Blue, noting that it was arguably the best beer he's ever had, mainly because it tasted exactly how a beer should -- substantial and hale.

As my main course, I went with one of the specials that evening -- lightly seared tuna tenderloin wrapped in bacon and served over a wild mushroom risotto. It came with a parmesan dressing, but I opted to hold that (too creamy for me). The medallions of tuna were meaty and rare at the center while the bacon was an interesting contrast to this, with its crispy, savory, and fatty flavor/texture. While the tuna itself was pretty good, what really made this dish was the wild mushroom risotto. It was the perfect melding of creaminess with the al dente arborio kernels and the array of quartered wild funghi. I could easily say that it was one of the best mushroom risottos I've ever had. The kitchen really could've served up that risotto, and I would've been just as happy.

Featured in Time Out New York as one of the city's best new burgers, Jill wanted to see if the JWF burger was indeed worth this grand title. The burger's patty is a dry-aged blend of brisket and short loin from DeBragga, topped with Stilton cheese and bacon on a toasted bun. I thought the little toothpick flag was a darling touch. On the side were slow-roasted tomatoes for easy spreading (plus super Anglo-centric) along with pickles and thick chips (i.e., fries). From what Jill reported, the burger was incredibly juicy (how can it not be with all of that blended marblizing goodness?!), the bacon griddled to a golden crisp, and the melted Stilton certainly gave the promised "salty funk" noted by TONY. All of this compiled together  This burger does not mess around -- highly recommended!

Jess, Jen, and Marcus all went with the classic English meal, fish and chips with the fish being cod. Jess and I both had this during our initial visit (though I had the haddock, which I felt was much inferior to the cod offering), and we instantly fell in love with Jones Wood Foundry. The fish is beer battered and served with a tangy, homemade tartar sauce and fresh lemon (covered in a stretch-wrap cloth for mess-free squeezing). The beer batter is the selling point of this very dish here -- it's light yet flavorful and packs a delicate yet satisfying crunch. The cut of fish is thick and chunky, so don't be fooled that you'll still be hungry afterwards. Best fish and chips to be found in this city? It just might be!

Regardless of how full and content we were after our main courses, we still had some room for dessert. In fact, the very one we all were curious about was the sticky toffee pudding -- after all, it was the dish that was featured on Unique Eats from Jones Wood Foundry. Luckily, we all just wanted to sample a bite or two, so we decided to share one order. This take on sticky toffee pudding (typically a very moist sponge cake made with finely chopped dates/prunes and covered in a toffee sauce) was served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and treacle sauce (i.e., molasses). It was a very rich and moist molten-style cake, only instead of chocolate, it was soaked in toffee and treacle. The bites of dates/prunes added some contrasting texture to the meltiness of the "pudding" and the creaminess of the ice cream. Given my palate isn't accustomed to this kind of dessert, it'd be very hard to eat solo, so it is perfect for sharing!

Findings: Jones Foundry is one of those strikingly awesome neighborhood restaurants you just want to go back to over and over. The staff is unbelievably friendly and cool, and even if you have to wait a little bit (especially during peak dinner hours), they are very accommodating and considerate. Be wary that seating may be slightly cramped (even with a roomy dining room, they like to pack people in), but this shortcoming is certainly compensated with the solid offerings on the dining menu as well as the long laundry list of relatively obscure British and European drafts on tap, bottled beers, lagers, ales, and ciders. If you don't leave here happy, you did something wrong. It is a merry and convivial place, and I see lots of ciders and Anglo-gastrogrub in my stomach's immediate future. So if in doubt, get a recommendation for drinks from the staff; if you're feeling authentic, get the fish and chips; if you're feeling a little conservative, try the JWF burger. You'll win either way.

Price point: $8-12 for each beer/cider, $18-28 for each main course, $9 for dessert.

--September 20, 2012

Jones Wood Foundry
401 East 76th Street
New York, NY 10075

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