Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dinner | The Modern: Dining Room

Last month, Marcus took me out to dinner at The Dining Room at The Modern for my birthday, a spot that has been on my restaurant wishlist for the longest time. I had been to The Bar Room several times before but never to The Dining Room. I was so excited to finally have the opportunity to dine there, especially since it's right next door to the Museum of Modern Art, my favorite art museum in this vibrant city.

01 - restaurant
The art installation displayed next to the restaurant's entrance was the same as the one that was there when I was at The Modern last (back in April last year). This piece, Untitled (2012), was "inspired by the elaborate window displays that typify MoMA's Fifth Avenue environs" and created by artist Andrea Zittel. In this piece, Untitled (2012), Ms. Zittel "bridges the hyperstylized, over-produced commercial aesthetic of the Fifth Avenue retail display with the bold colors and graphic geometries of Bauhaus, with slight infusions of Southwestern/New Age aesthetic." Untitled also has "several material grids/layers, which in their colors and form refer to the Modern building's façade and provides symmetry with her installed room" on the second floor Contemporary Galleries inside MoMA.

Past the energetic, lively, more casual Bar Room lives the hushed, elegant, and more formal Dining Room. It is awesome to know that you can enjoy two completely different restaurants dwelling in the same space, depending on the mood and time of day -- the abrupt change in ambiance as you walk between rooms is unbelievable. While the Bar Room has bare tables and brighter lighting, the Dining Room has tables draped in white clothes and more subtle lighting.

Bentel & Bentel, the innovators behind the interiors of The Modern, were inspired by the Bauhaus movement and aimed to have design play "a major role in every aspect of the dining experience." The firm selected furniture and tableware from "modernist greats" with a focus on Danish design. Some of the designers are represented in MoMA's architecture and design collection, while a number of the pieces are available for sale at the MoMA Design and Book Store.

The view from the windows of The Dining Room is of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, which is a part of MoMA, housing thirty-one original sculptures, including ones by Rodin, Picasso, Calder, and other great masters. I'm already thinking about coming back here for lunch in the spring! :)

On our dining table was this really cool loop vase by designers Daniel Black and Martin Blum. 

To start, we were given some popcorn in the funkiest of bowls, sprinkled with lemon verbena and Tahitian vanilla. A nice surprise, especially in comparison to the typical variations of cheddar, salt, or butter.

02 - amuse
As canapés, the Dining Room served us {1pickled raspberries and salmon crudo with goat cheese and dill (if I recall correctly), {2}chilled leek soup in a vial, and {4} smoked sea bass with roe and tropical fruit gélee {3} The modernesque "bread basket" included a warm assortment of miniature French baguettes, olive bread, and a cranberry-walnut variety -- all served with cow butter and sea salt. Needless to say that Marcus and I pretty much ate up this whole thing.

To drink, Marcus chose Blood & Sand, a cocktail from the section entitled Modern Interpretations --  a creative concoction of Michter's sour mash whiskey, Heering cherry liqueur, orange, and Bonal Gentiane-Quina. His plan was to start with a cocktail and finish off with some wine later with his main course, but since he loved it so much (such a sucker for all things citrus), he had another instead. A very heavy yet refreshing cocktail.

For dinner that evening, Marcus and I decided it'd be worthwhile to do the four-course prix fixe (as opposed to the eight-course chef's tasting) so we could experience more varieties of dishes showcased by Chef Kreuther.

For my first course, I had the "pralines" of foie gras terrine with mango purée and balsamic vinegar. If I could characterize this dish in a word or two, it would definitely be playful. The nature of foie gras (especially in the form of a terrine) is that it is very savory and rich and often served with a slices of something carby (typically brioche) as to fully enjoy the foie gras without becoming overwhelmed by its intense flavor. The essence of this is captured well in these orbed "pralines" with the nice bonus of the tangy sweep of mango added as a twist, which definitely made this dish stand out against all of the terrines of foie gras I've had in my history as an eater. Though I wish I were given one more bread (I was really piling the "pralines" onto the grilled slices) so I could savor each bite in a more leisurely manner, it was a really well-executed, creative dish.

Marcus had the beet-marinated arctic char with foie gras powder, hazelnut, and blood orange. Just like with the "pralines", the arctic char had all of the elements of a solid tartare but also had all of these unexpected but awesome nuances to it. The combination of earthy, nutty, and sweet from the accompanying ingredients really highlighted the subtleties of the chilled texture of the arctic char. Another winner here!

In contrast to the first course (i.e., served cold), the second ones were warm starters. I opted for the slow-poached farm egg as my second course -- with black winter truffle, salsify, and squid ink spaetzle. A funny aside about this choice, taking me back to my birthday dinner with Marcus last year, which was at SHO Shaun Hergatt (now closed). The second course that I had selected was also a slow-poached egg, a menu item that boasted the inclusion of sea urchin, but to my unfortunate dismay at its arrival that it appeared to be just a tease. There was in fact no sea urchin contained in this course, underscored by the captain who wrote off my confusion as ignorance. Not going to sugar coat it -- that definitely put a damper on the duration of the meal for me. In any case, what makes this story so relevant and uncanny is that when I was trying to figure out what to order (poached foie gras to encore the first course? seared scallops? various savory tarts?), Marcus was convinced that I should order the poached egg. Not sure if it was because he wanted to see if The Modern would compensate for the birthday dinner debacle from last year or if he just knows how much I love poached eggs, but I bit the bullet, thinking to myself, Why the hell not? No way it could result in anything worse than what happened last year.

Either way, it was as if the gastronomy gods were sending me a cosmic gift in the form of culinary karma. When the porcelain plate was laid out before me, there I saw it -- a decently sized lobe or two of sea urchin gleaming in its golden glory. As I heard the captain recite the dish back to me, I nearly had to do a double take as I distinctly heard Santa Barbara sea urchin in the mix. This dish was stunningly perfect -- the poached egg had that delicate consistency from its time over low heat and the beautifully runny yolk that was wonderfully captured with the squid ink spaetzle and toasted breadcrumbs underneath. The uni added an extra je ne sais quoi, that bit of depth that really rounded out this dish.

Marcus was a little more adventurous and had the rabbit-truffle "Alsatian dumplings" with sunchoke and crystal lettuce. While I didn't get to sample any of this (rabbit just doesn't do it for me), Marcus thought the dumplings were excellent -- soft and savory.

I went with the roasted Maine lobster for my main course (a $12 supplement to the prix fixe) which was served with pernod, kohlrabi purée, and jamón emulsion. The lobster was evenly roasted with the butteriest of textures, having the silky texture that you would normally get from a slow-poached method of cooking. The blend of kohlrabi purée and the jamón emulsion was a densely flavorful accompaniment to the lobster -- a very meaty and hearty overlay to the delicately roasted crustacean.

05 - lamb
Marcus was the lucky duck who got dibs on the Thomas Farm rack of lamb, {1,2} which was carved and plated tableside by one of the captains (a $10 supplement to the prix fixe). {3} The dish was kept warm until mine was ready to be served to us at the same time.

The rack of lamb was served with olives, fines herbes, bacon fondue, and crisp new onion. The bacon fondue had both of us thoroughly convinced us that we needed to order this, and boy was that hunch right! The lamb was so tender with a hot, juicy, medium rare center, all dressed up so deliciously with the cheesy, oozy bacon sauce drizzled on top. The crispy new onions and multicolored cauliflower florets added an awesome textural interplay with the rest of the ingredients. One of the best dishes we've had this year, the lamb had all of the elements in a fully satisfying main course.

For dessert, I had the black currant vacherin with pistachio ice cream, black currant, and yogurt meringue. The intense tartness from the black currant worked in harmony with the creamy, nutty pistachio ice cream and painted some bold flavors onto the yogurt meringue. This dessert would be great for those who are more partial to fruit-centric desserts (as opposed to chocolate ones).

Marcus had the Manjari chocolate palet with Tahitian vanilla crémeux and salted butter-caramel ice cream. This dessert was very rich in chocolate and caramel, slightly reigned in by the fresh vanilla crémeux.

As a little bonus, they brought out a little birthday dessert -- a lemon meringue of some sort. Although Marcus and I were stuffed beyond belief at this point, we snuck in a few bites of this and loved the cheesecake-like consistency of it.

06 - dessert
{1} To top it all off, out came the dessert cart at the end, stocked with several varieties of petit-fours {2} including all kinds of chocolate truffles, cookies, nougats, and biscotti. {3} A lemon sorbet cornet served as an end-of-the-meal palate cleanser.

Findings: All in all, my birthday dinner at The Modern: Dining Room proved to be absolutely wonderful -- everything I could possibly as for in a celebratory dinner, possibly even more. All four courses were seamlessly curated and presented -- Chef Gabriel Kreuther's approach to fine dining marries the classically familiar with a twist of unexpected ingredients and techniques, which somehow results in an exciting blending of flavors that really stand out from anything you've had before. This way, you get to enjoy those favorites you may favor while dining out without redundancy or risk of unoriginality. Marcus and I loved each and every course we chose, down to each and every ingredient, and that's something that's challenging for us to ever say.

The service, décor, and presentation of the restaurant very much reminded me of the experiences I've had at Eleven Madison Park, which should be no surprise as EMP was also under the noteworthy management of star restauranteur Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group before Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara took ownership. Only difference now The Modern submits to no gimmicks (as opposed to the most recent menu change at EMP). One aspect I really appreciate here is the commitment to The Modern's adjectival moniker -- the presence of many great works by notable designers scattered throughout on tabletops, serviceware, and furniture. With so many blossoming "modernist cuisines" surfacing out there in the world of gastronomy, The Modern certainly heralds as a tasteful exploration into the avant-garde without straying too far from the composition and medium. Another part of our experience that I really loved was the unassuming and understated yet elegant ambiance created within the Dining Room -- you get the whole fine dining shebang without the restaurant trying too hard to impress.

In summary, I highly recommend The Modern: Dining Room to be a venue of choice for any special occasion dinners -- birthdays, anniversaries, etc. The service team is bound to make your celebration, for whatever it may be, very special. If I had to pick a restaurant that exemplifies what I look for in a solid, higher end dining experience, The Modern is it -- I'm proud to say it's my new all-time favorite restaurant in the city (with Atera as my favorite unconventional dining experience). Marcus and I are already looking forward to returning again in the coming seasons for a different iteration of Chef Kreuther's creative menu -- I have a feeling I'll be back more than twice this year! :P

Thank you again to Marcus, my better half, for taking me to The Modern and making my birthday dinner so special this year -- love you always! :)

Price point: $98 for per person for the four-course prix fixe dinner menu, $12 for each supplemental course choices, $18 for each cocktail, $15-16 for each glass of wine.

--February 23, 2013

The Modern: Dining Room
Museum of Modern Art
9 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Toasts | in memoriam of Baba, ii


My "Pi(e) Day Dedication Pie" from 2012: Rye Pecan Pie, recipe from The New York Times.

One year ago today, I baked a pecan pie on Pi(e) Day for my father, my 爸爸 (Baba), vowing to honor the memory of him and his passing on this day with the celebratory consumption of a (pecan) pie (whether freshly baked or bought). All this is based on a fourfold wordplay that I somehow brought to life, and I'd like to think he would've appreciated my sense of humor. :P

Having celebrated my twenty-sixth birthday only a few weeks couple weeks ago, it is difficult to fathom that my dad has been gone for essentially half of my life. As the years pass by, I feel my limited memories of him slowly slip away, and that mustn't happen. I believe the best way to remember these stories that I keep close to my heart (and the ones left untold and unshared) is to continually share these stories with the people nearest and dearest to me -- not as invitations of pity and sadness, but as a celebration of a life. The life of a man who left an impressionable legacy on those he came to know, love, and cherish. He was a tough cookie -- sometimes to a fault with the stubbornness of a mule and the insistence of a drill sergeant -- and I feel my own obstinate ways and perseverance were reflections of the daughter he taught me to become. If I had a million wishes, they'd be all for at least one more day (and if I were a bit greedier, many days) with him.

Me with Baba and Mom at my cousin Renee's engagement party, circa 1992.

I had the pleasure of seeing my extended family this past weekend to celebrate my aunt Cynthia (my dad's oldest sister) and her seventy-third birthday (crazy, huh?!). At one point, we were talking about skiing (one of my family's favorite pastimes), as my cousin Michael, and his wife, Laura, had just gone to a relatively nearby ski resort the day before with their twin sons to enjoy the last opportunities to savor the snowy slopes before spring near approaches. I asked Laura about when she learned how to ski and if she found that she was able to pick it up relatively quickly or if it took longer than expected. She shared with me a tidbit about my dad that I didn't know about --  he was the one who first taught her how to ski when she joined our family for the first time on a ski trip. He was very patient and thorough (as I would have expected him to be), and she still carries those lessons and instructions with her to this day, every time she clicks on her boots and takes to the powdered trails with Michael and her sons. That was very touching.

The discussion moved onto food (something we are always enjoying, even at that very moment), when Michael asked me what cuisine Marcus and I find myself always coming back to when we're cooking at home, even after everything I've had fortune of trying in New York City. Japanese cuisine, we said without hesitation. At the time, we happened to be dining at Harold's, a Jewish delicatessen in central Jersey, as Michael and my other cousin, Spencer, were contently savoring rich slices of beef tongue. I made the observation that I can pretty much eat anything, unless it resembles the animal or creature a little too much, as is the case with the beef tongue, whole baby octopus, or even wholly cooked lobster. My family looked at me with disbelief, to which I just responded, " If it's de-shelled for me, no problem, but really, it's the legs that freak me out -- I just can't do it."

I suppose the image of cracking through a whole cooked lobster resonated with Michael that he asked if any of us remembered where we had sushi for the first time ever. We noted the first Japanese restaurant to open near our Jersey hometown -- it was the only place to find it without traveling outside county lines, especially when sushi was one of the most exotic cuisines at the time and not as pervasive and ubiquitous as it is now. The conversation turned to Tomoe Sushi, the little joint on Thompson Street that used to be one of the top places to sink your teeth into the most exotic cuts of raw fish (some say it used to be the sushi mecca of yore), and how they used to frequent that place in the nineties, before they changed owners many times over. Michael noted that my dad was one of the bravest eaters amongst them all, recalling this one time when he cracked open a live lobster (yes, live) with his bare hands and ate it up without pause or grimace, insisting that Michael try a piece. Further confirmation that my father was pretty badass and fearless -- the kind of adventurous eater I can only hope to be one day.

I left the family lunch this weekend with my heart a little warmer, my memories a bit fonder.


I had been shopping around for the perfect pecan pie recipe over the past year (I started looking the day after the last Pie Day), compiling a list of potential contenders. My search widened the parameters as I stumbled upon lovely recipes for tarts and such, which led me to wonder -- were tarts technically pies? Would it be fair to bake a tart instead of a pie on Pie Day? A pie has a crust and a filling and can be sweet or savory; similarly, a tart can also be sweet or savory, but has shallow sides and only a bottom crust. Just by sheer definition alone, I could surmise that tarts are pies, but not all pies are tarts, which meant I was in the clear with baking a tart on Pie Day. Then I stumbled upon the perfect recipe this past fall whilst perusing the November 2012 issue of Bon Appetit -- a pecan and chocolate tart with bourbon whipped crème fraîche. The photo alone had me sold -- it was a gorgeously browned tart with a precise layer of concentric pecans sunken into a dark chocolate filling.

Just as it was last year, I've never made a tart from scratch, so the recipe itself was a new challenge for me in the kitchen. As with most dessert recipes that involves a crust, the recipe came in two parts. The first ingredient on the list requires a pâte sucrée (pronounced pat-sue-CRAY) -- i.e., the dough that the French created exclusively for the use in tart crusts. This dough is "sweet and crumbly" giving tarts "a sturdy, tender base that support the heaviest fillings (e.g., custards, creams, and fruit) without falling to pieces." Ultimately, pâte sucrée has the same elements as a standard pie crust except for the addition of egg yolks, cream, and sugar, which together "transforms" it all into something almost "cookie-like" -- tasting just like shortbread.

01a - ingredients
The ingredients were simple enough -- eggs, heavy cream, butter, sugar, flour, salt, pecans, chocolate chips (I mixed semi-sweet and dark chocolate chips for a more dynamic taste), vanilla bean, and both light and dark corn syrups. Thanks to Whole Foods and Fresh Direct, procuring them all was easy as pie! :P

{1} I combined all of the pâte sucrée ingredients and chilled the resulting dough for about two hours until firm. Once the dough was ready, I let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before I began to roll it out into a 1/8"-disk. {2} It was my first time ever rolling out this kind of dough, so I struggled a bit, mainly because it was still crumbly and fragile even after the two-hour chill time in the fridge. After attempting to roll it out smoothly, I gave up and began to piece the crumbled pieces of dough into the 11"-diameter fluted tart pan with a removable bottom recommended by the recipe (I got mine here). Once I made sure the thickness of the dough crust was about 1/8" throughout up until the pan edge, I returned the tart pan back to the fridge for another hour of chilling.

01b - pate sucre + filling

{3} An hour later, I layered in two cups of chopped and toasted pecans over the prepared tart shell, followed by four ounces of chocolate chips and concentric circles of whole pecans. I finished this triple-layered goodness with the filling comprised of warm brown butter infused with vanilla bean, corn syrup, salt, and eggs. With everything swimming in the tart filling, I placed it into the preheated oven of 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes.


The oven timer went off, and violà -- the finished golden tart with the crust evenly brown (no burnt edges!). I transferred the pan to a wire rack, letting it cool for about 30 minutes.

I got a fancy schmancy new cake stand from West Elm this weekend, so I was very excited to use it for the first time! Here are some gratuitous pretty tart shots as drool fodder! :P




When I first cut into the tart, a bunch of filling started oozing out, so I think it was heavier on one side over the other. I'll have to note for next time to more evenly pour over the filling into tart shell (perhaps to start from the center, going out).

The first slice of the tart that I got to enjoy with Marcus, in dedication my awesome dad, Baba, on Pi(e) Day.

Findings: After baking a tart from scratch for the first time, I think I find this process a lot more straightforward and intuitive than my experience with the pie last year. It was certainly less work intensive, allowing me to work at a leisurely pace, especially since I had taken the day off so I could properly allot the time to this dedicatory ritual. You may notice that I include any bourbon whipped crème fraîche in my post here -- I promise I have a reasonable explanation! Once the tart was ready to be served, I combined heavy cream, crème fraîche, and some bourbon together, attempting to whip it to soft peaks. But alas, I was a victim of overwhipping, and even after I tried it for taste, I wasn't crazy about it, so I just didn't try whipping up a new batch again. After trying the tart solo, I can definitely vouch for how awesome it tastes without the accoutrement -- the caramelized pecans on top and inside with the melted chocolate, all swept up with the buttery crust is just heavenly.

Whenever I conquer a new recipe, especially one that involves baking (even worse when it comes to trying a new technique), I will admit that I harbor quite a bit of anxiety the days leading up to D-Day. What calms me down? Surprisingly enough, preparing my mise en place. The orderliness and organization of the needed ingredients all seems to have some kind of calming zen effect on me, and I snap out of it almost immediately once it's complete. I had that scare with my crumbly pâte sucrée (the hardest part of a tart recipe, in my humble opinion), but you always gotta find some way to make it work. Thankfully, here we have a handsome looking tart if I do say so myself! I'm always looking for recipes to conquer in the future on Pi(e) Day, so if you know of any kickass pecan pie or tart recipes, please feel free to send them my way --  it'd be very much appreciated!!

This dedication, this culinary ode, this yearly ritual -- I am glad I can do something as meaningful as this on the day that my mother and I had lost so much in the past. As I enjoyed my sliver of tart today, I thought about the ice cream sundaes my dad and I used to enjoy together at Friendly's on the weekends with the rest of my extended family. For him, it was always the Happy Ending Sundae with toasted almond fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry on top as well as with a side of crushed almonds and chocolate syrup (wasn't kidding when I divulged that our nutty family loves nuts)! For my younger self, it was always a dish of strawberry ice cream, straight up. If any of you have a special memory of him, please share these stories in the comments section or even just the next time I see you -- I would very much love to hear them!

Anyway, if you can, please enjoy a slice of pie (or tart!) today in memory of my father on Pi(e) Day! :) Thank you for letting me share this special dedication on this day. Happy Pi(e) Day!

--March 14, 2013

Whole Foods Market
4 Union Square South
New York, NY 10003


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Chef's Tasting | Atera

As I've already pointed out, February is a very meaningful month for me. Not only does my own birthday fall on the shortest month of the year, it also does so for one of my best friends, Lisa, who is no stranger on Four Tines one bit! So one thing is always in order -- where were we to go pig out and properly celebrate our birthdays? We've done the classic New York establishment (Eleven Madison Park), an authentic yet creative sushi omakase (Sushi of Gari), and a "secret and exclusive" restaurant with a heavy Japanese flair (Bohemian). What could possibly compare (or dare I say, top?!) to the awesome experiences we had at these restaurants? We knew we wanted to at least try for something completely different than any place we've dined at together -- something we weren't familiar with, something outside our comfort zone. So we threw things into the air like the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, Blanca, and Atera. Problem with these is what I like to call the Impossibility Factor. Account for how many seats are available each night and multiply that with how many seatings there are daily, then factor in their respective reservation policies and procedures. The fewer seats there are and the stricter the policies are, the more impossible it is to not only nab a reservation, but to get through to the receptionist in the first place. We've tried many a time for the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare (oh, how many a Monday afternoon we've attempted to get reservations two months out...), proving only to be met with defeat and fruitlessness. I haven't tried for Blanca, and I would've normally considered it more for our birthdays, but given my erratic work schedule during this time of the year, making it out to Brooklyn on time for a reservation of this nature was more stress than I was ready to handle. So a meal for another day! :)

That left Atera, our glimmering beacon of hope for a original, new cuisine to tickle our palates. But with such ambiguity of where we'd be celebrating always comes a contingency plan (we had Soto in the back of our minds in the spirit of the familiar and of our forever love of Japanese cuisine), fingers crossed that our original plan would stick. My attempts for Atera began last December, where I was met with endlessly dial tones, punctuated with a prompt to leave a voice message for the receptionist regarding reservation inquiries. After two days of this uncertainty, I was finally greeted by a receptionist who took down my information and would call me back to let me know if my desired dates and times were available as they were planning for some guest chef dinners around that time which still needed to be sorted out. I waited, and when I hadn't heard back from them in a week's time, I called them back once again to follow up. Thankfully, the receptionist was able to squeeze us in for an 8 PM reservation the evening of Friday, February 7. Wahoo!

For those curious, the reservation policy at Atera has changed since I made our reservation. You can now make reservations (maximum party size is five) one of three ways. No longer with OpenTable, Atera is now listed on City Eats with select reservation listings available. Additionally, the reservation desk is open from Monday through Friday from 11 AM to 2 PM. Your last option is to e-mail the restaurant directly at It is a tasting menu only restaurant, with meals that typically last about two to four hours, depending. Along with all this, the restaurant also requires prepayment at the time of reserving (i.e., $209.35 per person, which includes $165 for the tasting menu, an 18% gratuity, and sales tax). Wine, cocktails, and additional discretionary gratuity will be billed separately the evening of your reservation. Once reserved, all sales are final, though reservations are transferable, subject to availability, should you need to make changes.

Anyway, to continue our epic birthday dinner saga, Winter Storm Nemo was pretty determined to ruin it for us. The Thursday night before our reservation, all the news stations were running rampant with warnings, precautions, and prepations needed to be heeded  due to the impending storm. Bottom-line: it was going to get ugly. I got the call from my office that morning, requesting that I work from home (eek!). I looked outside -- the snow was coming down very hard, sticking even! Was the dinner at Atera not meant to be? I had really hoped that this wasn't so. Keeping my fingers crossed for the duration of the afternoon, I received a call from Atera. I held my breath -- could it be that they were calling to inform me that the restaurant was going to be closed that evening? No, say it ain't so! I tend to have a mindset of the worst case scenario when it comes to things like this, so that certainly didn't help. To my relief, they were only calling to see if an earlier reservation would better accommodate my dinner party with the storm taking over Manhattan and all. So I did the sensible thing and moved our reservation up to 6 PM. Phew, another close call!

So there we were -- Lisa and I trekking through the streets of Lower Manhattan (let's face it -- they were wind tunnels at this point) with the wet, heavy flakes of snow blowing in our faces, drenching our winter coats. Miraculously, we somehow managed to make it to Worth Street in one piece, with the hungriest appetites. We were ready.

01 - interiors

The interiors of Atera were a lot darker than I had imagined in my head -- I was expecting more white, but dichotomy of the dark woods against the slabs of granite and slate turned out to be quite fitting for what Atera had in store for cuisine. Along with {2} the standalone communal table tucked away inside the restaurant, there was {1,3} seating surrounding the open concept kitchen with the widest counters and decently lofted ceilings, where Lisa and I sat for the duration of our meal. The lighting was selective and deliberate, setting the tone for what was to come.

Matt Lightner is the chef behind the brilliance that lies within Atera. His "pursuit of culinary excellence began in some of the world's finest kitchens." His past repertoire includes Copenhagen's Noma (with Chef Rene Redzepi), California's L'Auberge (with Chef Paul McCabe), and Spain's Mugaritz (with Chef Andoni Aduriz). It was during his time in Spain where Chef Lightner "gained a very natural perspective of modern cooking that built the foundations for the cuisine that garnered him accolades at Castagna in Portland, Oregon." Opening Atera close to a year ago to date, his latest venture here proves to be his most ambitious, as it "relies greatly on his innate connection to time and place to create a dining experience unique to itself." His aim is to have the food at Atera to be "unique, fun, clever, fresh, and seasonal" allowing its guests to "enjoy an experience that appeals to all senses: sight, smell, and taste." Each visit promises a new culinary adventure, as the menu is constantly changing every few weeks.

We were greeted by the nicest service team, including Joe, the lovely gentleman who was our captain for the evening. Once we were seated, not a wasted minute elapsed. It was like imaginary dominoes were set into motion, with their momentum picking up once we began our first "courses" -- the snack portion of the tasting menu.

02 - snacks
{1} Our meals each began with a beer foam buttermilk macaron, interior complete with sturgeon roe and crème fraîche. We loved this first bite -- undoubtedly indicative of what was to follow. It had a subtle intensity to it (sturgeon roe will do that to you), and the dark, wheat-like flavor from the beer foam played well against this. {2} Next came the coriander flaxseed cookie with mushroom powder -- also interesting and quite good, considering its overall earthiness that was clearly underscored by the essential flavor of mushroom that coated the cookie in a concentrated dust. {3} The kitchen at Atera continued to impress as the meal progressed onto the lobster roll on a dry yeast meringue. I think it was lightly "toasted" with a kitchen blow-torch -- look at that beautiful, lightly browned exterior! Everything that people love in a lobster roll was condensed in this one bite, as it collapsed onto itself, revealing favorably dolloped chunks of lobster meat and the lightest, fleeting merigue bun. {4} The snacks went on with sunchoke chips with strained butter and sour cream -- Chef Lightner's interpretation of the cannoli. While Lisa wasn't a fan of this, I really liked it -- clearly they had me at cannoli. The cream had a savory factor to it (notably discernible from the typical sweeter mascarpone piped inside the pastry shell), as the sunchoke only emphasized this factor even more. A cannoli can work as a savory course in the same way we've seen in crêpes and their fillings.

{5} Halfway into the snack portion of the meal, we were served a pig's blood wafer made from wheatberry with chicken liver and huckleberry jam inside and a pickled quail egg nested in a bed of loose hay. The wafer proved to be too out there for me (a little gamier for my liking, from the chicken liver mostly), but Lisa loved it to bits (say chicken liver, and she's there). The pickled quail egg was vinegary and was easily gone in one swallow, especially if hard boiled eggs are your thing. {6} I was puzzled by the sixth snack, which consisted of lichen chips (i.e., chips contrived from rock tripe) with black trumpet mushrooms and dried cornmeal. How fascinating that the chips were plated as if the rock tripe was back in its natural habitat. So clever! The taste, surprisingly enough, was redolent of deep-fried shrimp chips with the texture just more delicate. {7} When this came out to us, I nearly squealed. I knew what was contained in those pearly, curved stalks. Oh drool-worthy marrow! The lightly torched and blackened hearts of palm with bone marrow ragù was essentially a trompe l'oeil of original vessel from which the marrow came. Quite a literal play on marrow bones! If I had to pick a favorite snack, it would be this one. Last of the snacks was the {8}belly of swordfish cured and smoked like American ham. Thin and silky, it had a refined smokiness to it, and just when you think you're having a slice of legit cured ham, your tastebuds pull a quick one on you. Ha-ha, it's swordfish!

These nibble-worthy teasers were glimpses into the mind of Chef Lightner and the dynamic menu he has crafted at Atera. Could easily classify them as captivating, gastronomic mind games.

02a - drinks
Beverage-wise, we were offered a wine list as well as an unprinted rundown of select cocktails available to be crafted that evening, proving one true thing -- the captains at Atera are assuredly the most Renaissance-like service team I've ever seen. Not only do they expedite everything, entertain guests in between courses, and replace serviceware as the meal continues on, they also tend to bar service. They made each of our drinks! {1} I had a cocktail that contained mezcal, grapefruit juice, and some bitters (if I recall correctly, haha). I've been on a mezal kick lately, so it really hit the spot, as it was refreshing and had an well-balanced undertone of smokiness. {2} Lisa was a little more adventurous and tried the beer "shandy" cocktail that had a citrusy elements to it and a splash of vinegar. However unusual it sounded, it was absolutely delicious!

02a - bread
If you could judge the quality of a restaurant by its bread selection (I can attest that most of the best restaurants I've been to have one hell of a bread line-up), then Atera is no doubt up there. We got to sample the homemade rye bread with a butter that was blended with cultured cheese (giving it a little je ne sais quoi to its taste and texture). If we thought that wasn't fabulous enough, out came the sourdough roll basted in pork fat (yes, you heard me correctly, ladies and gents!) later on in the meal. The roll was indeed basted quite well, where with each bite, little droplets of fat oozed out slowly, and our fingers were left with the faintest glaze of oiliness. It was well worth it. Lisa even requested for a second roll.

With a tiny reprieve after the snacks, the larger-sized courses were soon served -- the next set of courses I would characterize as items you may find as starters/appetizers if Atera had a la carte dining.

03a - mains
{one} Imagine our excitement when we saw that golden lobe of sea urchin wading underneath the microgreens. This was pine nut miso with sea urchin and nasturtium (i.e., tropaeoleum majus). Upon tasting a bit of the sea urchin, Lisa and I automatically looked at each other, saying in unison, "Santa Barbara?! Yes, it has to be!" We asked Joe where it was sourced from -- Maine, he said. We've had our fair share of sea urchin in recent years where I thought we'd be able to discern its terroir (I supposed we're kind of snobby in that regard, haha), and the inarguably buttery texture here was a pretty disconcerting. It doesn't match up to what our palates were telling us, we told Joe. Our uni-fu was out of whack...or so we thought. We were just about to put our confusion to rest, accepting defeat, until Joe came back to us, saying that they had switched to Santa Barbara sea urchin that evening. Maine had been consistently sourced for the preceding evenings' menus, he explained. Complete honest mistake meant victory! Lisa and Stefie, 1; tricky echinoderm, 0.

{two} Second course was the diver scallops with fermented cabbage leaf, cabbage ice, and salad burnet (i.e., sanguisorba minor). The scallops were lovely, whose ideal temperature remained intact as a result of the cabbage ice. Very earthy indeed.

{three} What followed was the lamb loin tartare with black malt cracker, which at first glance, resembled a part of the rock on which it was served. I had never had a tartare of lamb before, so there's a first time for everything. It was not much different from steak tartare, only it had that overlay of expected lamb-y gaminess. Thankfully, Lisa and I love lamb enough to not really notice it -- I only wish there was a little higher cracker-to-tartare ratio. By the end, it was hard to consume all of that raw meat without a carby buffer. Still great nevertheless.

As dinner continued to progress, we moved into some heavier courses, what I would refer to them as more petite entrée-like.

03b - mains
{four} The mind games started to intensify with this course -- "noodles" with red rambo radish (i.e., raphaneous sativus) and concentrated "soup packet" onto which a hot broth was poured over into the bowl. Funny play on instant ramen noodles with the naturally crafted soup packet (potato parchment enveloping select herbs and spices), but what instantly clicked was that the "noodles" were not in fact noodles. They were made from squid! Loved that little twist -- expectations and actuality at odds!

{five} The amusement didn't stop there. Joe brought out the dried beet ember (dusted in hay ash) with smoked trout roe, crustacean (sea urchin, lobster, and roe) emulsion, and upland cress (i.e., barnarea verna). I think I may have not heard the first part about the beet, because I didn't realize that the rock-like thing on my plate was actually edible, not until I looked over at Lisa in complete awe that she was able to "cut" into a rock. You got me, Atera! The hay ash really gave the beet some extra character and brought it into a completely different flavor realm. The creamy and briny crustacean emulsion paired nicely with it all, coming together as one well-composed dish.

{six} The last of the seafood courses was the cod a la plancha brined with wildflower honey and served with a small pool of yogurt, carrot, and crushed nuts (either walnuts or hazelnuts). The cod was just exquisite -- flaky, buttery with honey glazed in all of its little crevices. The nuts and carrot added some contrasting texture and really brought out the flavors of the cod. Very well done!

03c - mains
{seven} As minimalist and abstract as the last course, next came the roasted aged squab with fresh peanuts (very soft!) and burgundy cold (i.e., oxalis articulata). The aging of the bird certainly added something extra to this course (very savory, juicy, and flavorful -- even just for this sliver of meat here). Easily one of the best squabs I've had the pleasure of tasting!

{eight} Last of the savories was the wagyu beef strip with toasted wheatberries and winterbor kale (i.e., brassica oleraceae). Triple wins for this course -- one, for the awesome marblization in the wagyu (ZOMG, so good!); two, for the inclusion of wheatberries (one of my new favorite grains to enjoy -- the toastedness made it even more awesome); and three, for the beautiful leaf of winterbor kale that made me change my mind about this vegetable, as I had previously written it off as too bitter. I think I've finally joined the bandwagon -- I can finally say that I enjoy kale, thanks to Atera.

As for the wines we had for our series of entrées, Lisa and I sipped on two different whites (for Lisa, it was the Clairette de Die Traditional (a "Cuvée Impériale") produced by Jalliance from the Rhône region of southern France with no vintage; for me, it was the assyrtiko produced by Domaine Sigalas from Santorini, Greece with a 2011 vintage) -- both of which had some noteable mineral qualities to it that our sommelier invited us to pair well with our meal. They went stunningly. As for the red, Lisa and I each had the grenache/mourvedre (a "Vieilles Vignes") produced by Château du Mourre du Tendre from the Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages in France with a 2005 vintage. I loved this wine, but I think Lisa really fell in love with it, so much that she had a second glass of it!

At this point in the meal, I was very surprised how the gradual (and fitting) progression of the meal was starting to fill us up, leaving a decent cushion to conquer dessert.

04a - dessert
{nine} This first dessert was a monochromatic creation of pear with almond milk ice cream and mead (i.e., apis mellifera). This was a nice segue into the sweeter courses of the evening -- very delicate in flavors with the pear and almond pearing with the relatively heavier flavor from the mead (very honeylike). Loved the almond milk ice cream!

{ten} Next we had another visual play on food -- "cracked egg" with goat milk ice cream, sugar, and egg yolk jam (prepared sous vide). The partially broken shell (made from a milk chocolate, I believe) was made to emulate a cracked egg (thus, its name) with the goat milk ice cream as the egg white and the egg yolk jam as the yolk. Very artistic and visionary! Though the ice cream was a little too savory for my liking (still acquainting myself with goat cheese these days), Lisa absolutely loved it -- right up her alley!

{eleven} What followed was a banana split with spiced marshmallows and candied parsley root (i.e., petroselinum crispum). There was an unusual progression into savory desserts as this portion of the meal wore on (as opposed to traditionally "sweet"), and this was especially evident with this dessert, especially with the inclusion of parsley root as an ingredient. It was almost like a dehydrated version of the usual banana split with all the trimmings, only much more lenient on the stomach and waistline (i.e., not as heavy with ice cream and whipped cream). The parsley root was an interesting touch to it, somehow making it a more matured dessert (if that's even possible).

{twelve} With another game up his sleeve, Joe had us try to guess what the main ingredient of this course was, with a hint that it begins with an S. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I kept getting distracted by the sugared exterior, making it majorly obvious that it was a twist on the churro, those deep-fried Spanish confections. Though I had to resort to Google, we finally concluded it was salsify in churro form, served with cinnamon and white cardamom (i.e., elettaria cadamomum) as well as some chocolate spread for dipping. You can put cinnamon sugar on anything, and it'll taste good, even on a root vegetable like salsify (typically found in European cuisine), but the white cardamom gave it an even further twist -- a lingering gingery flavor on the palate. Add the chocolate, and it was perfect!

04b - dessert
{thirteen} Last of the desserts was the bourbon cask ice cream sandwich with almond, vanilla, and oak (i.e., quercus robur). This ice cream sandwich very much reminded me of an Oreo in some regard -- just with a slightly spiked center (woohoo bourbon!) and a more intense from the oak.

{fourteen + fifteen} As mignardises, we were given two kinds of chocolate truffles -- a hazelnut truffle and a black walnut truffle. Both were amazing, though the walnut truffle, of course, was texturally and contextually the more noteworthy. It took shape like a walnut shell, sitting on a bed  of greens, as if just fallen from its tree. Both had the right amount of ganache melting with the nutty flavor bursting from inside.

A meal for Lisa and me is never complete without pots of loose leaf tea for each to relax and ruminate with over the details of the meal that just transpired before us. Lisa enjoyed a jasmine green tea while I had an oolong, both of which were brewed at ideal temperatures and steeped precisely with a timer. The teas we had here were divine -- so much that  they resteeped the leaves for us so we could enjoy another cup each.

Lisa and me celebrating our February birthdays at Atera.

Findings: Wow, oh wow. You have no idea how much I've been waiting to write up my review on all this and the sheer wondrous ingenuity of Chef Lightner and his team in the kitchen. I am relieved that I've finally found the time and words to do just that. I am unashamed to say that I may have found where the direction of creative fine dining is headed in New York City -- right here in this little establishment. With his continental and global influences that he carried under his experienced toque -- Western American (SoCal/Portland), Nordic, and Spanish -- Chef Matt Lightner creates a very unique experience with the restaurant's dynamic tasting menu that is bound to stun, wow, and awe. Not all things at Atera are what they seem, and these playful surprises that continually change every few weeks (as the menu evolves with a balance of the seasonal offerings and creative inspiration) are what bring the restaurant's loyalists back for more -- god knows I'm officially an Atera-phile now! :P

While the cuisine and cookery is pretty impeccable, I cannot forget to note the service team that kept us entertained, quenched, and content. From the moment we stepped into the foyer until we retrieved our coats to bid adieu, everyone was very welcoming, knowledgeable, and helpful. We were being tended to without becoming overwhelmed, which was key, and the beverage service offered many winning recommendations that complemented our preferences and tastes. Everything about dinner service was totally seamless, and we loved Atera even more for that. The positive interaction between us and the service team (especially Joe, our captain) really made the experience for us.

Lisa and I have been loyal patrons at Eleven Madison Park for the past three years, if only because of the unparalleled service and the talent in the kitchen. I'll always have a place in my heart for it, but the recent menu change (though I cannot observe for myself -- only through Lisa's most recent experience) doesn't have me as hopeful about its sustainability as my top favorite. So I dare say it -- Atera outdid itself that evening and has us proudly noting that it has become our new favorite fine dining locale. This dinner was unlike anything I had ever experienced in this dear city of mine, and I cannot wait to return to experience an entire new menu by care of Chef Lightner. Thanks again to everyone at Atera for making this such an unforgettable birthday celebration for us! :D

Price point: $165 per person (prepaid with an 18% gratuity and sales tax), $12-18 for each glass of wine, $16 for each cocktail.

--Febraury 2, 2013

77 Worth Street
New York, NY 10013

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Toasts | dossier of (golden) birthdays

26 on the 26th at Madam Geneva
Me, blowing out some birthday candles on the most delicious carrot cake with cream cheese buttercream at a little cocktail gathering at Madam Geneva.

Minus the crazy hours I was working as a bean counter, February had lots of toasting in store. I celebrated my golden birthday (they really do have a word for everything, don't they?!) with Erin, my oldest bestie, whose own golden birthday was the day before. Not only were our two birthdays in February, so were my mom's and Lisa's, my other BFF. Mix that in with Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day, and my life as a morsel marauder couldn't be any easier. I cannot wait to share the extraordinary meals I had last month -- arguably three that easily make it into the roster of the best meals of my life (not something I can say lightly about any given meal, let alone three!).

On the first Saturday in February, Marcus and I took my mom out to Chef David Bouley's Brushstroke to celebrate her birthday a wee bit early because my work schedule at the end of the month would've proved to be quite unpredictable and consuming. It was one of those meals where I consciously left my DSLR at home with a point to just enjoy the company of my lovely mother and my better half over the kaiseki cuisine we planned for dinner -- best decision! I got to enjoy every last bit of the meal as the favorable light of the table proved to make quick iPhone shots clear and bright. We opted for the six-course winter tasting menu (as opposed to the eight-course winter kaiseki menu) which was shorter but still had many of the highlights and options as the kaiseki, in addition to the many pretty much "tailor-to-your-own-liking-and-preference" supplements along the way. The six course included two starting courses, sashimi, a choice of a fish or meat dish, a choice of rice dish, followed by a dessert from the menu. The reason we brought her here this year was because she loves Japanese cuisine and prefers clean, simple flavors (essentially, not too much salt), so Brushstroke proved to be an instant winner with her, which let me just say, is a hard feat to accomplish. Also, Marcus and I had such a surreal time the first time we came here for our first anniversary (incidentally also the opening day for the restaurant) that we knew that same spark that won us over nearly two years ago would work its magic on my mom.

{1,2} inside Brushstroke

Starter courses
{3} winter bamboo shoots with white miso-mustard dressing, ankimon in tosazu gelée, apple-elderberry reduction, and sesame cloud / {4} chef's sashimi platter (from Chef Ichimura himself next door!) with a daily selection of five or six season varieties (including toro, mirugai, red snapper, Spanish mackerel, caviar, etc.) -- note this was an additional supplement in lieu of the regular sashimi course / {5} Shimeji

 egg custard with truffle ankake sauce (I think they threw in some golden crab for good measure -- something that's typically only found on the kaiseki menu) / {6seared Maine lobster with somen noodles, creamy uni broth, crushe duni flakes, and shredded nori -- this was sent out on the house in dedication to my mom's birthday that evening (another course usually only on the kaiseki menu)

Fish/Meat course
{7} garlic-chive marinated Chilean sea bass with black sesame smoke (my main course) / {8} select treasures from the sea: yuzu-perfumed akamutsu (i.e., grilled rosy sea bass) and akamutsu tossed in camelina, giant clam, and uni with caviar (my mom's main course, which was an additional supplement in lieu of the regular fish/meat dishes) / {9} Japan-raised wagyu steak with Tasmanian mustard, angkar pepper, and red wine reduction (Marcus's main course, also a supplemental dish)

Rice course
{10} golden crab and lobster zousui rice with sake-kasu broth (Marcus's rice course) / {11} winter mushroom in anikake sauce over rice (my mom's rice course) / {12} Alaskan king salmon and season mushrooms steamed with rice in a donabe pot (my rice course, which was also a supplemental dish)

Dessert course

Mirin ice cream and soy sauce ice cream
My mom and Marcus chose the most unique dessert offered -- mirin ice cream and soy sauce ice cream with dried cranberries and pistachio nuts -- ultimately a Japanese take on the salty-sweet combination Americans can compare to salted caramel and vanilla. I had (not pictured) the soy milk panna cotta with grenache coulis -- one of my all-time favorite desserts here. Another big happy birthday to you, Mom! Marcus and I had a fantastic time celebrating over this meal with you -- love you! :)

The next evening, Erin and I treated ourselves to a celebratory dinner at Koi SoHo inside the Trump SoHo Hotel. Thought it was a bit overpriced for the portions we were given, the food was very decent, and the cocktails even better. Here were some of the highlights:

{1}"Pear"-idise martini with Absolut pear, Asian pear purée, and lime juice (Erin's cocktail) and The Earl with Bulldog gin, housemade Earl Grey syrup, and lemon juice / {2foie gras on seared tuna with white truffle oil / {3} main dining area of Koi SoHo

A little less than a week later, Lisa and I were able to nab (with the biggest stroke of luck!) two seats at the dining counter at Atera in Tribeca. If I could surmise our experience in very few words, it'd be "surreal, extraordinary, and redefining urban cuisine in New York City." I'll be making a separate post on this soon -- so much to share about it! Happy Birthday once again to both of my besties!! :D

With Valentine's Day around the corner, even though Marcus and I don't like to make a big fuss about the over-commercialized holiday, we see it as a nice excuse to go out, trying a new restaurant, and enjoying a nice meal together. The catch? We NEVER go out on the actual day -- cranky waitstaff, subpar food, and ridiculous crowds aren't our thing. We always make it a point to go out the weekend before, which is what we did. Just a disclaimer though -- in the three years we've been together, the times we've attempted this "Valentine's Day" dinner, we've both always gotten sick from the food or had a horrible time -- Marcus seems to think it's in the way we're choosing restaurants (which I will have to agree). So this time around, we were cautious not to do anything too crazy: we chose Tori Shin in the Upper East Side based on our mutual love for simple Japanese cuisine and the casual ambiance it had to offer -- just like any other date night. It turned out to be a successful choice, so I'll be reviewing it in a separate post to follow in the next week or so.

Marcus and I made ressies for the last weekend in February to celebrate my twenty-six years at The Modern: Dining Room. I have been to The Bar Room at The Modern quite a few times, but was never able to make it to the dining room, so I thought my birthday would be the perfect occasion to check it out. I almost feel guilty saying this, but I may have found my new favorite restaurant in the city here (sorry, Eleven Madison Park!). We loved absolutely everything that was served to us, down to the last morsels, remaining drops, and leftover crumbs. You can say we licked our plates clean (as well as we could with the restrictions of fine dining etiquette, that is :P). You can bet your bottom dollar that a post is in the works! A big thank you to Marcus for making my birthday this year so spectacular -- I love you more than words can say!

The last few years, I haven't made a big deal about my birthday or anything (just a nice meal with Marcus was more than enough celebrating for me :P), but turning twenty-six years of age on the twenty-sixth (of February) only happens once, so a few friends met up with me at Madam Geneva (right next to Saxon + Parole) in NoHo for an intimate celebration over libations and banter. I first stumbled upon it when I saw Alice's shots in Serious Eats: New York for its coverage of the cocktail bar. It was the photograph of the signature punch that tipped it over for me. I had to celebrate here. An awesome surprise came that very evening when the bartenders told me that a jazz band would be playing throughout the evening -- what a totally crazy bonus that I couldn't ask for a better ambiance than that! Also didn't realize until later on that the name Madam Geneva comes from the eighteenth century English term for gin (i.e., the focused spirit at this cocktail bar).

Madam Geneva
{1} the romantic bar and space at Madam Geneva / {2} Madam's Horse & Carriage Punch with Beefeater 24 gin, Combier, St. Germain, Chamomile tea, lemon juice, citrus sugar, nutmeg, and fizzy stuff -- still swooning over it! / {3} one of the many photographs from a short evening filled with lots of laughs, catching up, and ginny drinks -- here's one with me, Dani, and Lisa

What a gorgeous space it was and what a helpful and hospitable service team they have there (if you happen to be coming here for a drink, be sure to ask for Rich or Tim!). I highly recommend working with AVROKO Hospitality Group for any private events you may have on the horizon -- they are fabulous and so easy to work with!

Findings: I am so unbelievably lucky to have such great family and friends in my life that made February (however grueling) that much more special to me. I love you all :) here's to another great year ahead! Cannot wait to share the details of these February meals in further detail!

Price point: $85 per person for the winter tasting menu at Brushstroke with an additional $22-48 for each supplemental dish; $14 for each cocktail and $28 for each starter at Koi SoHo; $60 for each bowl of Madam's Punch at Madam Geneva.

--February 2/3/24, 2013

30 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10013

Koi SoHo
Trump SoHo Hotel
246 Spring Street
New York, NY 10013

Madam Geneva
4 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 10012

Monday, March 4, 2013

Dinner | Mighty Quinn's

Excuse my brief absence from Four Tines over the past six weeks. The bean counting part of my life has transitioned into its busiest time of the year, so I hope to resume regularly posting in March! Thank you for your continued support and understanding. February was a GREAT month for eating, dining, and nomming for me, so stay tuned for some awesome posts ahead!

Legit barbecue has finally arrived to New York City -- erm, well more specifically, in the East Village. Chef Hugh Mangum's most recent expansion brings his formerly traveling food stand to its very own brick-and-mortar space. I first came across its pure awesomeness at Smorgasburg last fall, where Mighty Quinn's had the longest line during the duration of our eating fest, convincing my friends and I that something great must be cooking up there. Indeed there was, and here we all were (more specifically Marcus, me, Jess, Jen, Jill, and a couple of friends in town visiting), returning for some more.

Chef Hugh Mangum, pit master extraordinaire, grew up with his father in Houston, Texas, where he learned to "explore the gritty local legends of barbecue fame," becoming his favorite activity and setting him on "a personal quest for slow, smoked perfection." It was on this journey (and {1} "copious piles of wood later") that Chef Mangum "attained barbecue excellence in both flavor and technique," resulting in the establishment of Mighty Quinn's that we see and witness today.

01 - MQ interiors

{2,4} We arrived around 7:30 PM, and considering it was only open for a month, {6} it was quite hoppin'. Thanksfully, even with our relatively large group of seven people, we were able to snag the banquette seating near the front of Mighty Quinn's so we could seat, chat, and enjoy some barbecue in this fast, casual setting. One interesting fact is that Mighty Quinn's "is committed to sustainable building, as the wood tables and bars found here have been reclaimed from the famous Puck Building in downtown Manhattan." Originally constructed in the late 1800s, The Puck has recently undergone a renovation enabling the builders of Mighty Quinn's to salvage the spruce wood planks that are over 125 years old.

{5} Once you arrive, a queue forms at the back of the restaurant, and it's kind of a friendly, assembly line of barbecue specialists carving and creating sandwiches and platters to your liking. {7} You have a choice between (beef) brisket, pulled pork, smoked sausage, spare ribs (1/3 rack), or beef ribs. My recommendation for first-time visitors would be the brisket or the pulled pork -- they're both straight up excellent and will draw you into the Mighty Quinn's way pretty instantly.


The barbecue at Mighty Quinn's actually "merges two great culinary traditions, Texas and the Carolinas, bringing together the best of both worlds and creating something uniquely of its own -- something they call Texalina Barbecue." The kitchen takes the "best, all-natural meats and poultry, seasons them with the perfect spice blends, and smokes them with wood for many, many hours until the perfect harmony of smoke, flavor, and time emerges." The ultimate part of Mighty Quinn's approach is quite simple -- "source the best quality ingredients that they can and do not fuss with them too much."

Whether the protein is carved straight or assembled into a thick and fluffy brioche bun, you can see the slices of meat oozing with the most flavorful juices and smoking with the most appetizing of aromas. To top off the meat, some flecks of salt are sprinkled over it to give it a little gritty, salty finish.

I don't become a creature of habit at many places, but when I do, I become a pretty monogamist eater, straying not too far from my favorites (e.g., always the Shack burger at Shake Shack, always the crispy chicken tacos at Dos Toros Taqueria, etc.). So just knowing what I had (and what I LOVED) from the slider-sized barbecue sandwiches we had sunk our teeth in at Smorgasburg last fall, I couldn't forego a chance to experience the braised brisket once again. Marcus, on the other hand, wanted to give the smoked sausage a chance. The smoked sausage was pretty good with an intense smokiness to it and a little kick from whatever seasoning they incorporated inside it. As for sides, I got a side of vinegared slaw (there was a choice between slaw with vinegar or with mayo) to top on my sandwich as well as a side of the edamame and sweet pea salad. While I wasn't crazy about the latter (maybe it was my distaste for sweet peas or the flavorless edamame), the slaw proved to be essential to any barbecue sandwich at Mighty Quinn's.


Here's a closeup of the insanely juicy goodness that is the beef brisket that comes to life at Mighty Quinn's. It's an irresistible combination of salty, savory, slightly tangy, and crunchy (from the slaw, pickles, peppers, and onions) that is captured in this braised brisket sandwich.

Jess, Jill, and Jen each had their own pulled pork sandwich -- essentially the same preparation and seasonings as the braised brisket, only with pork. Also went great with the slaw (both creamy and vinegared). They also shared a side of sweet potato casserole with maple and pecans, which they reported to be quite good as well.

Marcus was still a little hungry after his smoked sausage sandwich, so he went back for some more -- for the spare ribs, to be precise. Each rib had a generous amount of meat surrounding it, smoked and charred with a nice, even glaze. Definitely worth getting if you don't mind getting your hands a little messy!

Findings: If you've been looking for some hardcore awesome barbecue in New York City, Mighty Quinn's may very well be it. Not only is it incredibly flavorful, juicy, and tender, it goes easy on the wallet and the line moves quite quickly as there's an assembly line type deal going on here. Disclaimer though -- you may be waiting a decent amount of time for a table to free up -- this place is bustling with hungry eaters around prime dining hours, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, and given the liquor license they were able to acquire, crowds tend to linger longer than you may think. With that being said, I would advise getting here early for an earlier dinner or later (around 8 PM) for a later dinner so you have a place to sit, eat, and enjoy. Slaw is a must, and if you don't leave with oily hands, you didn't get the true Mighty Quinn's experience.

Price point: $7.25-8.50 for each single-serving of barbecue, $3 for each small-sized side.

--January 12, 2013

Mighty Quinn's
103 Second Ave
New York, NY 10003


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