High on the Hog at No. 7
Concealed behind the entrance to a C station, the restaurant known as No. 7 is hard to spot. Once inside, you'll find a dim but roomy space divided into a bar, open kitchen, and rear dining room. The bar seems convivial—there's something rhythmic and poetic about watching passengers subside like prairie dogs into the subway tunnels. A raised communal table in the kitchen area allows patrons to observe chef Tyler Kord—short, bearded, and wearing a Yankees cap—working on the line with his cooks. The rear room is something else: a cul-de-sac with a row of windows up near the ceiling, its pressed-glass lighting fixtures reminiscent of a school gymnasium. The banquette that encircles the room is more like one at summer camp: lined with cheap mattresses covered in blue-striped ticking. "We're going to cover those in black leather someday," observed the waitress, somewhat regretfully.
The chef formerly worked at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Perry St., and his menu represents similar painstaking culinary compositions, sometimes straying into the territory of molecular gastronomy. Thus, there was a special one evening of something Kord calls "mock crab rolls" ($15). Instead of the Japanese fake crab called surimi being featured, what appeared was a parody of a California roll: a sheet of nori acting as a place mat for tight little rolls of peekytoe crab, with a tangle of pickled cuke on the side and little heaps of caviar on top.
The vegetarian lasagna ($16) exhibited many of the same playful characteristics, a cheese-soaked white mass begging to be explored. When we pulled apart the layers, we detected thin slices of eggplant and potato, but could never quite be sure if we'd found any actual noodles. On three visits, our favorite entrée proved to be the so-called roast chicken—really a scrumptious roulade with crisp skin on the outside, resting in a truffle jus that owed nothing to the synthetic truffle oil used in so many restaurants. The roulade represented classic French cooking in an unexpected corner of Fort Greene.
The menu is agreeably short: four or five choices each for entrée and appetizer, supplemented with one or two specials each evening. Often, the specials are less challenging than the regular dishes. One night, there was steak frites ($22), offering a modest nine ounces of grilled sirloin, a heap of mizuna leaves acting as salad, and some dryish French fries. Much better on another evening was a thick Berkshire pork chop done to a turn, with a heap of mashed potatoes and some shredded and barely cooked black kale that shoved the entrée in a Brazilian direction. It was a ramped-up Greek diner's blue-plate special, and utterly satisfying.
Unfortunately, the restaurant scores low when it comes to using sustainable fish; instead, they offer tuna, cod, and farm-raised salmon. That said, one of the high points of the menu was the tuna appetizer ($10), which interleaves thin slices of painfully red fish with planks of white radish like cards in a deck, depositing them in a fluid perfumed with Scotch bonnet peppers that retained a smidgen of chile-heat. Later, the recipe was altered to incorporate jalapeños instead.
The best dishes often feature pork. Thus, there's an appetizer of cold sliced pork ($10), which appears next to an organic egg that's been boiled, crumbed, and deep-fried—yet, when you cut into it, the yolk still spills out in defiance of all that boiling and frying. One of the best dishes is offered only at the bar, and not necessarily in the dining room unless you sweet-talk the waitress. The alarming-sounding pig's head ($15) materializes, not as an assortment of rubbery pig parts like a classic tête de cochon, but in a soup bowl, featuring a mild saline broth, a few nubs of cauliflower, and some gluey porcine tidbits that, really, might have come from anywhere on the hog.
The wine list is short, with some good Italian reds in the $30 to $40 range, and nothing absurdly expensive. The $32 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo will do just fine. There are only three desserts; one, of course, is gooey and chocolatey. The most interesting is a disassembled version of a 'nilla-wafer pudding that offers a creamy vanilla matrix shot with ripe bananas and comes with tiny homemade wafers on the side. Dig deep and discover blond miso at the bottom of the cup, which adds a salty and beany edge to the pudding. One bite, and you'll pull back in horror—but the next minute, your spoon will be a blur between the vessel and your mouth.
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