Revisit: Getting Wood Again at Beacon
Located on West 56th Street, Beacon is handy to Fifth Avenue shoppers and the theater-bound crowd, but there's lots to admire, even for a downtowner.
Ten years ago, as chef at the Hudson River Club in Battery Park City, Waldy Malouf developed what was known as Hudson River Valley cooking, incorporating ingredients from up and down the great river, sourcing meats, vegetables, and dairy products, coaxing native flavors out of them. If it sounds like he was on the locavore bandwagon before anyone else, maybe he was.
His next project was Beacon on West 56th Street. Here his obsession with wood and fire came to the fore, still utlizing, where possible, the local meat and produce that had been the theme of his previous restaurant. It seemed like everything landed in his fiercely hot wood oven, apps and sides and mains and even desserts.I hadn't been to Beacon for over five years, so I imagined it had fallen into a rut. So I decided to revisit, since recommending a place in the sub-Central Park area is the frequent and painful duty of any critic. ("My mother is coming into town and shopping at Saks. Where should I send her to eat?") You can't send everyone to Flushing or the East Village.
Beacon's amazing wood-roasted artichoke.
In short, I was surprised to find that Beacon is still a wonderful restaurant. And, yes, they still do nearly everything in the wood-burning oven, like Tuscan times ten. A case in point is the jumbo artichoke, which comes charred on the edges and pooled in garlic oil. The heart is smoky and oily and two diners will fight over this prize. Moreover, it's fun to wrestle with it, getting into the mysterious vegetable up to your elbows.
At $19, the 8 oz. burger and garlic-gobbed fries is probably as much food as you want to eat at a single sitting.
In addition to the artichoke, my date and I shared a special of pumpkin soup, which seemed particularly apt at this juncture in the calendar. It was semi-creamy and well-pureed and not overwhelmingly herbal, in other words, it tasted exactly like buttery pumpkin and not pumpkin pie. We also had the burger and a plate of mushroom ravioli, which came strewn with an assortment of wild and tame mushrooms. Both entrees were great, and left us especially wanting to return to check out more of the roast meats.
Even our dessert, a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, which we could barely wade through, had a smoked component. The vanilla in the ice cream came from wood-roasted vanilla bean. But the cake was the star of the show. Resting in a meandering stream of caramel sauce, it was plain devil's food, meaning that it had just the right amount of chocolate and actually contained flour. Bravo, Waldy!
When was the last time you had a piece of chocolate cake that was really cake, and did not seem more like pure solid frosting?
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