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This luscious squash and pecan tart could be the seasonal conclusion to your meal.
CIA grad Bill Telepan had worked at Le Cirque, Gotham, and Ansonia — the first really ambitious restaurant on the Upper West Side — when he was propelled to fame by a three-star Times review of Judson Grill. After the untimely demise of that establishment, the chef opened the restaurant that currently bears his name on the Upper West Side in 2005. Even though the place is named after him, he observed in an interview, “It’s not about me, even though the name is Telepan.”
A phalanx of tiny cheese pastries formed the amuse.
In fact, he was early to hop on the locavoric bandwagon, and his repertoire has always featured farmers’ market produce infused with French technique, from his earliest days. In some ways, he’s our Alice Waters, only low-key and self-effacing in a manner that prevents him from seeking celebrity chefdom, though he does make occasional enthusiastic appearances on TV and has taken a leading role in the mainly doomed good-food-in-the-schools movement.
I hadn’t been to Telepan since soon after it opened, but a glowing report from someone I trust who lives nearby led me and friend to make a return visit. Next to a Chinese restaurant on a side street not far from the park, the entrance is shielded by greenery and not immediately evident when you step up. Inside, find a greeter’s podium on the left, and a bar on the right, the two terminuses of a horseshoe-shaped dining room. Table choices are found not only in the main body of the room but also in little crannies at various points. Colorful super-graphic murals of produce fill one wall. It’s really one of the most creative uses of a double storefront in restaurantdom.
We took our chances and arrived around 6:30 on a Friday evening without a reservation — still somewhat difficult to snare unless you plan ahead — and found ample walk-in seating in the bar, where we grabbed a nice window table with a view of townhouses opposite. The amuse was four tiny gougeres, which nearly spurted molten Gruyere as we bit into them.
Organized into three courses plus dessert, the menu is a la carte, but also offers a couple of prix fixe deals. One was a five-course seasonal squash menu, which we rejected as a little too much of a good thing. Instead, we both chose the $69 option, which includes three courses plus dessert. It’s a nice amount of food that will satisfy you but not leave you feeling bloated. It also allowed us to cover about one-third of the menu by each ordering different things.
Our favorite app was called sunny-side egg.
The supremely good lobster Bolognese
To get into the farmers’ market swing of things, we picked sunny-side egg, which turned out to be a beautiful runny egg cooked in a springform sitting on top of a largish Parmesan crouton, with shredded greens in between and a perky Italian salsa verde squirted around and on top. Delightful! Unfortunately, the other first course, a beet and heirloom tomato salad, was a bit disappointing, featuring only a few grape tomatoes and cubes of yellow beet in a reduced dark-vinegar sauce. Altogether too meager for the lushness that we’d expected. Luckily, it was the evening’s only disappointment.
The second course lures with its pastas (there is an overall Italian bend to the bill of fare), but also includes homemade burrata and an eggplant dish of fried and stewed vegetable, widely considered to be one of the chef’s signatures. But who could resist something called lobster Bolognese? It was a rich pasta in a modest bowl, with a nice piece of grilled lobster tail on top and little nuggets of meat in the sauce. The crustacean imparted an elusive sweetness to the noodles. Nearly its equal was a handful of gulf shrimp nested in linguine with some very Sicilian bread crumbs, flat leaf parsley, and a nice dose of garlic. Both pastas had a homely quality and left you wanting more.
Neither did the main courses disappoint. There was a pig tasting that included loin, belly, and roast done in a variety of ways, with a julienne of veggies in what amounted to a demi glace, and a nicely browned skin-on chicken quarter, cut up in small pieces, in a barley broth with a couple of wedges of what can only be described as herbal matzo balls.
The three courses left us full, but because the dessert was included, we forged ahead. Dipping into that squash menu (which one of us had done already via a pumpkin margarita, which was much better than its sounds, light on the pumpkin flavor and not canned pumpkin, either), we grabbed the pecan-and-squash pie, which was really a small tart in a crumbly round pastry. The other dessert was a collection of little breaded nuggets — I don’t remember what they called them — filled with hot pudding, with a pair of dipping sauces. Let successful than the tart, but still good.
After several cups of coffee, we left feeling entirely satiated and planning our next assault on this wonderful and low-key Upper West Side place.
One bite of this chicken, and you won’t forget it. Is that a matzo ball (wedge?) on the side?
72 West 69th Street