Spring is ripe with surprises (80 degrees, 40 degrees, you know the drill). This week, our professional eaters explored two curveball restaurants and were pleasantly delighted–though not equally–by each. Tejal Rao appreciated the food at Pearl & Ash more than the dark and noisy space on the Bowery, while Robert Sietsema was bowled over by Kittery in Carroll Gardens.
Find out more about this week’s choice eats after the jump.
When was the last time you were haunted by your dinner? Tejal Rao suggests that the memories of chef Richard Kuo’s inventive and colorful small plates might stay with diners far longer than the duration of their meal at Pearl & Ash. The Nolita restaurant, outfitted to look like “an Etsy-addict’s bookshelf,” inhabits the ground floor of a budget hotel and former flophouse. Rao suggests that, while this may be a progressive hotspot, diners shouldn’t expect to find the “the aggressive, gut-busting, über-fatty” fare that is so common on today’s trendy menus.
Slices of scallop ($6) are dusted with berbere, the African spice mixture, and served with fennel and the edible bulb of the lily flower. Tiny raw shrimp ($6) in a slightly smoky lime yogurt are sweetened with a sprinkling of bee pollen, tiny yellow granules packed together by the hive’s workers. One of the most dramatic dishes on the menu is the hanger steak tartare ($7)–a harissa-spiked crimson mash served with a bright orange pool of yolk that covers half the plate. It is rich and silky, and the shards of toast are so delicate they might break as you lift them from the plate.
Kuo’s version of meatballs ($9) are the simple and endlessly comforting Japanese kind, the pork and veal seasoned with miso and served in a sweet broth with dancing bonito flakes.
And while the room can be very dark, the service warms things up nicely:
The welcome at the front door is consistently cheerful, and service tends toward comfortable and warm, even as the restaurant gets busy. Servers resist the urge to stupidly explain the restaurant’s “concept” or push any dishes in particular your way, though if you have questions, they have answers.
Meanwhile, Robert Sietsema is in shellfish heaven at Kittery, a Maine-inspired seafood shack not far from the Gowanus Canal. He notes that “not everything is great” at the restaurant “but the things that matter” are praiseworthy.
erved on the usual split buttered bun, the lobster roll is beautiful. It’s not overstuffed, but not overpriced either ($19), considering that it comes with generous servings of purple slaw, pickle spears, and homemade potato chips so good they’re worth ordering on their own. Experimentalists might even try stuffing the chips right into the sandwich for extra crunch and salinity.
The clam platter ($19) features entire bivalves (not just strips) fried crisp in flour and cornmeal. They’re so profuse and rich you can nudge them one by one onto your dining companions’ plates and still have plenty for yourself. The irregularly cut fries, with little bits of crisp skin here and there, are admirable, too, but what threatens to upstage everything else is the wonderful tartar sauce–its effect enhanced by a substantial wallop of raw garlic.
The atmosphere is casual and ever-so-slightly beach-tinged:
Inside, the nautical decorations are wisely kept to a minimum, though whitewashed walls with blue trim prevail. The result is a feeling of uncluttered spaciousness, almost conjuring a beach vista.
New York’s other critics were equally busy this week. At NY Mag, Adam Platt files a twofer at old school-inspired spots, Harlow and Bill’s Food and Drink. Both spots serve high price tags (the former “feels like the end of the Roman Empire”) but lackluster food.
At the New York Times, Pete Wells visits Dani Garcia’s new Spanish joint, Manzanilla. He agrees with Rao’s earlier review of Manzanilla, and offers six reasons why diners should opt in. He had us at cuttlefish croquettes — “breaded globes of seafood stew that are black with squid ink and preposterously rich with béchamel.” The restaurant receives one star.
For his swan song at Time Out, Jay Cheshes reviews Carbone in the West Viilage. He goes big before he goes home, writing “the $50 veal Parmesan is almost too big for its plate–a pitch-perfect mix of tender meat and crispy crust, of gooey cheese and bright tomato topping.”
“When you botch a grilled chicken, you don’t have foam to hide behind,” Stan Sanger notes at the NY Daily News. Unfortunately, Argentine restaurant Porteño does just that. And the service is bad, too.
Ryan Sutton says that Perry Street is back. The tiny West Village favorite that was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Sandy “is as satisfying as ever,” and still serves some of the city’s best fried chicken.