If it’s still light outside, you can look through the two-room dining room of the Musket Room, which opened at 265 Elizabeth Street two weeks ago, and see a lush courtyard, a quiet, verdant oasis that backs up to the window on the back wall. The view imparts a mellow vibe, and if you want (and the table isn’t already occupied, of course), you can eat right next to it, taking in the greenery as you enjoy an intimate dinner. But when a number of parties were offered that option when we stopped by on a Sunday night, they demurred in favor of the bar.
It’s not that there’s a particularly compelling drinking scene at the Musket Room, it’s just that there’s an immensely pleasant bar (even if there is a musket hanging above it). Topped with milk chocolate-hued heavy wood, lit by reading lamps, and built at the perfect height for a good slouch-less lean, it seems to draw people toward it even if they’re planning to eat a multi-course meal, creating a convivial and civil energy that only perpetuates its cause. And so that’s where we chose to delve into chef Matt Lambert’s New Zealand-inspired cuisine.
Lambert came to New York from Auckland, and after a stint at Public, he struck out on his own with a little help from crowd-funding. His menu, our bartender explained, offers upscale versions of common New Zealand comfort food–like the steak and cheese pie or pavlova on the dessert list–as well as meditations on common ingredients from his home country like venison and a variety of seafood. Inherently seasonal, his current list incorporates cherries, huckleberries, sea beans, and watercress into dishes that subtly pull influence from both the Eastern and Western culinary canon without verging on fusion. To wit: there’s tomato dashi in the tofu gnocchi, and a black garlic sauce is dabbed on a plate of smoked scallops. Dining at the bar, by the way, also gains you access to an additional special menu of small bites, which includes a foie bon bon and bone marrow saddled with uni.
The most obvious Kiwi influence in the drink list comes via the wine selection, which showcases a number of New Zealand producers (though international bottles are also available). But the chef’s focus is also called out subtly in the cocktail menu via one concoction; the Deliciosa combines kiwi fruit with lime, Ribena–a British blackcurrant soda–and 42 Below vodka, named for the 42nd parallel, geographically located on the South Island. Other cocktails twist classics, and bartenders are more than eager to concoct you something off-list and creative if you divulge your spirit of choice.
Here’s a taste of what we ate and drank:
Bread is baked to order and comes in three varieties, including sourdough and rye–which are pictured–and a bacon-studded brioche.
A server dramatically lifts a lid on these cold-smoked scallops, letting wisps of smoke escape. Ribbons of cucumber and cubes of pear add crisp texture, sea beans impart a light breath of ocean, and black garlic sauce gives each bite a savory lift.
A deconstructed steak and cheese pie features taleggio, medium rare steak, and pastry crust cracker plus fresh and pickled turnips.
The Deliciosa, a play on New Zealand.
The Mexican Divorce stirs reposado tequila and mezcal with Poire Williams and Benedictine for a drink that’s smoky, herbal, and lightly sweet.