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“I thought this was a doughnut shop?” The gaunt man asked incredulously. He was standing inside Dough Loco, the latest venture from the team behind ABV, Earl’s Beer & Cheese, and the Guthrie Inn.
We might have been inquisitive, too, had we been the ones to happen upon a group of people holding shallow ramekins of brioche topped with white chocolate and caviar (a Heston Blumenthal pairing) instead of one of the shop’s signature glazed confections. And whether intentional or not, the buttery sticks of toasted brioche had a doughnut’s richness reinforced by the white chocolate and silky caviar. Throughout the evening at Flock Dinner, there were many questions–about ingredients, about cooking technique; about whether or not to keep pouring slugs of Amaro Montenegro (a resounding yes, even after you’ve worn out your welcome).
Corey Cova is the man with the answers, and the sporadic tasting menus he creates are a refreshingly carefree and personal take on the chef’s table genre. For much of the meal, the chef plates and serves everything himself, chatting with guests and pouring wine (it’s BYOB). But our experience was atypical in that this was the first time Cova tried splitting the experience between two establishments: The first five courses were served at Dough Loco, after which the chef led his merry flock down around the corner to ABV to end the night in more luxurious environs than a doughnut shop. Although he’s decided to keep things confined to one location going forward, it was great fun to bundle up in the autumn night air only to once again take a seat and let the celebration continue.
At the onset of this project, Cova was hosting the dinners in his apartment above ABV, and Flock’s eventual home will be an apartment above nearby Vinyl Wine, the alt-wine shop that shares a co-owner with the wine bar.
That walk down the street was necessary: The meal stretched nearly four hours–and it started at 11 p.m. It could have been 5 a.m., though, and we wouldn’t have cared, not when we were facing glistening cubes of lamb tartare bound by raw quail egg and hit with bracing ginger and scallion. The accompanying purple flowers might have registered as tweezer food, but chewing the snow pea flower buds released a verdant freshness.
This free-form style of cooking is not without its surprises, however. One of the reasons the evening stretched to a length of time better-suited for standardized test takers who “need a little extra help” is that Cova isn’t cooking with any gas. Not in the figurative sense, anyway. Big changes are coming to ABV, including the installation of a proper gas line and all the equipment that comes with it. Realizing that Cova’s been cooking at a disadvantage since the beginning of the wine bar’s inception, it’s exciting to think about what’s in store after the kitchen alterations.
Still, the food’s as playful as ever, and there’s a tendency to veer towards the type of mischievous cooking that diners have come to expect. While there were no foie gras fluffernutters, we were treated to a demure slab of duck liver crowning a dish of toasted brioche spread with blackberry jam, Sprout Creek Farm’s Ouray cheese, and a slip of crisp pork belly. Dessert was presented with a caveat: “Sorry there’s no root beer in this dish, that element just didn’t come together so I switched the garnish to borage flowers.” Borage flowers have a hushed celery flavor, so it made perfect sense to pair with celery root ice cream showered with peanut butter powder creating an after-school snack all grown up. On his menu conceptualization process, Cova notes, “Ideally I’d like to never repeat a dish, but sometimes I’ll just be stretched pretty thin with everything else going on where I feel more comfortable repeating a dish then putting a half-baked idea on. And then other times I’ll do a dish and see something that could make it much better, so the next time I have a chance I’ll fix or update the original idea for a new dinner.”
If our experience was any indication, big things are coming for the small Spanish Harlem family of establishments. For now, we’d encourage people to snag one of the eight seats available at Flock (you can do so via the website and by emailing Eat@FlockDinner.com). Cova is also looking into a proper tasting menu at ABV, as well. At $85 for eight courses plus petit fours, with gratuity included and a BYOB policy, Flock is an entertaining, uniquely unpolished cooking adventure. Its improvisational nature only adds to the fun.