Something about heavy snowfall just calls for a hearty meal. Although prime wild game season tapered off about a month or so ago, dining on animals like venison, wild boar, and partridge feels nothing short of primal. These are hibernation foods — the excessively rich dishes that lead to involuntary naps. For a wintertime meal that’ll have you grunting in approval, here are seven dishes from restaurants around town sure to bring out your inner carnivore. Don’t blame us if you go all Wolf-man or woman — that hair on your palms is your own shame-fueled fault.
7. “Roadhouse” elk burger, Bareburger, 33-21 31st Avenue, Queens; 718-777-7011
In five short years, Bareburger has expanded from a humble Astoria flagship to 17 locations spanning three city boroughs, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Aside from using reclaimed materials to build the restaurants’ interiors, the local chain uses organic meats for its burgers including bison, elk, ostrich, and wild boar in addition to beef and turkey. Our favorite combination to date is medium-rare elk gussied up “Roadhouse” style, with pepper jack cheese, bacon, avocado, grilled onions, marinated red peppers, and smoked paprika mayonnaise.
6. Partridge pie at Robert, 2 Columbus Circle, 212-299-7730
An explosion of neon bursting forth from the ninth floor of the Museum of Arts and Design, Robert restaurant looks like a Blade Runner fever dream with gorgeous views of Central Park and Columbus Circle. Thankfully, a few dishes ground the otherwise dull retro menu, including a savory partridge pie bursting with shredded herb-tinged fowl. The partridge’s slight gaminess is tempered by all the butter in the pie’s crust, and a cascade of stewed down mushrooms add further funk. The dish ($18) is listed under the “share plates” section, but it’s petite (and rich) enough that it could make a fine, inexpensive entree for one.
5. Wild boar paella at Manzanilla, 345 Park Avenue South, 212-255-4086
This Spanish restaurant with a modernist bent is the brainchild of Michelin-starred chef Dani García and Boqueria restaurateur Yann de Rochefort. As an occasional special, García serves a particularly hearty paella built around hunks of wild boar and a heady mushroom sofrito. Depending on the cuts available, you might receive loin or shoulder — both are magnificent, gamy, and exceedingly tender. Adorned with glistening planks of glazed bone marrow and sautéed broccolini, the boar and mushroom-infused rice exudes an earthiness that perfumes the entire table.
4. Venison leg at Aldea, 31 West 17th Street, 212-675-7223
For the last five years, George Mendes has delivered punchy Mediterranean-inflected food from a modest open kitchen in the back of the restaurant’s slim, brightly-lit dining room. The few front row seats radiate with warmth from the ovens, a perfect precursor to the feeling that comes from eating Mendes’ sous vide venison leg. Seared to medium-rare, the meat sits in a red wine and juniper venison jus with a fluffy boulder of white corn grits off to the side. Braised red cabbage cuts through the heavier ingredients.
3. Lamb Cheeks, Kabab Cafe, 25-12 Steinway Street, Queens; 718-728-9858
While you can dine on testicles, brains, and other adventurous offal at this Middle Eastern Astoria destination (made famous by an appearance on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations), one of the more addictive plates to come out of chef Ali El Sayed’s kitchen is the lamb cheeks with eggs. Lamb cheek meat is stewed for two days before the gelatinous, cooked-down mixture is tossed with eggs in a hot skillet. The result is a creamy, meaty, intensely spiced dish that begs to be lapped up with pita bread, though you might be compelled to just shovel it directly into your mouth.
2. Red Deer at The Musket Room, 265 Elizabeth Street; 212-219-0764
After running the kitchen at Saxon + Parole, Matt Lambert set off to open this NoLIta ode to New Zealand last summer. Lambert’s nouveau-Kiwi cuisine highlights ingredients from the Auckland-born chef’s hometown, like a breed of European red deer first introduced to the island in the 19th century. Towering medallions of venison bookend the plate, sitting in piquant licorice jus. The rest of the elements — roasted fennel, celery root puree, and light meringues flavored with juniper — are meant to evoke the flavors of gin (venison and juniper is a classic pairing). The robust, wintry dish takes an odd yet satisfying tropical turn in the form of freshly-peeled lychees, which complement with floral sweetness.
1. Rabbit lasagna for two at Sorella, 95 Allen Street, 212-274-9595
After taking the reins from Emma Hearst in 2012, chef Molly Nickerson began tinkering with this Northern-Italian menu. One of the first dishes she developed is also one of her most enduring: a rabbit-filled lasagna for two featuring twelve layers of béchamel-drenched bunny meat accented with a jumble of cooked prosciutto and Ligurian Taggiasche olives bound together with balsamic vinegar. On its own, the lasagna is all gentle cream and tender shredded meat, the tangy porcine topping lending sweet unctuousness.