“I’m gonna be real with you guys, the cracklins are bullshit,” our server confides after we’ve asked to start with the crunchy bar snack. In her defense, she’s not wrong. The skins eat like gribenes on vacation, perfumed with lime, dotted with crunchy cashews, and dipped into a shallow dish of hot sauce. Their main problem is that they disappear far too quickly, more of an amuse bouche than a $6 bar snack. A mention of apple bacon brioche ($6) also gets turned down for pairs of pretzel buns ($1). The well-executed plain rounds elicit shrugs while tables around us coo over cast-iron pans of porky, lemon-glazed bread.
Such emboldened service is occasionally appreciated, but it led us astray at Rosette, the latest restaurant from architect and Hester Street Fair mastermind Ron Castellano, who previously housed Broadway East and pop-up incubator LTO within these walls.
We’re steered instead to seared steak tartare. It’s excellent and more substantial, we’re told. Right again: Frozen and coarsely chopped, the beef thaws as a kitchen torch sears its exterior. Mixed with crème fraîche and sharp, fragrant pebbles of potato garlic granola, it achieves a deeper, nuttier flavor than most. But a spring appetizer of asparagus with ramps and hazelnuts needs seasoning, sterilizing an otherwise verdant, painterly dish.
The opposite is true with a take on the loaded baked potato. Here it’s a pudding-soft roasted avocado half, overloaded with fermented chile yogurt and feathery bonito flakes. At first drowned out by its accompaniments, the pairing became compelling once we freed several chunks of the roasted fruit from its garnish avalanche.
Rosette’s chef, Nick Curtin, started in the kitchens of Perry St and Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar before making a name for himself as the executive chef of Compose, where the then-23-year-old cooked 10-course tasting menus out of the space that now houses Atera. Curtin, now 27, also spent a week at Noma in Copenhagen and served as Acme’s chef de cuisine under Mads Refslund. Perhaps nodding to those kitchens, pork belly receives a wrapping of seaweed to pair with nutty oats, and huckleberries lend their tartness to ember-roasted leeks that could use some more smoldering.
An order of chicken wings is, thankfully, met with approval rather than a suggestion of alternatives. Crisp and coated in paprika-rich sauce, the wings take a dip in smoky blue cheese, a simple and refined improvement that complements the bird’s spicing. On a recent night, tables in the restaurant’s front bar room, with its plush couches and wrought iron chandeliers shaped like flower bouquets, were littered with stacks of tiny bones, making us wonder if the paleo diet had given way to caveman dating. A modest marble bar also commands attention up front, its bartenders muddling, pinching, shaking, and stirring throughout the night.
For now, the restaurant’s house-infused whiskey, a maceration of toasted white sesame and Evan Williams bourbon, errs on the bitter side — either the result of over-infusion or burned sesame seeds. But Warren Hode’s other cocktails and sodas are delightful experiments, with atypical mixers like black pepper, chipotle, and pink peppercorn syrup, and house-made sarsaparilla-kumquat bitters. Hode has a fun approach to flavor combinations, pairing cantaloupe with celery in a rum cocktail called Spring Fever and in a nonalcoholic soda. Strawberry jam and black pepper highlight floral blanco tequila for the Little Gem. They do their job well. Navigating to the dining room in back, you’re likely to slip from all that social lubricant.
Globe chandeliers cast a glow around the dining room and its crimped, crimson-red booths. In fact, the entire back of the restaurant — including an events space featuring a vertical garden — hums with an air of drama that’s missing up front. But glitz and glamour can’t redeem past-its-prime black cod glazed and sitting in a saccharine, musky sauce that clashes with a mélange of artichokes, sunflower seeds, and sprouts sitting to the side. A parsnip “steak” fares little better, its bulkier segments still fibrous and undercooked, the whole affair lacking char and dominated by hazelnut butter. Rosy, perfectly cooked wagyu sirloin with creamed kale and a block of potato pavé is the sole exciting main course.
Curtin also handles dessert, dragging ricotta cheesecake through the garden with a puddle of sweet basil pesto and smoking pot (in this case, de crème) before covering it in a layer of cherry gelée and topping it with sesame whiskey ice cream, a trick that softens the alcohol’s bitterness. The smoke flavor underwhelms, but at least they figured out how to tame that whiskey.