Last week’s review focused on The Gander (15 West 18th Street, 646-682-7949), Jesse and Lindsay Schenker’s Flatiron follow-up to their cozy flagship Recette (328 West 12th, 212-414-3000). Now that Mr. Schenker is busting out tasty brisket-filled bar snacks and ambitious entrees northwest of Union Square, Recette’s kitchen has been entrusted to chef de cuisine Audrey Villegas, who was promoted from sous chef. Lucky for us, she’s celebrating the new position with a strong showing at the stoves.
Buffalo sweetbreads are a dish that made the trip uptown, but at The Gander, they were chopped into shriveled, miniscule nuggets that were ultimately a letdown despite some truly great and balanced flavors. The same dish at Recette costs six dollars more ($16 as opposed to $10), but you get some nice succulent organ meat. And before you balk at a $16 bar snack, consider that most sweetbread entrees have at maximum, four pieces. Recette gives you nearly double that, and the blue di bufala dip spreads like funky barnyard butter.
I also encountered an incredibly delicate spot prawn dish uptown with pea tendrils and chili strands that felt out of place given the rest of the menu’s intensity. Recette serves the Pacific Ocean delicacy as well, but Villegas adorns hers with briny hackleback caviar, espelette pepper, and red sorrel leaves. The downtown shrimp cost a dollar less, but you get half the portion, replacing a second prawn with the crustacean’s fried head. So you’re getting less of the good stuff, but there’s more going on with the plate. Rabbit is served as a larger portion, with tiny cylinders of loin, croquettes of leg meat, rib chops with the bunny bones still attached, and even kidney halves scattered here and there. Pickled chanterelles, snow peas, and hibiscus add piquant levity, and everything’s anchored by a bread pudding sauce that tastes like savory speculoos, the spreadable Belgian cookie condiment.
Christina Lee is putting together some slightly more intricate desserts than the ones she makes for The Gander, and her puddings, custards, and creams are all top notch. A deconstructed rhubarb cream pie, with a miniature lattice crust sitting atop a pool of cream like a carnival monkey’s tiny hat, took top honors at our table. Lee also gets kudos for capitalizing on a trend and helping out people with Celiac disease by offering a fancy gluten-free dessert in the form of salted chocolate cake with buttermilk-ginger gelato, lavender meringue, and cocoa nib coulis.
Early into her tenure, it’s clear that the Schenkers believe in Ms. Villegas’ talent. Consider us believers, too.
Check the next page for some photos.