For the past two years, restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld and chef/partner Joe Ng have hosted pop-ups and served an abbreviated menu out of the former Laundromat below their West Village nouveau-Chinese restaurant RedFarm. Last month, they opened Decoy (529 1/2 Hudson Street, 212-691-9700), the fully realized version of the cocktail bar and restaurant that was always intended for the space. We stopped by on a recent evening to sample the subterranean spot’s Peking duck prix fixe and progressive cocktails.
Schoenfeld works the room and can’t help but make his presence known. “Do you use a vaporizer? My son runs a $100 million dollar vaporizer business,” he bellows to a friend.
Music switches between indie and hip-hop. All of it is loud, but every selection has rhythmic propulsion without descending into monotony. “I need music!” bartender Igor Zukowiec shouts. He explains, “When I first started here, they were playing the music low, but I said I have to have loud music!”
Natural wood is juxtaposed with exposed brick, and duck ornaments and potted plants hang from a central iron bar that cuts down the center of the space. The fact that the bar runs the length of the restaurant’s communal table — the dining room’s main option save for a two-top and a few stools shoved into the vestibules on either side of the entryway — should be your clue that the focus here is on drinking and the salty, fatty foods that support the practice.
You can have a proper three course meal if you so choose, although you’ll have to forgo Donald and Daffy for main courses like $45 lobster noodles, black sea bass with leeks and black beans, and jerk baby chicken, which, thankfully, doesn’t have any misplaced commas but still regrettably sounds like a command. For most diners though, all signs point to the $130 Peking duck feast for two, which nets six shareable courses with portions that are fair given the $65-per-person breakdown. Snacks and small plates precede the bird. A trio of pickles (cucumbers, mangoes with mustard, and kimchi cauliflower with pineapple) is a great way to prep your tongue for puffy, gnarled fish skin chips fried shatter crisp and served with fragrant black garlic aioli. They’re easy to love, and $8 a la carte at the bar.
There are 13 small plates to choose from, with a $6 supplement for topping black sweet potato noodles with two beastly tongues of sea urchin (plunked on the table inside a hollowed-out urchin corpse). You’ll find everything from yuzu-spiked Kumamoto oysters to foie gras and strawberry tartlets fashioned to look like ducks and three different kinds of dumplings. The sculptural seared duck liver tartlets are fun and decadent in a lowest common denominator sort of way, and they’re very much on theme.
When it comes time for the main event, receiving the teardrop platter leaves a lasting impression. It’s hard to look away from row after row of succulent duck hidden beneath rust-colored skin, until a tray arrives with three sauces (hoisin, sesame, and cranberry) and shot glasses of duck consommé. The extra sweet and umami-forward sauces allow for a fun game of mix-and-match, wherein you assemble combinations at whim on top of thin pancakes with noticeable chew. You also get your choice of seasonal vegetables (in our case, asparagus or snow pea leaves), or a choice of fried rice, including one crowned with three grilled shrimp and strewn through with dried shrimp that surround the table in a perfume of funk and fermentation.
There’s no dessert offered as part of the prix fixe, but servers will happily run down a list that includes ginger panna cotta, a fruit plate, and both chocolate and mango puddings. Be forewarned: We enjoyed the foie gras tartlets as an appetizer, but the same tartlet shells appeared at the end of the night filled with a limp chocolate mousse that tasted store-bought.
Casey Wallin runs the cocktail program, and his tipples incorporate whiz-bang sorcery like smoking guns, barrel-aged cocktails, and duck fat-washed George Dickel Tennessee whiskey, which he mixes with lemon and red wine for a surprisingly balanced, nuanced drink. With its feathery egg white crown embossed with a red wine stencil image of a duck, it’s every bit deserving of its status as a signature cocktail, even if it goes for broke with the winks and nods. At $14 a pop, they’re par for the course, but as a result, a night for two at Decoy can quickly cross the $100-per-person threshold.