Trae Basore is now heading the kitchen at Pearl & Ash (220 Bowery; 212-837-2370), the downtown dining destination known for its inventive turns on small plates and one of the most intriguing wine programs in the city, which is overseen by partner Patrick Cappiello.
Basore, formerly executive sous chef at Colicchio & Sons, took over earlier this month after the departure of Richard Kuo, who’d been at the helm since the restaurant first opened in 2013.
During a brief closure, the chef put the finishing touches on a new menu and the interior got a mini-redo. The walls of the dining room are now a refreshing shade of pale blue, and the décor was brightened with the addition of white draperies.The existing blond-wood open shelving is now nestled with fresh green mosses and flowers.
Basore offers more than a dozen savory dishes, with a seasonal focus, designed to harmonize with wine. A hungry oenophile should have no trouble finding bites to complement multiple tasting sessions, drawing from among the sprightly German rieslings, rare old French pinot noirs or burly California cabernets that comprise Pearl & Ash’s deep and eclectic wine collection, which numbers around 2,000 bottles. During a recent visit, Basore told the Voice that wine “is one of the reasons I’m excited to be here; I’m really getting into funky wines that have been oxidized, like from the Jura, and very bold, in-your-face kinds of wines.”
While sipping nicely frosty glasses of Cremant d’Alsace, we tasted a couple of excellent small plates: fried baby artichokes with lemon aioli, boquerones and mustard greens and a glistening yellowfin tuna crudo with uni, sea beans and minced scallions — both were great with the gentle bubbles and lively freshness of the wine. With the guidance of sommelier Bryn Birkhahn, we moved on to a medium-bodied red from the Loire before advancing to more substantial plates, like a tender Spanish octopus with ‘nduja and vinegared potatoes (which we think could have used an additional hit of the Calabrian sausage’s distinctive pork-funky heat).
Much of Basore’s cooking here involves unctuous applications of fat, an ingredient that’s aided and abetted by wine as satisfyingly as more fiery food is when consumed with very cold beer.
Black bread with cultured butter comes with an optional addition of paddlefish caviar ($6-$21) — it’s a new twist on Kuo’s smoked bread with chicken butter (which was one of our 100 Favorite Dishes in 2015), and crisp-fried head cheese is packed with slowly-cooked cured pork, with tangy fresh cranberries and mustard alongside.
A ricotta-rich homemade squid ink cavatelli, sauced with a velvet blanket of whipped lardo, is served topped with a runny egg yolk and accented with crunchy breadcrumbs. Another plate of jewel-colored carrots presents the root vegetable both whole-roasted, and sliced into crisp, mandoline-thin planks. They’re accented with radicchio and soft, fluted buttons of aged beef fat that melt into submissive pools soon after arriving at the table.
The aforementioned cavatelli pasta is in the last of three menu sections with more substantial offerings, which also include a six-day brisket with sunchokes, horseradish and black garlic; scallops with romanesco, capers and “burnt” butter, and wild Burgundy snails with smoked bacon and garlic confit.
Basore says that while planning the menu he “was really trying to focus on food that pairs well with wine. I listed everything from the lightest to the heaviest, so there’s a progression that starts from whites and goes to light to heavier reds.” The chef adds “it was important to have the ability to do small plates, allowing our guests to try luxury items and try new things — like the black bread with the caviar, and chicken liver with foie gras, sunnyside egg and concord grape.”