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uhockey's NYC thoughts and reviews 2/16-2/20: Del Posto, Compose, Aldea, Lincoln, EMP, Corton, Breslin, Morini, and more.

First of all - thanks to all for the recommendations, Chowhound continues to be the best resource I've yet found to optimize my experiences in the cities I visit. A second (bigger) thanks to the persons I met and dined with - truly wonderful company who I hope to see again soon.

New York remains my favorite American city and this was yet another excellent trip. I will be back again at the end of March for a conference (and ideally more dining, albeit less than this time.) Should anyone like to offer up suggestions or company for a meal, I'm always game.

2/16 - Del Posto, Billy's Bakery, Artichoke Basille's, Compose
2/17 - Clinton Street Baking Company, Aldea, Momofuku Milk Bar, Bouchon Bakery, Lincoln, Levain Bakery
2/18 - Locanda Verde, Eleven Madison Park, Corton
2/19 - DBBistro Moderne, Bouley, Danny Brown Wine Bar and Kitchen
2/20 - The Breslin, Cici Cela, Osteria Morini

As usual, text will be posted here at Chowhound and full pictures will be available in the blog. Reviews and thoughts will be slow in coming due to work, but (as always) will be as honest and insightful as possible.

http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

Bouchon Bakery
10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

Ceci-Cela
55 Spring St, New York, NY 10012

DB Bistro Moderne
55 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036

Del Posto
85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

Levain Bakery
167 W 74th St, New York, NY 10023

Artichoke
328 E 14th St, New York, NY 10003

Corton
239 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013

Aldea
31 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011

Locanda Verde
377 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013

Billy's Bakery
75 Franklin St, New York, NY 10013

Clinton Street Baking Co.
4 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002

Bouley
163 Duane St, New York, NY 10013

Momofuku Milk Bar
251 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003

The Breslin
20 W 29th St, New York, NY 10001

Osteria Morini
218 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012

Lincoln
142 W 65th St, New York, NY 10023

Compose
77 Worth St, New York, NY 10013

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  1. Del Posto

    http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/02/d...

    Like many of the “celebrity chefs” I enjoy, my fondness for Mario Batali has roots in fond memories from days past – a meal at Babbo was our first in New York during a visit in 2008 and despite the tricky reservations the table was actually obtained last minute as we drove from Ohio to New York to “get away from things” after my father’s untimely passing in 2008. Loud and boisterous Babbo was my first taste of Batali and it would quickly be followed by Otto and subsequently by other Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York outposts with each at least good and often times great. Always fun and always championing excellent service it was really no surprise to me when Del Posto, the fine dining end of the Batali empire, landed its fourth NYT star under Sifton – a star that firmly placed the restaurant on my “must visit” list for my next trip to New York, and with a $29 3-course lunch the decision was a no brainer.

    Arriving around 10:00am at LaGuardia and catching the shuttle to midtown I turned out to be approximately an hour early for my 12:30 reservation and opted to see if an early check-in would be allowed – to my surprise the restaurant was less than 1/3 full and after checking my coat and bag I was led to a lavish two top in the main dining room without delay. With a grand piano replacing the standard Batali soundtrack of Beatles, Stones, and the Who it took me mere moments to settle in and I was promptly greeted by my captain who, in conjunction with the ancillary staff, would orchestrate a flawless afternoon in terms of service – water refilled as if my an invisible hand, bread replenished without request, and all plates delivered with full description and cleared appropriately.

    With the menu explained in great detail shortly after I selected ice water over bottled I inquired as to whether additional plates could be added to the $29 prix fixe and was told “of course – a $10 per course surcharge will apply for each dish beyond the third. Having already scouted the online menu extensively ordering would commence quickly - $39 for four proper courses plus amuses, mignardises, and candies.

    Order placed it would be mere moments before the dining would begin – first a small troika of amuses bouche. Beginning with choux pastry stuffed with creamy mortadella, crispy “suppli” Roman rice balls with mozzarella and gold dust, and “stracciatella” – a roman eggdrop soup with celery salt around the rim each of the flavors was mild and distinct – a variety of textures, flavors, and ingredients opening the palate up to the possibilities ahead.

    Browsing the posh interior and noticing that most (if not all) the other patrons were suited men engaged in conversation - some with laptops or papers – there was no doubt Del Posto has become quite the spot for a power lunch. Unsuited and unaccompanied I was next brought the oft raved bread basket – piping hot and featuring an airy baguette, buttery rosemary focaccia, and a crisp rustic Italian roll. With each bread excellent on its own, the accoutrements to the bread were a whole different story – one a creamy and sweet butter and the other a dollop of lardo – whipped pork fat with hefty notes of salt, nuts, and audacious umami. As I enjoyed the basket I was brought the most recent copies of Batali’s magazine to leaf through – a nice touch.

    With the bread serving as an ample vehicle to pork-fat consumption my first course would arrive as – well, pork with fat. Titled Warm Cotechino with Umbrain Lentil Vinagrette & Dried Fruit Mostarda the dish itself was center-pieced by a thick pork sausage atop a bed of beautifully cooked lentils with hints of vinegar and mustard seed. Generous in portion and topped with candied cherry and apricot compote the flavor balance was excellent, though the texture of the sausage was a tad grainy for my palate.

    My second course of the meal would arrive approximately 10 minutes and a piece of focaccia after the Cotechino – unfortunately it would be a major disappointment. Titled Gnocchi con Pomodoro the dish featured small potato dumplings that were decent in texture, but poorly drained and somewhat watery. Topping the pasta with chunky tomato sauce lacking both salinity and seasoning – as gnocchi is my favorite pasta this dish was a major let down in taste, texture, and even visual appeal – as a matter of fact it was bad enough that I sent half of the small portion back to the kitchen untouched.

    Sipping my water and browsing the magazine while I waited for something that would hopefully cleanse my mind and palate of the pasta it would be a delay of nearly 20 minutes before the next course would arrive, but unlike the gnocchi it was worth the wait. Modest in portion but ample in flavor, Seared Duck Breast with Apician Spices, Savor alla Francescana & Lovage was the dish of the meal with the duck breast tender and the skin crisp. Alongside the breast, a dollop of thigh confit at one side and a quenelle of dried apricot and pumpkin with pumpkin seeds at the other – one sweet and one savory – and at the base of the dish a celery root puree that added an earthy base to the rich duck jus added tableside.

    With mains finished and coffee ordered – a rather acidic blend from Lavazza served in a French Press and refilled for free – my dessert would be the Chocolate Ricotta Tortino with Toasted Sicilian Pistachios & Extra Virgin Olive Oil Gelato. Heavy in dark chocolate notes and nicely balanced by the savory ricotta the dish was essentially a designer Italian Ho-Ho. Not overly sweet and paired with Batali’s now-famous Olive Oil Gelato there was certainly nothing light about this dish and the glassy palate feel of the olive oil would have almost been “too much” were it not for the crunchy pistachios and cookie crumbles.

    Working on my second round of coffee and finishing up the last pages of the magazine my final tastes of Del Posto would arrive in the form of a cheese grater full of petit fours – bombolini with vanilla and orange zest crema, chocoloate covered lollipops filled with olive oil gelato, crunchy candied grapefruit, apple raisin polenta tort, and a cocoa dusted Amedei chocolate truffle – each well crafted and tasty, particularly the bombolini and tort.

    Settling the bill and collecting my bag I thanked my servers and made my way to the streets for an afternoon of wandering the Tribeca gallery scene – always one of my favorite activities in New York. Thinking back on the experience and the price I must admit I understand the appeal of Del Posto as a business lunch – for fine dining the place is a deal and the setting is lovely. With that noted, compared to other equally priced lunches in the city (both Italian and otherwise) Del Posto’s food just did not “wow” in the way I had expected – everything was simply too safe, too quiet, too un-Italian, and decidedly too un-Batali…like an “experience” more than a restaurant, an experience created to earn Sifton or Michelin’s stars…which it has.

    -----
    Del Posto
    85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

    1. Billy's Bakery on 9th Ave, Artichoke Basille's on 14th St.

      http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/02/b...

      Lunch wasn’t that big and dinner was not set to begin until 7:30pm - in a day that began with a 7 mile run at 4:30am before hopping a plane to New York at 8:00 there was clearly room for a mid-day snack or two. With art browsing the order of the day and four hours and myriad galleries now separating me from lunch my first ancillary stop would be Billy’s Bakery – a spot I’d omitted on my previous visits but re-targeted for this trip based largely on their business model and reviews from a pair of trusted palates.

      To be fair, Billy’s had me at hello – with slogans including “We use only the freshest, highest-quality ingredients in our baked goods, including real butter, whole eggs, and fresh fruit and nuts. We don’t use preservatives in any of our products” and “Classic old fashioned American baked goods made from scratch and served in a warm, friendly atmosphere” it seemed the original shop on 9th was a can’t miss for one of my New York traditions – the cupcake.

      Entering the small shop I was first taken at the small size and expected smells of cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, and butter – my guess as to what heaven smells like. With no less than 6 folks mixing, rolling, stirring, and chatting I stood and browsed for a bit before a well tattooed and pierced young lady approached with a mumbled “what can I get you.” While I’m not so sure she was warm or friendly, she was capable of extracting two cupcakes from the case, bagging them, and collecting my $7 before returning to her work in back.

      Taking to the street and heading east my first taste of Billy’s would be my standard – the red velvet. Soft and moist without suffering from super-sizing I will note that the three bites were all quite tasty as the smooth cocoa tones of the cake balanced with the creamy and mildly citrus tinged cream cheese frosting. Neither gritty nor overly sweet this to me represented an ideal “classic” red velvet and while not as good as Two Little Red Hens or Bouchon’s classic takes it was quite good.

      The second selection would prove to be the better of the two – in this case one of the better cupcakes I’ve ever had. Simply titled “carrot cake” this cupcake was similar in size to the Red Velvet but literally weighed twice as much – to say it was loaded with carrots would be an understatement. Heterogeneous in texture with notes of cinnamon, coconut, pineapple, and pecan blending with the grated carrots the body of the cake proved an ample match to the same cream cheese frosting that topped the Red Velvet.

      Continuing my eastward path the next stop on the culinary map was Artichoke Basille's, a choice that some said was not worth the hassle and others hailed as one of the best slice’s in New York. Regardless of the reviews I fully admit to having been quite neglectful of the New York Pizza scene on past visits and lacking dining partners to experience places only offering a full pie (Keste, Motorino, Co, and all those in Brooklyn) it seemed like a excellent choice for me – especially considering its location in the East Village where people watching, music browsing, and kitschy shopping abound.

      Arriving at the small shop started by two brothers in 2008 I must admit I was surprised – the place looks like it could have been there for 50 years. With a short line of 5 ahead of me I made my way into the shop only to realize that all things being equal, 5 was probably the maximum capacity for the waiting area. With a small menu posted on the wall and three pizzas behind the glass case I stood and watched the process for a bit before the young man behind the counter yelled (over Nine Inch Nails “Ringfinger”) “what can I get ya.” One slice of the Artichoke and Spinach – “right on, man” – I felt like a regular.

      With the last of the Artichoke and Crab slices having been ordered up by the pair in front of me it would be a mere 5 minutes and $4 while listening to Trent Reznor before my slice would arrive – blistering hot and still bubbling – on a pair of paper plates. Grabbing a napkin and making my way outside the line was now 9 long and I sat down on the curb next to a pair of college kids eating their slices. Assuming the slice now safe enough to eat I took a bite and what greeted my taste buds can only be described as a “wow” moment. Creamy and garlic laden yet ripe with the lovely flavor of artichoke and earthy spinach the top layers gave way to a crust undoubtedly imbued with cornmeal (and perhaps an unknown addictive substance) that was crunchy yet supple with an excellent crumb. While certainly not a “traditional” slice by any stretch, I instantly understood the rumors of hour plus lines at midnight – I’d stand in line for this pizza just like I did for Great Lake – purportedly the “best pizza in America.”

      -----
      Billy's Bakery
      184 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011

      Artichoke
      328 E 14th St, New York, NY 10003

      30 Replies
      1. re: uhockey

        As usual, great reviews, uhockey! Look forward to reading the rest. I didn't realize that you were able to try so many different restaurants during your visit.

        1. re: ellenost

          After 3-meals a day for 9 days between Vegas and LA at Christmas and far less activity (driving everywhere as opposed to walking,) this trip was a breeze. :-) The 9:15 out of 10:00 hours spent in a restaurant on Friday was the sort of stuff legends are made of......like the time we went for a full dessert tasting at TRU after the grand tasting at Charlie Trotter's.

          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

        2. re: uhockey

          Looking forward to reading more. I'm glad you liked Artichoke—I personally love it, but I know that not everyone feels that way.

          1. re: loratliff

            I have mixed feelings on Artichoke - I like it, usually, but I find it a little inconsistent. Especially re: salt levels, and I'm someone who's pretty fond of salt.

            Looking forward to the rest of the reviews! Man, 2/17 looks like it was a ridiculously packed day. Did you actually have time to do anything BUT eat?

            1. re: sgordon

              2/17 also entailed an Interpol concert at Radio City Music Hall, Shopping at Bloomingdales, and wandering Central Park.

              2/18 was about 11 hours of restaurant time. That day - yeah, just great company and great food.

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

          2. re: uhockey

            uhockey I love your reviews, thank you! FYI I do think one person could take down an entire Keste pie, especially if you order one on the lighter side. I'm no expert but I think the Margherita is Neapolitan pizza perfection.

            1. re: sheio

              uh, you're not supposed to? Ms. Coasts and I always order two pies. we share, but usually finish both.

              1. re: coasts

                Same. It's one pie per person for my family, and we always consume everything.

                1. re: Nancy S.

                  The fact is (as people may have guessed) I don't want a bit homogenous pie - my ideal would be 8 slices form 8 different spots - like a tasting menu of Pizza. :-) Once I have a date in mind I'll ask the mods to pin a topic on the board for a group to get together - if Brooklyn I think we'd need a car (most interested in Lucali and DiFara) whereas in Manhattan it would be Keste, Co, Motorino, and Donatella that most intrigued me.

                  Thus far a number of people have suggested interest but none have contacted me. The thought for the time being would be March 27th or 29th.
                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                  1. re: uhockey

                    March 29th is a Tuesday. Both Lucali and DiFara are closed on Tuesdays. I'd suggest Bklyn for Sunday March 27th. I may be available and I have a car. And I'm familiar with Bklyn, having spent most of my 58 years here. E-mail me (my address is listed on my CH page)... I cant access your blog from work -- firewalled.

                    1. re: Steve R

                      Steve R,

                      uhockey and I are planning this together. Contact me via my blog email.

                      http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

            2. re: uhockey

              Always love your reviews, uhockey.

              I had lunch at Del Posto on MLK Day and enjoyed many of the same dishes that you did (cotechino, duck, tortino with OO gelato). Sorry to hear that the gnocchi were disappointing. But I'm surprised that overall you didn't seem that happy with your meal, since that was the only dish you didn't like. I'm definitely no Batali groupie by any stretch, but I'm not sure I know what you mean by "un-Italian." can you elaborate?

              As for Artichoke, you have to go back and try the square slice. I'd be happy to join you there or any of the other pizza joints on a future trip. IIRC, you've been to DiFara's, right? If not, that has to be at the top of your pizza pilgrimage list, even though it's a haul from Manhattan.

              -----
              Del Posto
              85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

              1. re: ml77

                I guess everything just felt too restrained and "fancy" compared to what I like about Italian - the BOLD flavors, personalities, and sounds that infest a place like Scarpetta, Babbo, Locanda Verde, etc. Even Lincoln - things were just more energetic and lively - the flavors and the room.

                I've not been to DiFara - I really want to do a Brooklyn trip for DiFara, the original Motorino, Grimaldi, and maybe L&B at some point. You can contact me through the blog - was considering a Pizza crawl - could be fun with a larger group. :-)

                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                -----
                Babbo
                110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

                Scarpetta
                355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

                Locanda Verde
                377 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013

                Motorino
                349 E 12th St, New York, NY 10003

                Grimaldi's
                47 W 20th St, New York, NY 10010

                1. re: uhockey

                  Skip Grimaldi's, maybe add on Patsy's East Harlem, Keste, Joe's, Franny's... so other many good choices!

                  -----
                  Grimaldi's
                  47 W 20th St, New York, NY 10010

                    1. re: kathryn

                      The issue at hand would be logistics - Ii only mention Grimaldi because it is in Brooklyn.

                      If the meetup were to occur in Manhattan I'd target Keste, Co, Motorino, Donatella, and perhaps Lombardi's (yes, I know its a tourist trap, but I kinda feel like its one of those places I should at least experience.)

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                      -----
                      Motorino
                      349 E 12th St, New York, NY 10003

                      Grimaldi's
                      47 W 20th St, New York, NY 10010

                      Donatella
                      184 8th Ave, New York, NY 10011

                      1. re: uhockey

                        I fear you'll be disappointed by Lombardi's -- maybe it once was good . . .

                        1. re: uhockey

                          I know it's a hike, but I can't imagine a NYC pizza crawl w/o Di Fara's. Grimaldi's gets a bad rap but I think the only problem with it is the long line. It's just not worth the wait. I've never done it, but I understand you can order ahead and just show up to pick up your pie and then take it to the park to enjoy.

                          Lomardi's is hype. It's not the original pizzeria in NYC, and it's not the original Lombardi's location.

                          -----
                          Grimaldi's
                          47 W 20th St, New York, NY 10010

                          1. re: uhockey

                            I realize it's so new you may not have heard much about it, but I would highly recommend Rubirosa. At lunch you can order by the slice, otherwise it's a choice of a small or large pie. Excellent thin crust pizza.

                            -----
                            Rubirosa
                            235 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012

                            1. re: uhockey

                              Bravo as always uhockey! I am a loyal follower of your reviews and your blog and respect your opinions and common passion for food very much.

                              I agree with you whole heartedly regarding Del Posto. For some reason, Batali and Bastianich missed the boat with this one. Everything that Babbo is, Del Posto is not. Is the food good? Yes. Do the portion sizes and price justify it? NO. But I do think it is one of those places to at least experience once. However, with so many great restaurants in the city it wouldn't be a place I'd run back to for a repeat visit (which I have not since my lone dining experience there back in 2008).

                              The other Italian places you mentioned were far better in my opinion and would definitely warrant repeat visits-- Babbo ( of course), Scarpetta. Having tried LV for dinner yet but brunch was terrific and I would expect dinner to be the same. Other places like Maialino, Convivio (rest in peace), Marea, Alto (rest in peace), Il Mulino (dare I say) which may not provide the "over the top song and dance" experience of DP have soul and incredible food. But then again who needs that. This is a restaurant not a Broadway show. That is the thing for me-- DP lacks soul. And being 100 perecnt Italian that is one thing that CANNOT be. There is no such thing as souless (probably not a word lol) when speaking of Italian food or the whole entire Italian culture.

                              As for pizza I think you would really love Di Fara's. It is without a doubt the best pizza I have ever eaten. Yes, going there comes with the price of standing in line for hours-- yes that is plural, but it is worth the wait in my opinion ( and I hate waiting!). Funny thing is, I too am on a mission to try some of the better known pizzerias in NYC since pizza is one area I haven't really explored like some others. As for Lombardi's, I went last year and unlike some of the others on this board, I think is is a very good pie and I sampled many different types.

                              Looking forward to more reviews and maybe even the possibility of dining with you in the future.

                              -----
                              Babbo
                              110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

                              Del Posto
                              85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

                              Il Mulino
                              86 W 3rd St, New York, NY 10012

                              Scarpetta
                              355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

                              Maialino
                              2 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10010

                              1. re: steakrules85

                                Thanks for the compliments - I know you'd talked with RGR about meeting up with us for a meal, so if so that'd be great. I'll also note there is a Brooklyn Pizza Crawl in the works for 3/27 - if you're interested in details just message me and I can get you in contact with the point person.

                                I have to say, Il Mulino was actually a really good experience - the food, the service, the song and dance. I know I need to get back to Maialino at some point for the pastas, but my breakfast was largely underwhelming (and overpriced.) Next trip will see Ai Fiori and possibly Manzo - the NYC Italian Scene is amongst my favorites.

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                1. re: steakrules85

                                  steak,

                                  Just to let you know that it is possible to go to Di Fara and not wait hours. When Mr. R. and I made the pilgrimage, we went middle of the week around 1:30 p.m. We easily got a table though it did take a while to get our pie because Dom is not exactly a fast worker. Business was steady with lots of folks coming in for slices. But the entire time we were there, there was never a line.

                                  Mr. R. and I really should go to Il Mulino sometime. In its old school way, I'm guessing it might be the equivalent of La Grenouille. And as you know, we older folks love old school.

                                  Btw, "soulless" (but note the double l) is definitely a word. :)

                                  http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                        2. re: uhockey

                          Looking forward to hearing about the rest of the trip. Still amazed by how many places you squeezed into such a short period of time.

                          However, for me the standout at Billy's is anything banana (banana cream pie, banana cupcake) and the square slice at Artichoke is far superior to everything else there. It's unclear whether you'd appreciate their square slice more before or after a trip to Di Fara, because of how close it gets.

                          I've not been to any of the neopolitan pizza joints since UPN left, so I'd probably be up for a pizza crawl.

                          1. re: fooder

                            Lets just say NYC is worth splurging for - especially when you're from the middle of Ohio.

                            The pizza jaunt could be a really good time and more people would make for more different pies to taste, whether it be a Brooklyn crawl or some of the neopolitan spots in Manhattan - I invite anyone interested to get ahold of me via blog. Certainly not to take traffic away from CH, but largely just to make e-mail contact - obviously any/all visits would be reported at length here anyhow.

                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                            1. re: uhockey

                              I'd be down for some pizza crawls...when's your next trip to nyc?

                              1. re: wreckers00

                                I don't want to distract this thread too much - makes the information on restaurants hard to cull through. March 27-31 with most of the day filled by conference, but nights open 27-30. Contact via blog, please.

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                1. re: uhockey

                                  I tried to contact you through your blog but could not connect. is your email the same as your aim? (but obviously @aol.com) I am interested in this pizza outing.

                                  1. re: mccaugheyd

                                    Send me an e-mail at the address on my page on CH and I'll fill you in on the details.

                          2. re: uhockey

                            @ Artichoke,
                            Try the square slice next time! That's my favorite.

                            I also love your reviews - please keep them coming!

                            1. re: uwsister

                              They had no square slices when I went, I don't think.

                              And unless I live in a city (distinct possibility for NYC come 2012) I rarely re-visit places - there is simply too much new to discover.

                              Thank you for the compliment - reviews will be slow, but I'll get 'em all done eventually.

                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                          3. I too love reading your reviews. I'm thrilled that you have started and eagerly await more. I'm especially impressed with your ability to consume and enjoy -- I run 5 miles and bike 25 miles daily, and still can only manage one important meal a day (with a really light breakfast and an even lighter lunch, and no snacks in between)!

                            1. Compose

                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/02/c...

                              Substantial hype is both a gift and a curse – on one hand the exclusivity of ten diners five days a week plus a chef coming off his stage at the best restaurant in the world is sure to fill seats and create buzz – on the other, when one is lucky enough to land one of the “exactly one month in advance” seats from Opentable, the expectations are high – perhaps unreasonably so for a restaurant that is so new and a chef that is so young. Often times I have no trouble resisting hype – especially when it surrounds new restaurants that no trusted palates have experienced…other times I am game, usually with mixed results. On my recent trip to New York City I took the bait hook, line, and sinker – one seat at the Compose bar at 7:00pm on the night of my arrival.

                              Making my way south into the lower parts of Tribeca I must admit that had I not known what I was looking for I’d have never had a clue there was a restaurant at 77 Worth Street – to the naked eye the building is a veterinarian office and pet wellness center. Walking right past but noting the bar through the window I turned around and made my way through the door where I was greeted first by the door man and second by the host – a young fellow who noted my reservation and the fact that I was from Ohio, ironically just like the door man and one of the servers. The first to arrive, approximately 10 minutes early, my bag and coat were checked and I was led to a seat at the bar – one of the 5-6 (out of 10) seats with no view what-so-ever of the kitchen. Uncertain as to why one would have a “chef’s counter” with no vision of the kitchen I inquired about the other seats but was told the seating was already arranged due to the other parties (and the fact that my original co-diner had opted out last minute.) Figuring this was fair I settled in and waited while listening to the sounds of the kitchen and non-descript music playing overhead.

                              Glossy and sleek, ordained with specially cut ice and a plethora of fruits and spirits the bar was quite the site to behold while the padded barstools with excellent lumbar support were a vast improvement to those at Ko. Seated with napkin unfolded and house filtered water poured the next person to greet me would be the bartender – a man I would see a whole lot more than any of than the chefs throughout the course of the evening and although charming, rather pushy in suggesting beverages. A light weight when it comes to alcohol I made it evident from the start that I wasn’t particularly interested in cocktails or wine pairings, but on his third “are you sure – tell me what you like,” prompting I conceded to “something with rum and fruit” and received an intricate cocktail of fresh squeezed lime and pineapple juice, Amadeus almond liquor, Smith and Cross aged Jamaican Rum, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and green chartreuse over crushed ice. Taking nearly 7 minutes to craft I will admit that given the quality and flavor this was one of the better cocktails I’ve ever had and at $15 it was actually a relative bargain considering it’s alcohol content – easily 2-3oz that would leave me a bit warm and loose throughout the meal.

                              As 7:05 approached the second pair of diners would arrive and the non-tasting seats would fill quickly to capacity – by 7:20 all but two of the tasting menu diners would arrive with the last folks arriving around 7:40, approximately 10 minutes after the amuses had commenced. With general manager Eamon Rockey greeting myself and each subsequent diner starting around 7:15 chef Curtin would approach each of us individually at 7:30 to welcome us and make absolutely certain that all dietary restrictions were accounted for (I heard at least 3 shell fish allergies, 2 religious pork intolerances, one tree nut allergy, and one alcohol intolerance at least.

                              )

                              At 7:31 the first of four amuses would arrive – the dish that, at least from early reviews, seems to be a constant signature - Duck Fat Popcorn with sea salt. Clearly taking advantage of the high temperatures allotted by animal fat as opposed to butter the popcorn was intensely crunchy without being burned and the mildly gamey flavor was lightly accented with a dusting of salt – a pleasant opening taste, but certainly nothing worthy of signature status.

                              The second course to hit the table was certainly more interesting than the first – both in construction and texture. Described as Kir Royale Gelee the dish was detailed as being creme de cassis and Champagne based and utilizing a special extraction and carbonation container to “over carbonate” the cube. A single bite the gelee absolutely erupted on the tongue – like an entire glass of champagne bubbles in a single bite – spicy, fruity, intense, and fun.

                              At this point I feel it pertinent to note by the time the second amuse arrived it was already 8:00pm and the subsequent courses would arrive at intervals ranging from two minutes to twenty. In addition to these timing issues, as the restaurant filled and the bartenders shook drink after drink the noise level became both loud and jarring – not Ko loud, but certainly more intermittent. While water remained full throughout the evening, the chefs bringing plates from the kitchen also seemed to serve at random and no one was ever really sure who presented the dish which led to me thrice receiving a description of the dish from three different people and multiple times from both Chef Curtin and at least one other chef (with the descriptions often somewhat different, as well.) I find this relevant to mention here as the third amuse would be the Ocean Sphere dish – a dish presented by a sous-chef and subsequently described by the bartender and then Chef Curtin. Featuring what my palate and ears have surmised to be a spherification of oyster emulsion, Langoustine cream, pickled shallot, and grated seaweed we were instructed to slurp the dish like an oyster and the resultant taste was brine balanced with mild sweetness – decent, but largely using “mg” technique for the sake of using the technique rather than elevating the cuisine.

                              The final amuse of the evening was the World’s Smallest Baked Potato with Osetra Caviar, Green Onion, and Crème Fraiche – a perfect little spud, soft and supple, with lovely accoutrements – there was no way this dish could fail.

                              Starting the proper tasting, course one of our ten courses would arrive around 8:20pm in the form of Baby Red Beet with Raw beet vinaigrette, Jerusalem Artichoke, Charred Vidalia Onion, Pomegranate Sauce, and Sorrel. Presented rather simply on a curved plate, this dish seemed rather simple until fork and knife met vegetable – at this point the beet literally began to ooze – a process that would not stop for the duration of the course. Apparently sous-vided and then dehydrated/rehydrated the beet was imbued with a hearty yet sweet essence that mingled nicely with the small slices of artichoke and the accompanying sauces were sweet, savory, and smoky – each providing a different experience. A very well composed dish and amongst my top three for the night.

                              Course two would feature Crudo of Fluke with Basil, Anise, Hyssop, Puffed Wild Rice, Mint, and Smoked Grape. Nicely prepared and exquisitely textured, the Crudo matched with puffed rice was undoubtedly the highlight of this dish while the smoked grape was an interesting touch – it tasted nothing like a grape, yet at the same time its mouth texture was every bit what one would expect. With the base strong, this dish was unfortunately unnecessarily complicated and I felt the Mint, Anise, and Hyssop largely detracted from the overall experience – while that may personally be my aversion to mint with meat, I overheard my neighbors note similar; “fluke is too mild for all this mint.”

                              The third dish would prove to be the worst of the evening – not because it didn’t taste good, but because the texture and temperature execution failed. Titled Butternut Squash Soup with Maple-Sherry Vinaigrette, Cold Chestnut Foam this dish seemed to want to be Achatz’s Hot Potato/Cold Potato dish, but unfortunately became “luke warm sweetened squash puree” by the time it arrived – again, style over substance because it was actually really tasty and could have been excellent if served at proper soup temperature like the version I’d experience at Bouley three days later.

                              Dish four would be my second favorite of the night and in terms of uniqueness it was perhaps the best. Described as Sous-Vide diver scallop with baby fennel puree, butternut squash confited in bacon, and dill the brilliance of this dish was the execution of the scallops – four melt-in-the-mouth morsels that tasted part scallop and part salt-water taffy – like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. Pairing this flavor with savory fennel plus gnocchi-textured cuts of squash that tasted only mildly of salty pork, the dish was almost upscale surf and turf without a single bite of land animal on the plate.

                              Dish five was taken from the noma text book and although good was much more style than substance. With a large rock claimed to be 450 degrees emerging from the kitchen first we were instructed not to touch. Moments later a large shrimp was added to the stone and allowed to cook before us. With Chef Curtin next emerging from the kitchen the shrimp was flipped over using a fondue fork and a squirt of smoked paprika and herbs were added with instructions to eat whenever we were ready. Taken whole the shrimp was clean, sweet, and nicely prepared while the paprika lent a bit of bite and smoke – but theatrics aside this was a seared shrimp, no more and no less.

                              Course six was another excellent flavor, but certainly nothing overly novel. Titled Butter Poached Maine Lobster with Lemon Cream, Cocoa Butter, American Caviar, Nasturtium Leaves, and Chervil everything about this dish felt like something from The French Laundry cookbook – never a bad thing. With a buttery and sweet mitt anchoring the dish, I must admit I really enjoyed the pairing of lemon with cocoa butter while the caviar added the slightest bit of brine. The Chervil and Nasturtium were largely overwhelmed by the other components, but their visual appeal was pleasant.

                              After course six the table bread would arrive – a single option, and one serving per guest. Titled Potato Chip Bread with Crème Fraiche butter all I can say is that if Compose is going to make bread and butter like this they should probably consider offering it throughout the meal – perhaps as bread pairings or simply as a bread basket. Likely made of 1/2 flour and 1/2 crushed potato chips the bread was crunchy on the exterior and soft within – intensely salty and with a great texture. Paired with curds of slightly sour butter this was a clever take on “chips and dip” that I really liked. All things being equal, perhaps it is good that they don’t offer a basket or refills as I’d have certainly overindulged.

                              Course seven would be my favorite of the night largely due to personal bias towards egg dishes, but also because it was a situation where every component added to the overall. Titled Poached Egg with roast cauliflower puree, poached oyster mushrooms, Cocoa Nibs, and Artichoke chips the bland white and tan presentation gave way to a texture and flavor experience that was anything but. Nicely poached and creamy the egg itself was excellent, but when paired with the understated cauliflower, fibrous mushrooms, and crisp artichokes the dish tasted the very essence of fresh, natural, and earthy. With the nibs adding a floral top note that lingered on the palate this was one of my five favorite bites of the trip and evidence of Curtin’s skilled hand when he doesn’t try to be overly complex.

                              Plate eight was the final savory of the evening – but unfortunately it simply didn’t click. Presented as Pork Belly with Charred Red Cabbage, Mint Puree, and Charred Pine nut the dish featured two main components, one a flavorful and fatty slice of pork belly and the other a sort of fibrous disk made of reduced red cabbage and what I believe was pine. Topped with crunchy pine nuts and served with a minty sauce I simply feel that this was a course where either the pine in the cabbage or the mint on the plate needed to be scaled back significantly because overall I felt like I was eating tasty swine in a bathroom – needless to say a substantial part of this dish went back to kitchen, and that part was not the pork belly.

                              Much needed the next dish would be a palate cleanser – a taste so good it would be the best of the desserts. Described as Sake sorbet with carrot ginger froth, yuzu pudding, micro basil, basil oil, micro shiso, and finger lime this decidedly Eastern influenced dish was actually quite delightful with the sorbet serving as a punchy backdrop but allowing each of the other components to shine forth. While the couple next to me opted to mix everything up and seemed to enjoy the dish as well, I personally opted to attack it piece by piece and was rewarded with different flavors in each bite – the best being when a slice of finger lime, yuzu pudding, and ginger all landed on the palate at once.

                              Course nine would present the first proper dessert and as cool as it looked, the flavors were just as strange as you would expect from the title - Apple and Pine with Wood, Hay, and Juniper. Having already tasted more than enough pine and mint for the evening, this dish again was a situation where one less ingredient could have proved to be much more in execution. With a tasty poached apple with ample notes of wood and smoke as the base the crunchy pile atop was a sort of hay and juniper flavored “crisp” that was surprisingly tasty and provided a great textural contrast. Beneath the apple, however, was pine – and a lot of it. Another interesting concept marred by one overpowering flavor, but a more restrained hand could have made this a truly unique and delicious experience.

                              The final dessert of the evening was substantially better than the first, but should have come with more instruction. Titled Oatmeal and Citrus with Blood Orange, Oats, Buckwheat, and Brown Butter the flavors here were excellent and the myriad textures, temperatures, and surprises were nicely designed. Sitting to the right of the plate, however, was a spherification of brown butter that I did not notice until the very end when I popped it into my mouth and received quite the unexpected jolt – I rather imagine it would have been better paired with the divine oatmeal cake and blood orange meringue.

                              As the clock neared 11:30 Chef Curtin approached with the final bite of the evening - Iced Honey Lavender Crème Brulee. A small ball of crunchy sugar on the outside and the essence of Lavender Honey (rather than soapy lavender or overly sweet honey) within this was excellent. Bidding us farewell and appearing as humble as he’d been throughout the meal he then stopped by to each guest and asked them what they liked and what didn’t work – a nice touch to be sure. With only one small cash register working it would be nearly 20 minutes before the bill was settled while many of the guests hung around for more cocktails. As a final gift before leaving we were each presented a copy of the menu in a wax sealed envelope – a classy touch as Eamon bid each guest a good night.

                              When it was all said and done I spent nearly 5 hours and 17 tastes with Chef Curtin and team on that Wednesday evening and at a cost of $120 plus $15 for the cocktail I think Compose represents a relative bargain in the world of New York fine dining. While the menu lacked some designer ingredients such as truffles and (to my dismay) foie gras, the ingredients utilized were clearly top notch and Chef Curtin is clearly adept in the kitchen. While I’m still somewhat uncertain as to why one would choose to put a “chef’s counter” restaurant in a space where more than half the diners cannot see the kitchen, I do realize they are doing the best they can with the space available and I respect that. All in all at such a young age (both the chef, the GM, and the restaurant itself) I feel Compose has great potential to live up to the substantial hype, but I think part of that development will be simplifying things a bit – less complexity, a better flow from the kitchen to the table, and perhaps removing some of the ancillary seats to cut down on the noise – and less pine, too.

                              -----
                              Compose
                              77 Worth St, New York, NY 10013

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: uhockey

                                Hmm...seems like your experience was slightly better than Cheshes, however, its interesting to note similar issues. I love the concept and relish another "intimate" fine dining experience but have my reservations towards restaurants that use technique for technique's sake. Hopefully the restaurant finds its legs and the issues you observed will be quickly resolved...I have a reservation in a few weeks.

                                http://newyork.timeout.com/restaurant...

                                1. re: uhockey

                                  Excellent report. Seems to me that Chef Curtin should return to noma, to supplement his prior week-long stage, and remain for an extended stay so that he can learn how to use certain ingredients (e.g. pine) with nuance and subtlety. As an aside, at A.O.C. in Copenhagen, one of the courses on the 10-course menu is the bread -- there, a spectacular fried piece of brioche served with fresh Danish butter. It was amazing (and I'm not always a fan of fried foods), and probably the best bread experience I had in Copenhagen.

                                  1. re: Nancy S.

                                    Wow, that's quite a review, enjoying your reports and am impressed you can eat a 10 course meal the same evening as lunch at Del Posto (and after the cupcake and a slice). I was done for the day with eating after my lunch there... :)

                                    -----
                                    Del Posto
                                    85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

                                    1. re: owlwoman

                                      .....that was nothing compared to LV/EMP/Corton day. :-)

                                      All in all I'm certainly not dissing Compose - they just have some work to do - the place could turn out to be great with some tweaks.

                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                  2. re: uhockey

                                    Thanks for the review, uhockey. I swear they must have read it; maybe even studied it, in fact. I was just there on Tuesday night and while my meal was similar, they changed a few things.

                                    A minor difference was the order of the amuse courses. For whatever reason the potato and the ocean sphere came out in reverse order for us. And I'll have to disagree with you on one point: I really enjoyed the oyster sphere. All of the amuses were fun in their own way (fancy popcorn! fizzy jello! wee potato! oyster bubble!). If not in the amuse course, where else should something like this be? MG for its own sake--maybe. But appropriately placed in the amuse courses.

                                    The fluke crudo had no mint or anise, that I could detect. The presence of anything herbaceous was subtle or non-existent.

                                    The soup was, in fact, hot and cold at the same time. Maybe they missed on that execution the night you were there.

                                    The "shrimp on rock" course was gone. instead they added an additional meat course after the pork.

                                    The pork course had no pine component that I could detect. And it wasn't pork belly. It was a really nice piece of shoulder that was (in my mind) alarmingly rare, for pork. But since it had been sliced open in the kitchen my assumption is that it was intentional and I decided to go with their intent. It was delicious. Tender like tenderloin but more flavorful.

                                    The last meat course was I think a sous vide venison loin which I think had then been deep fried to put a crust on it, and it was served with (something, something) and smoked hay oil. It was an interesting effect, but it seemed to me that the venison was "over crusted" in the fryer.

                                    Oh, and your comment about "one less ingredient." The first dessert course was "Apple, Pine, Wood, Hay." No juniper. Personally I enjoyed it, because I don't think I was bludgeoned with pine as you did.

                                    The pacing was much better than you describe as well. The first amuse was in front of us by about 7:10, and all of them had been served and eaten by 8. Service was timed well... there was no significant lag between courses, but it never felt hurried.

                                    I don't tend to notice noise levels unless they prevent me from conversing. I guess to a certain extent I personally like it a little noisy... it gives me a sense of privacy (if that makes sense).

                                    There is only one quibble I have with the service... and it's only a quibble. It felt at time that the bartender was spending so much time "hand crafting" drinks that he fell behind a bit on others' orders. So the wine pairings weren't perfectly in sync. But it wasn't off by much, so it wasn't like there was a 10 minute lag between food and wine, or anything that extreme.

                                    All in all it seems like, on top of everything else, they're learning from their critics and definitely addressing those things that are either unsuccessful or not well executed. I think this place will be around for a while.

                                    1. re: egit

                                      If they did read my thoughts then I'm glad to have contributed to your evening - as I noted in my review, restaurants clearly grow with time and the kid is talented - its not the sort of place I'd never go back to, especially as the price is a relative deal, I just wouldn't RUSH back.

                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                  3. Clinton Street Baking Co. and Bouchon Bakery.

                                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/02/c...

                                    Thursday morning started early with me in the LES and a need to be in midtown by 9:30am. Having twice attempted to go to Clinton Street Baking Company on previous visits to New York only to be thwarted by waits greater than one hour for a single person this time I made no mistakes – I arrived at 7:45 and was there when Neil Kleinberg arrived – and when a young man delivering fresh fruits and vegetables arrived on bike. By 8:00am when the doors opened there were nine people behind me in line and by the time I was leaving at 8:45 there was a 20-30 minute wait for a table – sure it was National Pancake Month and Clinton Street reportedly makes the best in the city, but it was also a Thursday morning.

                                    Seated promptly at a small two-top along the wall I was handed a menu and told they had four styles of pancake on the menu that day – the famous blueberry version, a chocolate chunk, a banana walnut version, and Almond Frangipane with Fresh Raspberries, Toasted Almonds, Raspberry Sauce, and Almond syrup. Ordering a coffee that would remain topped off by my server, Shelby, and her team I additionally ordered up a muffin while my pancakes were made to order.

                                    Sitting back and listening to the whimsical 80’s soundtrack overhead and the unintentionally overhearing the previous night’s escapades from my hipster neighbors it would only be moments before the Banana Chocolate Chunk Muffin would arrive along with the mildly acidic and not particularly impressive coffee. Streusel topped and buttery, the muffin itself was still warm from the oven and as such rather messy given the substantial load of dark chocolate within. Served with fresh raspberry jam and butter the muffin was a fork and knife affair and quite excellent – as a matter of fact, all the baked goods at Clinton Street Bakery looked excellent.

                                    With seemingly every table around me opting for either pancakes or the buttermilk biscuit sandwich (and a particularly hung over fellow to my right getting a maple butter pecan ice shake and burger for breakfast) mine would be the first to arrive and I have to admit I instantly understood the hype. Light and fluffy, stacked three high, and absolutely loaded with raspberries and toasted almonds plus a sidecar of buttery almond syrup these pancakes are the prototype for what a buttermilk pancake should look like and feel like in the mouth. Rather understated despite the bold ingredients each flavor complimented the other nicely and despite the large portion size everything was quite light – very much unlike other pancakes which can sit in the belly like a lead weight. At $15 the price is a tad higher than one would expect, but the ingredients are clearly top notch and while not the best pancakes I’ve ever had, they are certainly the best I’ve had in New York.

                                    While there was a line forming outside, I was told to take my time with the check and even received a last refill of my coffee at that time – asking for the coffee to go (no sense in letting it go to waste) I was given a paper cup and upon settling the modest tab and making my way to the streets I had plenty of time to walk uptown and arrive at my destination almost 5 minutes early. Having tried to visit in the past I can say now that had I waited more than an hour I’d probably not have been as enthused about my visit to Clinton Street Baking Company, but if you are motivated enough to beat the crowd then Clinton Street is definitely worth the visit – though in retrospect I wish I’d have gotten a shake instead of the coffee.

                                    With my daily obligations filled by 11:00 and no lunch reservations until 12:30 the next stop on my culinary tour would be a personal favorite that always finds its way onto my New York (or Vegas, or Yountville, or now Los Angeles) agenda – Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. Fully admitting to be a fan of Chef Keller and equally so of his ever changing rotation of baked goods I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at Time Warner Center to find not only some new options, but also myriad large metal works celebrating my favorite artist – Salvador Dali – on display. Browsing for a while before making my way upstairs to place my order I fully admit it took longer than usual to decide as there were at least ten new options I’d not tried.

                                    With decisions made, purchased, and bagged I made my way through the rest of the Dali exhibit while enjoying my selections – the first a raspberry almond croissant – what can I say, after breakfast it seemed like the only logical choice. Having always found Bouchon croissants to be amply crunchy and plenty butter but lacking the airy pockets inherent to most French Croissants this one was no different – it was rather flat but absolutely loaded with fresh fruit and pockets of butter mixed with sweet spots – almost a half-scone/half-croissant pastry.

                                    For my other half of the order – how can one turn down those fist sized macarons – especially when the flavors are Peanut Butter and Jelly and Orange Vanilla Bean – IE, Creamsicle. With that perfect crackle giving way to Keller’s slightly less than airy style sandwich cookie each were again stunning examples that purists may call too “gummy” but for me pretty much summarize why I keep coming back again and again – the flavor. While I still believe La Maison du Chocolate to make a slightly superior Chocolate and Pistachio than Bouchon, the variety of flavors and sheer size of Keller’s collection will invariably keep me coming back each and every time I’m in a city where they are available – and in the case of New York, I’ll look forward to visiting the second location at Rockefeller center just as soon as it opens.

                                    -----
                                    Bouchon Bakery
                                    10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                                    Clinton Street Baking Co.
                                    4 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: uhockey

                                      More excellent reporting! Always a treat to read.

                                      1. re: uhockey

                                        "...I...ordered up a muffin while my pancakes were made..."
                                        Which is why there is envy in the world

                                        1. re: wew

                                          I work for these trips - I envy the folks who live steps away from such great dining. :-)

                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                          1. re: uhockey

                                            I think it's your capacity that on my best day I'd fail to equal.

                                        2. re: uhockey

                                          Bouchon's Sugar Croissant is a real treat. Try it if you ever get back

                                          1. re: MVNYC

                                            Looking forward to reading more, again, extremely impressed by your appetite!

                                            1. re: owlwoman

                                              Thanks - and sorry about the delay in updates - battling a cold and a particularly long stretch of work.

                                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                          2. re: uhockey

                                            I agree with Clinton Street. Their pancakes and baked goods are fantastic. One thing I will say is next time definitely get the buttermilk biscuit- the best biscuit ever. Oh yeah and the sugar cured bacon is fantastic!

                                            As for your regretting not getting a shake- don't. I ordered a coffee shake there and honestly was very underwhelmed. It was easily the most disappointing part of my meal.