Monday, April 11, 2011

ABC Kitchen: Always Be Contemporary

Having previously written that "Jean-Georges is one of the world's most celebrated chefs, and perhaps an even more successful businessman," it came as no surprise that he's trying to capitalize on the public's new found fascination with sustainability. What was surprising was just how wildly successful ABC Kitchen would become in such a short time. Between the countless accolades and scarcity of prime reservations, it's one of Manhattan's hottest restaurants.

Positioning itself as the farm-to-table outpost of Mr. Vongerichten's sprawling empire, Chef Dan Kluger takes full advantage of the Greenmarket, churning out some fantastic seasonal fare. In fact, the restaurant's immense popularity, combined with a lack of decent reservations, ultimately resulted in this review being so tardy. Sorry. In any event, patience is a virtue, and we were rewarded with a great meal when we finally got a reservation.

Arriving for our dinner reservation, we grabbed a cocktail at the restaurant's crowded bar while our table was being cleared. Preferring gin to other spirits, MW opted for their version of the classic French 75 and enjoyed it thoroughly. Likewise, my Mckenzie Rye Whiskey Manhattan - Antica Vermouth and Brandy Soaked Cherries - was outstanding. Exceedingly balanced, this was one of the best Manhattan's I've ever drank, with the brandy soaked cherries making for a most enjoyable boozy treat.

Located on the ground floor of ABC Carpet and Home, the restaurant's dining room clearly evokes a home furnishing store. With white washed walls, salvaged wood tables and artisan crafted installations, ABC Kitchen is clean and contemporary. Much like its aesthetic, service was casual but professional. Instead of the formal attire typically associated with a Jean-Georges establishment, here, the dress code appropriately consisted of jeans, plaid shirts and sneakers.

Barely having a chance to peruse the menu, printed on recycled cardboard no less, we were approached by the restaurant's manager who surprised us with a complimentary tasting of Jean-Georges' signature house-made sodas. Having read a tweet I wrote earlier, lamenting on not ordering any during my lunch at Matsugen, this extremely generous gesture was a most unexpected act of hospitality. I'd previously discovered these sodas at Jean-Georges, and we sampled each of the following: Clementine, Basil-Lime, Ginger-Thyme and Ginger-Lime, with ginger-thyme and ginger-lime being our favorites.

Next, the basket of Bread arrived with a bowl of Olive Oil. Although slightly disappointed to not receive one of the ABC Kitchen's now infamous bread baskets, handcrafted by the Mapuche people of Patagonia, the bread still tasted fine.

Our first course, Raw Diver Scallops with Apple, Mint and Lime, kicked off our meal with a bang. Known for light but assertive flavors combinations, this scallop dish typified the cuisine of Jean-Georges. Thinly sliced discs of raw scallop were beautifully presented on the half shell, and when paired with the acidity of the lime, crunchy apple and refreshing mint, each component emphasized the natural sweetness of the scallop.

But the dish I knew we had to try was none other than the Roast Carrot and Avocado Salad with Crunchy Seeds, Sour Cream and Citrus. That's right, I wrote salad. Already somewhat of a signature dish of the restaurant, in my opinion this was the single best thing we ate all night. A succession of crunchy, creamy, sweet and tart, this salad had it all. Though heavy on the cumin, the roasting process helped intensify the flavors of the carrots, which were perfectly complimented by the buttery avocado, nutty seeds and bright bursts of citrus.

The deceptively simple Crab Toast with Lemon Aioli was equally as stunning, but in a different way. Straightforward in its preparation, Chef Kluger's genius lie in how little he manipulated the natural flavors of this incredibly fresh product. Letting the brininess of the crab shine through, a small dab of the creamy aioli and spritz of lemon juice was all the accouterments this toast needed.

MW ordered ABC Kitchen's Fried Organic Chicken with Baby Bok Choy, Ginger and Spicy Gravy. A massive half chicken arrived expertly fried, sporting a crisp crust laced with citrus covering moist and juicy meat, devoid of excess grease. The lone misstep of the dish was the fact that some bok choy had been overcooked and the pile of lumpy mashed potatoes were served tepid. Still, this was a nice rendition of this comfort food.

On the other hand, my Black Sea Bass with Chilies and Herbs with Baby Market Potatoes and Spinach was virtually flawless. The black sea bass had been cooked perfectly, flaking off in flavorful, tender chunks. Served with sweet baby potatoes and some minerally (in a good way) spinach, the real show stopper was the amazing broth that almost begged to be drank straight from the bowl. While not exactly reinventing the wheel, the technical precision and complimentary flavor profiles of this dish brought smiles to both of our faces.

With our eyes seemingly bigger than our stomachs, it seemed perfectly natural at some earlier point of the meal to tack on a side of Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Vinaigrette. While not exactly the most prudent of decisions, it still proved delicious. Heavily caramelized, the pungent mustard vinaigrette helped cut the sweetness of the tender brussels sprouts.

For whatever reason, we decided to push on. With a plethora of relatively basic dessert options, including a variety of cakes and pies, we chose to split the Apple Crumble Tart with Buttermilk Ice Cream. The tart was solid. Flaky crust gave way to a sweet apple filling that was tempered by the slightly tart buttermilk ice cream.

Though one would have to be quite naive to really believe that Jean-Georges has gone green, ABC Kitchen's brilliance lies in Mr. Vongerichten's ability to consistently tap into the current zeitgeist and successfully deliver a product people want.  Fad or revolution? Only time will tell the fate of the current local/organic trend. The way I see it, irrespective of how this movement eventually shakes out, ABC Kitchen, with its accommodating front of the house and a truly talented chef, already possesses the defining characteristics of a sustainable restaurant.

ABC Kitchen
35 East 18th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 475-5829

To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.

ABC Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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