Friday, March 26, 2010

From Low To High

For dinner last night, I joined friends in the east village for dinner at Northern Spy Food Company, named for the famous local apple. And boy, do they do local. Not only does Northern Spy sell farm-to-table dinners, but they also sell, as a part of a shop in the restaurant's rear, everything from local soup to nuts.

To start, we shared a raw kale salad with clothbound cheddar and kombucha squash, a fatty pork pate with nose-clearing mustard and a lightly dressed arugula salad, and a side of white beans cooked with more cheddar. Dinner included a sandwich of crisped chicken thigh with a poached egg and chimichurri sauce, a flatbread panini of ham/cheese/mustard/pickled onions, and a pan-seared fillet of black bass served on a bed of nettle and watercress. The former two impressed, while the fish was tasty enough, if not quite inspired.

Dessert included a slightly undercooked slice of apple pie accompanied by a perfect scoop of almond ice-cream and, my personal favorite, a raisin-heavy square of carrot cake with a pure half-inch of piped cream cheese frosting. The candied ginger on top, though a nice tough, was completely unnecessary; I would have eaten the frosting with or without it.

As for our non-alcoholic tipples, we enjoyed ciders from Red Jacket Orchards. For me, a concord grape and apple, for one of my friends a light-colored Fuji. Northern Spy is downright inexpensive and worth the schlep to Alphabet City for a pretty little market meal.

So compare that with today's lunch, which began as an unambitious trip to Eleven Madison Park for the restaurant's "two courses, $24" lunch. Sometimes, I'd rather just eat the ham sandwich. Two courses (per person) turned into six (per person); we were spotted, and sent four courses apiece, all on the house. Lunch began with a miniature olive baguette as well as a sourdough version. Amuse bouche were tiny savory macarons, one celery, one filled with foie gras. Then: uni custard with bay scallops and apple in the hollowed shell of an egg; a "cappuccino" of lemongrass, curry, and langoustine; a salad of shaved and blanched market greens with a red wine vinaigrette--asparagus, pea tendrils, multi-colored carrots, sugar snaps, baby lettuce; radicchio with buffala mozzarella and pickled persimmon; deep-fried veal sweetbreads over toasted fregola in a rich meat broth; fresh linguine tossed in butter and served with shredded king crab and herbs; a square of crisped halibut in a broth of mussels and chorizo; par-cooked salmon with daikon; pork belly and (regrettably overcooked) loin with gorgeous spring onions and salty-sweet rhubarb; lamb sausage, belly, and loin in a broth of paprika and jus. For all that? Fifty-eight buckaroos. Total.

Dessert is a la carte, and who knows how we had the room for a mango linzer tart, pine nut and ricotta tart, and slice of chocolate caramel pie. But we did--or so we thought, until I rose after lunch, sick to my stomach. Dinner desserts are composed plates, but our tarts came with a savory vanilla creme fraiche, not exactly the winner of the afternoon. The petit fours, more macarons, probably put us over the top. The different types included pink peppercorn, chocolate/banana, toasted coconut/chocolate, peanut butter/jelly, sesame/green tea/kumquat, poppyseed/lemon, and grapefruit. Wine is expensive, but varied, but get too carried away and you'll find yourself miles from that check of $24 per person. Luckily, there wasn't too much room for more damage this afternoon. The compositions at EMP are some of the most beautiful I've seen in any dining room, anywhere. The market salad alone would probably have encouraged me to come back, during fairer weather. But lunch is the way to go, if you're willing to skip the calories of dinner. Otherwise, you're sure to break the bank.

Northern Spy Food Company
511 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10009

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10010