Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pork Barrel

I was looking for a dinner spot that wouldn't break the bank and, more importantly, could accommodate me and a very pregnant friend. So we headed to Ardesia, where my friend (who happens to be the chef) agreed to hold a table for us. Ardesia is equal parts wine and snack bar. The most expensive menu item--the duck banh mi--weighs in at $14, assuming you don't count the plate of all house cheeses, which is $30, but a lot of food. That makes the spot cheaper than Casellula, though no less enjoyable.

We ate Brussels sprouts topped with fried shallots and tasting of something bring, possibly fish sauce. They were perfect, as was the skewered garlic shrimp, four to a skewer, eight to an order. Pork belly bites were cubes of fatty pork atop sweet apple, richness and salt matched by lean, crisp fruit. Surprise! The duck banh mi boasted a glorious layer of liver pate, along with the usual suspects of pickled vegetables and cilantro and the unusual suspect of cured duck.

Next up: bacon lardon, white bean, and frisee salad, but this bacon was fattier and thicker cut than normal salad bacon. And then, tiny house-made cocktail sausages, served with crusty white bread and spicy mustard, a vast improvement over the sticky barbecue sauce ones my grandmother serves in her ancient chaffing dish (no offense, Grandma). Two cheeses--both pasteurized for my preggy friend--were served with candied lemon and bread.

Chef sent dessert on the house. Three open-faced s'mores came atop what amounted to tiny gingersnap cakes--an homage to the graham cracker. The marshmallows, bruleed, tasted better than any traditional campfire. Finally, a square sandwich, wrapped in wax paper, announced our final dessert: a cookies n' cream ice-cream sandwich on chocolate cake. The alternate flavors, we later learned, were peanut butter and vanilla.

The nicest decor detail? The backs of the bathroom doors are painted with blackboard paint and there are nubs of chalk in the bathrooms for high-end note-writing, nothing like those bar bathrooms of yore. Also, to keep you company, a real, live goldfish swims in his glass bowl on a stool in the corner of the loo. No worries, Mr. Fish isn't on the menu. Ardesia is a restaurant for meat-eaters, with only a spare nod to marine life.

510 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019

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