Toss in a Jacques Pépin sighting and this place officially has made its way up to the top of my restaurant list.
After reviewing the menu and looking over other peoples reviews (yes, this is what I do prior to dining almost anywhere. weird? eh, whatever), I arrived still not having a clue as to what I was going to order. But no need to worry. Upon entering the bustling bar/front room I was amazed at how bumping the place was for a Wednesday night. But, a reminder of their recent two star review in the New York Times shut me up in no time. Cozy on up to the bar and order one of their many artisan beers on tap. Have the bartender surprise you. You will be pleasantly surprised. And keep a hawk's eye on any and all tables about to open up. Keep in mind that this could get confrontational and aggressive if need be. Deep breaths. Remain calm.
To start? Oysters: Welfleet and Kumamoto. Would it be terrible to say (given the restaurant's sausage notoriety) that this was one of the absolute highlights of the meal? Served atop a bed of crushed ice with lemon wedges and a bright and peppery mignonette they were sheer delight in its purest, cleanest form.
Next was a bottle of an Alsacian Riesling: 2005 Domaine Mittnacht Freres Riesling Rosacker Grand Cru. Now, never having had a real Riesling experience, this wine kind of blew my mind. And choosing a wine to suit oysters immediately followed by sausage is no easy task. But it was the absolute perfect accompaniment. Slightly sweet, incredible acidity and length, with hints of golden apple on the finish, it's a smile inducer.
The chipolata sausage (pork sausage with whipped potatoes topped with shaved truffle) and polonaise (smoked pork and veal kielbasa with red cabbage, beets, apple) were the epitome of comfort food. The first tasted like a perfect Sunday night meal on steroids with the addition of the luxurious shaved truffle. The kielbasa was spectacularly smokey and paired with the sweet red cabbage slightly spiked with what tasted like allspice, was hitting all the right notes at the same time. A real treat.
Skate with cauliflower (and romensco) risotto, saffron brown butter, topped with pine nuts and golden raisins was the main. A bold flavored fish with the somewhat reserved but distinct flavor of the cauliflower and a hint of sweetness from the raisins, this dish too was pretty hard to beat.
And with the Riesling? OMG, the Riesling.
Yes, this is currently a NYC hot spot and has foodies and wannabes alike flocking to it but you know what? It's for darn good reason. Daniel Boulud is nothing short of a genius and his relaxed but absolutely industrialized chic new place and straightforward but inventive menu all add up to a pretty perfect little spot.
If you've got what it takes to fight for a table.
299 Bowery St. (at E. Houston)