The Musket Room review

There is really only one thing more impossibly difficult than opening a restaurant in New York city – and that’s keeping it open. Fickle diners, persnickety critics, fierce competition and a winter built for arctic penguins are likely to force even the finest kitchens to tap out. And so despite the incomparable odds, Chef Matt Lambert, a talented, small town kid from New Zealand, armed with his new wife, a unique vision and a little help from Kickstarter, opened The Musket Room in 2013. Fast forward 4 short months later, and the kid goes on to win his first Michelin star. This is one of those stories that warms the belly like hot rum and coffee. So can we please hear it for the (down) under dog? 

You might not realize it, but Chef Lambert has probably cooked for you already, having spent his first years in the city behind the stove at Public, Double Crown and Saxon + Parole, but his unique signature is evident just about everywhere in his lime-washed brick, Nolita bistro with its own herb garden on the side. The menu offers a half-dozen apps, mains and desserts as well as 2 chef’s tasting menus, which according to his wife Barbara, “…is where he really has fun!”

But this is by no means fun food. In fact, at first glimpse the presentation might even appear a tad too fiddled with, however even though each winter blossom, micro green or baby nasturtium leaf seems perfectly balanced by tiny tweezers, the flavors, colors and textures are nothing short of monumental.

St. Simone Oysters - The Musket Room

St. Simone Oysters

The trio of St. Simone Oysters bathing in just the right amount of a smoky vinaigrette and sweet-and-sour grapefruit foam would be thrilled to know that their final moments were immortalized with so much drama, as they each rest with their very own flower on a bed of river pebbles, while the last few wisps of dry ice smoke envelope their immediate air space. In fact many of Lambert’s dishes can be described as built around the most adorable little botanical tableaus.

Quail - The Musket Room

Quail

The tender roasted Quail breast and thigh (with tiny claw still attached) lay beside a small thicket of blackberries and leaves with roasted half-onions and a sublimely velvety bread sauce, while the beautifully decorated, house-smoked Ora King Salmon with oils, herbs and seeds is a field day for Instagramers.

Ora King Salmon - The Musket Room

Ora King Salmonq

Every chef has their particular form that defines them. For Chef Lambert it must be the cylinder. He uses it to shape, hide and contain any number of ingredient parts that give the diner a thrill of discovery. His Beet salad divides conical statues of the purple root around a foam puck, punctuated by ivory nipples of zesty goat cheese and crunchy pistachios.

Lamb - The Musket Room

Lamb

Being a New Zealander – where sheep far outnumber humans – I was dying to find out just how dexterously Lambert handles his lamb. And so when the rectangular, fork-tender slithers of picture-perfectly pink tenderloin arrived, I couldn’t help feeling a little sad for how lonely they looked until their table-side garnishing of a lusciously minty granola of mixed grains gave the dish an unexpected twist and crunch. Equally unexpected was the pair of Jerusalem artichokes both pureed and then hidden inside their own wafer-thin, crisp-fried skins. In case you were wondering, that’s how you spell Michelin!

Beef - The Musket Room

Beef

The circular crescent of Berkshire Pork (tenderloin and belly) done two ways, with a pillbox of kale that was shredded into moss along with a cauliflower floret and a mandarin slither or two, managed to capture most of the colors of the rainbow onto a single plate. And the flavor-forward Beef with salsify, eggplants and a delicious lobster cream scored even more goals for the Kiwi team.

Passion Fruit Pavlova - The Musket Room

Passion Fruit Pavlova

Chocolate is by all accounts the popular dessert du jour. It’s a rich log of gooey, chocolatey goodness teased by a Shirley Temple ringlet of salted caramel toffee. This was followed by another cylinder (a sweet one this time) that encased the even more challengingly sweet Bananas Foster, surrounded by bits of cake and a squiggle of lemon, but the Passion Fruit Pavlova is pure drama. While an innocent-looking meringue cylinder is supported by a medley of strawberries with a dribble of passion fruit – there lurks a thick shot of sweet cream deep inside for subsequent discovery… This dessert comes with a message. In my case it read: “Happy Birthday” – but what it secretly meant to say was: “Do Not Share!”

http://www.musketroom.com/#/reservations/

Narcissa review

From the quiet – yet determined success at his Upper West Side boutique bistro Dovetail, Michelin star chef John Fraser has solidly joined the farm-to-table sprint with his new-ish East village sensation Narcissa. The buzz surrounding the opening of a lobby floor restaurant in the Standard Hotel has been squarely centered around his reinterpretation of vegetables as the main event – and with good reason. Sure, the menu is rampant with options for the omnivore in all of us. You’re very likely to find a wonderfully fruit flavored Lacquered Duck Breast with cranberries calling your name, or perhaps the whole Baby Chicken roasted with spicy sausage and oats will make you weak at the knees, or maybe tonight’s the night you’re going to surrender to that 24-oz perfectly marbled Bone-in Prime Ribeye that pushes all your buttons – but if you feel like thinking outside of your knee-jerk safe zone, this is the place to do it.

Just as the menu has two strong forces at opposing ends, the restaurant itself is also at odds with two very different dining spaces. The more socially expected, hotel bar/lounge/lodge that spills out onto a terrace, and the behind-the-scenes collection of chefs tables anchored by a white-clad team of toques prepping, stirring and plating with hardly a single glance above the horizon of their stations. There are a few instant giveaways that this ain’t no ordinary kitchen. Could it be the open-faced multi-skewer grill with what looks like lumps of coal twisting and turning before a blue flame? Turns out these are the Rotisserie-Crisped Beets that are being tortuously roasted for hours until they yield the texture of a sirloin steak – not to mention a heavenly flavor that beats any beets you have ever tasted. There’s a certain salty-sweet smokiness that combines magnificently with the creamed horseradish and Granny Smith apple chunks.

Rotisserie-Crisped Beets - Narcissa

Rotisserie-Crisped Beets

There’s probably at least one risotto on most menu’s in the tri-state area, and the quality of “riso” can range from hyper-dry to über-soupy, but instead Fraser uses barley for his Little Neck Clam Risotto, which is nuttier, creamier and immensely delightful thanks to the abundance of fresh oregano.

Barley Risotto - Narcissa

Barley Risotto

While the flavors were all there, the texture of the Potato Gnocchi with butternut squash and sweet chestnuts was either slightly over-worked or over-boiled, calling into question my table manners and my sense of balance required to elevate a single doughy knob out of the plate and into my mouth in (at least) one journey – but the real reason everyone is here (and the reason the city is still hard at work widening the streets around Cooper Square), is because of the magnetic appeal of Frasers’ Carrots Wellington.

Carrots Wellington - Narcissa

Carrots Wellington

In a David Copperfieldian feat, inside the traditional puff pastry log, a bunch of slender carrots occupies the same cavity where the filet mignon used to be! The texture is uncannily familiar and there are no flavor compromises either. The additions of bluefoot mushrooms with crispy sunchokes and a heavenly gremolata work so harmoniously, that it’s worth considering renaming the first Duke of Wellington’s favorite dish forever.

http://www.narcissarestaurant.com/