Olmsted – review

FullSizeRender[1]

Olmsted

Manhattanites (myself included) obediently acquiesce to the burden of trying every new dining hotspot the city offers up. And the mere thought of bridge-and-tunneling it across to any of the other boroughs seems troublesome, treacherous and traitorous. Why do I need to drag myself across to Brooklyn for a meal, when there are 10,000 options right here? Well, there are a handful of excellent reasons, and Greg Baxtrom’s Olmsted is one of them.

 

FullSizeRender

Olmsted

The neighborhoody shotgun room crowded with regulars, was named for the designer of nearby Prospect Park. And given chef Baxtrom’s background for having worked under Grant Achatz, Thomas Keller and Dan Barber, it’s no surprise that he wanted somewhere to cultivate at least a few of his modern American, veg-forward, seasonal ingredients – even if it meant standing up to his frown-browed neighbors at the prospect of raising herbs, flowers, quail and crawfish on his suburban premises.

 

FullSizeRender[2]

Carrot Crepe, Olmsted

There are only 12 items on the neatly folded menu that range from $7 – $24. In my experience, there are two reasons for such limited options: it can either mean a cramped kitchen with no room to accommodate a broader selection, or that a fastidious chef has clipped, filtered and trimmed the variety of dishes down to only offering standout stars. Olmsted is combination of both. The three line chefs can practically reach every pot, pan and plate without taking a single step, and by cooking every item in batches of 4, many of the plates were prepared in anticipation of us ordering them. If I were to do it over, I would simply order one of everything ($194 total, which can easily feed 6) to solve the debate of what to order, and the food would arrive almost immediately.

FullSizeRender[5]

Crawfish Boil Crackers, Olmsted

Don’t let the super-attentive service fool you – it’s all about the food. I’ve never eaten hand-made shrimp chips before. Normally they come dehydrated in a cellophane-wrapped box before curling and stretching out in hot oil, tripling their original size and tasting a whole lot more like UPS packaging than actual shellfish. But these chicharone-like Crawfish boil crackers, poking out of a newspaper basket were a very tasty tribute to those lethargic crustaceans sharing a bathtub with some goldfish out on the patio outside.

FullSizeRender[6]

Non-Fjordic Oysters, Olmsted

Next to arrive were four Non-Fjordic oysters, flavored with tiny pickled beets, some horse-radish cream, a few salmon roe and a fluff of dill set atop a bowl of pink, diced ice. The briny, vinegary, salty, anisey combination is a solid hit.

FullSizeRender[7]

Beer battered Delicata Squash, Olmsted

A mere wipe of the napkin later, a wooden bowl of Beer battered Delicata squash replaced the empty oyster shells. The short stack of yummy donut-ringed vegies are wrapped in a light, ketchup-flavored batter and crusted in crunchy herbs, crispy rice and salty splinters of nori.

Probably the most requested dish (and therefore the only menu perennial) is a Carrot Crepe. Made from, with (and possibly by) carrots, it’s a wonderful example of transformative cooking. Adding to the heavenly combination of 3 different carrot textures, little neck clams provide some salty chewiness, roasted sunflower seeds (home-grown) yield some crunch, and a few daisy petals finish off a totally Instagrammable package.

 

FullSizeRender[3]

Rutabaga Tagliatelle, Olmsted

Whenever I think of rutabaga I imagine a thick, turnippy, cabbagy alternative to mashed potatoes. Never would I have expected this shy bulb to grab the spotlight as the most delicious ribbons of soft and crunchy Tagliatelle, flavored with Burgundy black truffle breadcrumbs, brown butter and melted Parmesan.

But that was hardly the end of the story. The street cart inspired Gai Tod Hat Yai (Deep fried Thai Chicken) is served two ways: as expected in tightly battered and fried strips before being dunked in the most delectable ginger glaze, and an unexpected confit, tossed in a cabbage, carrot and raw turnip slaw with crunchy fried shallots and a superb fish-sauce and lime dressing.

FullSizeRender[4]

Lavander honey Frozen Yogurt, Olmsted

But how can I ever look a plain yogurt in the eye again after knowing that it can be topped with a meringue-like foam made entirely from whipping honey and water? Despite the sub-freezing temperatures outside, this magical concoction found its way onto every table (sometimes twice) which fully deserves a slot in the next time capsule.

So, don’t feel intimidated to veer coyly away from the island in search of great food – run!

www.olmstednyc.com

 

 

Blue Hill at Stone Barns – review

The first question anyone asks me after I just so happen to casually mention that after 5 years of trying, I have finally dined at Dan Barber’s hyper-sniper, super-duper, elusive and exclusive Blue Hill at Stone Barns is, “Did it change your life?” You better believe it did! In fact, just like BC and AD represent the world before and after Christ, I now use BBH and ABH to refer to how food tasted before and after Blue Hill.

Sound a bit too dramatic? Not when you consider that Chef Barber’s mission is to nurture and cultivate the most perfect ingredients purely for the sake of flavor rather than size, shelf life or growth speed. Not wanting to paraphrase his incredible story, which can be seen on episode 2 of Netflix’s gastro-series “Chefs Table”, Mr. Barber began his journey by resuscitating his family farm in the Hudson Valley. Then one thing led to another, and now he is the king of an agricultural movement the size of Australia.

Vegetable Crudité - Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Vegetable Crudité

When you take that first crisp bite out of a slice of yellow bell pepper (after it glides onto your starched, white tablecloth aboard a block of spiked wood alongside a few other hand-picked Crudités), you realize that all this little bell pepper ever wanted to be (after growing up in Mr. Barber’s year-round hothouse with retractable roof), was the best bell pepper the world had ever tasted! The same goes for the radish parked on a plate with a dark dollop of poppy-seed butter, or the fermented cucumbers, or the pastrami cured watermelon rinds. Yes, get comfortable with it. Vegetables get top billing in this show, but their flavor is off the charts.

In lieu of a menu, a 12-page booklet awaits each diner, listing the freshest produce picked, slaughtered, harvested or foraged during every month of the year. Then it’s the kitchen (and the database comprised of your prior visits) that determines the specifics of your meal. After my umpteenth question, I can comfortably confirm that every member of the patient wait staff is equally passionate and knowledgeable about the simple, yet intricate preparations of every one of the 20 or so courses we spent the next 4+ hours enjoying.

Tomato Burgers - Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Tomato Burgers

Sublime highlights included: Peach Slices wrapped in an almost transparent coating of the most deliciously fire-grilled speck; a semi-circular bow of Stone Barns Weeds with a yummy, smoky, charcoal mayonnaise dip; winter-coat-button sized Tomato Burgers with goat cheese and almond flour buns (which made an encore appearance as a result of our exuberant ovation); domino stone slithers of ultra-smooth Pork Liver Mousse encased in crispy chocolate wafers; soft and spicy tufts of country bread for sampling the farm butter (amazing), the honey-sweetened pork lard (incredible) and the Single-udder Butter from a cow whose name I wish I could remember (utterly unbelievable)…

Honey sweetened lard, Farm butter and Single-udder Butter - Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Honey sweetened lard, Farm butter and Single-udder Butter

By way of an intermission, our glasses of rich, jammy ‘99 Vacqueyras (recommended by the superbly informed but barely drinking-aged sommelier) magically followed us into the bakery. We learned about another of Chef Barber’s pursuits, to recreate the best tasting wheat for bread – the kind used long before the world ever genetically inserted gluten intolerances into our everyday lexicon. While our Parisian baker lovingly split and shaped the dough into canvas-lined baskets, we each devoured our own doorstep-high, still-warm-from-the-oven slice of soft, speckled brioche with a side of green marmalade and warm, wet and wonderful farmer’s cheese.

Brioche from

Brioche from “Barber Wheat”

Another quest in flavor-forwardness that Chef Barber has been working on for some time is his mission to grow a baked potato so creamy, that it doesn’t require any cream! This was the first time I have ever been served food presented inside a dried cow-paddy before, but rather than warn us about that little surprise, our waitress admitted that this was still very much a work in progress, as she sadly sprinkled a few streaks of grassy olive oil over the steaming spuds. Creamy doesn’t even begin to describe them. Moist, thick, smooth with a rich earthy-herby flavor, with neither a lump nor a single starchy bite. If I were a potato – this is what I would want to taste like.

But cow-paddies aside, the only slightly embarrassing moment was when we were presented with two Trombaccino gourds – duking it out for which one would take top honors as the best representation of Pyronie’s syndrome. Their less phallic-looking cooked versions, however, were served with a delectable Beet Bolognaise.

As one waiter distracted the table with an example of one of the humanely-raised farm poussin’s nestled in a basket of hay, another quietly plated a tender chunk of breast meat with fermented honey and a smooth, sweet, sour and magnificent apricot paste.

Desserts were every bit as thrilling, from crunchy Milky Oats with berries and ice-cream, to a moist and sticky Zucchini Cake, followed by one of the sweetest donut peaches and tristar strawberries anyone could ever imagine.

Zucchini cake - Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Zucchini cake

While I realize that it’s going to be to virtually impossible to ever taste anything quite as pure, fresh and real as this again, I am pretty confident that I will find a way.