156 Tenth Avenue (20th St.)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 924-4440
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Cuisine: New American
Entree Price: $20-25
Cookshop is the sophomore project of Marc Meyer, Vicki Freeman and Chris Paraskevaides, the owners of Five Points, and it bears similar marks of design and menu. But Cookshop is Five Points with a more ambitious agenda. Like Five Points, Marc always honors not only the seasons, but our region’s local farmers. But his mission at Cookshop takes this Five Points directive one step farther. Not only is his produce local, but all his fish is wild and all his meats come exclusively from small family farms that raise animals on grass feed, in wide pastures with no antibiotics or hormones.
The design of Cookshop is also reminiscent of Five Points, but it has a more lofty, urban slant. The space is larger and embraced with windows. Its ceilings are lined with smooth wood beams, sturdy tables are fashioned from solid pale wood, and erect chairs are handmade by a local Williamsburg designer who must be into very good posture cause these chairs are stiff and straight. Meyer and his sous chef Joel work in an buzzing open kitchen stocked with a wood oven and a custom made fire breathing rotisserie that faces the short end of the L-shaped dining room. And as at Five Points, the spacious bar area offers a few tables for walk-ins.
The menu at Cookshop changes daily, according to farmers’ supply, though several items are usually available. Among the stationary menu items is the pizza. At Five Points, Marc is known for his taleggio and potato pizzetta, and his wood-fired pizza at Cookshop will certainly be garnering the same loyal following. This one is slightly smaller in diameter than at Five Points, and it has a crust that is soft, chewy, and crispy, all at the same time. It is smothered with a caramelized tangle of onions that gives the gooey melted mozzarella cheese some body and a zippy tang ($10). Another constant menu item is the incredible house-smoked bluefish ($9) served with an arugula salad and a few clusters of sweet-tart, thin-skinned New York State grapes. It will be the next wave for Russ & Daughters. Forget smoked white fish, it’s all about the bluefish. Another must have starter is the chicken fried duck livers ($8)—crunchy poppers served on a bed of creamy sage grits dotted with hot sauce. Now I don’t want to hear you whine about not liking duck livers. You will like these pups. They are incredible—and they should become the next McNugget for sure.
Next to the starter section of the menu you will find a small box labeled “snacks.” This is a section of little nibbles that is perfect for ordering at the bar while waiting for a table, but we deemed them necessary for the dining room as well, as should you. They are all silliness, and all good. There were killer Deviled Eggs topped with caviar ($5), but the wood-roasted troutlings ($6) were the surprise hit of the evening. I had never heard of a troutling, but as the name implies, these are baby trout. I had no idea I would like a little fried fish so much. They are not fishy as you might imagine a small fish to be. They are sweet and meaty and served pan-fried with a bright lemony salad of sliced baby brussel sprouts. Honestly, you must just try these. We also loved the duck taquitos fashioned from pulled duck confit stuffed snuggly into crispy corn tortilla cylinders, then swiped with a sticky sweet mole ($6). The only disappointment was the shrimp beignets ($7), which were a tad fishy and slightly undercooked.
But our entrees left us sated and deliriously happy. The long-line halibut ($24), cooked in the wood-oven, was intensely creamy, wildly flavorful and incredibly moist. The flesh was pearly white, almost alabaster. It was like nothing I have ever seen before. The fish was topped with this sweet-pungent tapenade made from olives and plump golden raisins and bedded on hearty toss of roasted romanesco and cauliflower that tasted just like Autumn. Unfortunately, the smoked grass-fed beef brisket ($20), a dish that read with such promise, was beyond bland. While the meat was tender, it had no smoke and no discernable flavor. It was odd, actually. It was as if the flavor was sucked out of the dish. Perhaps it was and siphoned into the amazing Berkshire pork chop ($23), so juicy and saturated with sweet cider and smoky flavor that I was contemplating bringing the bone home just to remind myself of what a gorgeous chop it had been. The chop is served with a tangy cider-braised cabbage, sort of like sauerkraut, and a pork and apple link slicked with smoked pear mustard. This was my favorite dish on the menu.
Other dishes impressed me with their simplicity. For instance, there’s nothing really exciting about a whole roasted fish, but it is worth a shout out when the flesh is so flaky and moist that you lick your fingers and clean the scales bare. And that is the case with Meyer’s whole roasted Atlantic porgy ($23), which is done quite simply in the wood oven, with grilled slivers of lemon, a clutch of herbs, and a gloss of olive oil. Indeed, that is all it needs. To reward you for your minimalist choice, he serves the fish with an irresistible pile of spiced fries that you must order as a side ($5), if you don’t order the fish. Along the lines of the simple whole fish is Meyer’s baby chicken ($21) that is spit-roasted until the skin is taut and crispy and its flesh is tender and juicy. It is served on a bed of roasted vegetables that are a rustic reflection of the season—Thumbelina carrots, brussel sprouts and turnips.
Like the dinner menu, the dessert menu (all $8) also changes often, but every time I have been there I have had the ice cream sundae, which is necessary eating. A tall glass comes filled with three scoops of house-made vanilla ice cream, layered with bourbon-infused butterscotch, and heavenly chunks of pecan blondies. There’s also an insanely chocolaty meringue pie, with hazelnuts and chocolate-malt anglaise that is perfect for the chocoholic at your table. It’s over the top, gooey, chocolaty, messy, and quite yummy.
There is only one issue with Cookshop. And that is that it is keeping my from my first love, Five Points. I feel I am going to work this out, somehow. Perhaps I will have brunch at Five Points, and dinners at Cookshop. Or maybe I will split my dinners by having appetizers at Five Points and then entrees at Cookshop. Hmmm. I’ll have to work this out, but somehow, someway, I feel confident that there will be a way to fit them both in to my life.
Review By: Andrea Strong