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The Tasting Room

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The Tasting Room

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Address: 264 Elizabeth Street
City: New York, NY
Zip: 10012
Phone: (212) 358-7831
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Map: Map
Cuisine: New American
Area: East Village
Entree Price: $25-30


Summary:



Review:

I’m gonna be straight with you. It’s not the same as it was. The Tasting Room, in its new expanded location, is decidedly different. And that’s good in some ways and not so good in others. Let’s go back in time for one moment here. In its original petite post on First Street, The Tasting Room had become one of the city’s most darling restaurants. It became a favorite for romantic evenings, a sure thing for tight groups of friends, and one of the go-to spots to check in on the Greenmarket’s best. It was a personal favorite of mine, and one of the places that Adrienne and I took Susie before she moved to Rome last January. In the old Tasting Room, with Renee welcoming guests and Colin cooking downstairs, there was this amazing haze of really good energy. It was the feeling you get when eating in someone’s home, rather than in a commercial establishment open for the purpose of making money and turning tables. But after seven years with a mere 25 seats, Renee and Colin, who now have two children, decided it was time to move their little pocket of love to a bigger 80-seat space. They found it on Elizabeth Street, and opened in late August with a wonderful bar serving some of the freshest, most intoxicating old-world cocktails in the city. Indeed, the bar is one of the nicest things about the change. Run by Richard Ervin, formerly of Morimoto, you’ll find a seasonal cocktail menu that mirrors the chef’s artisan philosophy. Drinks ($11) like the Sneaky Pete—lime, mint tequila, and the Iced Tea Italiano—lemon, Meletti Amaro, Sparking Wine, are all made fresh to order from just squeezed juices and house infusions. You won’t find cranberry juice because it can’t be made in house. Instead, you’ll find fresh squeezed grapefruit, orange, lemon and lime juices, and a line of house made sodas (cola, quinine, tonic, ginger, lemon-lime, grapefruit, orange and cream). What has also changed, and certainly this is inevitable going from 25 seats to 80, is the vibe. The Tasting Room—a rustic space divided between a swanky front bar room and a larger main dining room with a communal table, oversized sliding Farmhouse doors, and local artwork lining raw brick walls—is a real restaurant now, not a cozy little nook. And there is something lost in that transition. Sure, Renee is still on the floor, and her genuine enthusiasm and energy is still the same. She is a natural hostess and when she walks into the room, chatting with regulars, welcoming guests and making this space her own, there is a change in the atmosphere. There’s that same warmth and love. But, I still find it hard not to yearn for the old space. It’s just not the same. While the space has changed, the menu and the vision of bringing the Greenmarket to the table, has not wavered. The couple has not changed their original mission: to offer an intimate, personal dining experience with a menu that is a daily meditation on the Greenmarket. The menu is such an ode to the farmer’s market that you half expect the farmers themselves to come out of the kitchen and bring you your food. The first time I had dinner at the Tasting Room, with Julie and Kiri, the menu had been modified to conform to standard appetizers and entrees from the signature Share/Taste format. We were disappointed by that change, but on my last visit, the original format had been restored. On our first visit we started with a watermelon salad ($11)—chunks of juicy sugar sweet melon tossed with red-ribbed dandelion greens and creamy hunks of goat’s milk feta spiced up with a dressing made with black chiles. The effect was amazing—as your mouth heats up from the chiles, it gets cooled down from the sweet cool balm of the melon. Another first course salad was composed of heirloom longbeans beans sautéed with crunchy fried pork skins, which were nice, though I would have preferred a few hunks of pork belly in their too. But the salad was nicely seasoned and showered with hazelnuts in a clever dressing made with miso ($12). We also got into a wonderful plate of wild chanterelles were roasted and plated with Swiss chard, and fingerling potatoes, topped with a perfectly poached egg with a yolk the color of a hot orange summer sun on its way down the horizon ($34). Our last appetizer was a braised and stuffed chicken leg ($12), which Colin cooks sous vide, a preparation that is used liberally all over the menu. The technique, in which the food in question is essentially cooked in a vacuum-sealed plastic pouch in a thermal circulator (water is kept at a constant temp that way) that acts to impressively soften and tenderize the contents of that bag. While it’s quite nifty, I am not a huge fan of this technique. In general, I prefer the real sear and caramelization that happens when food hits a hot pan. Many chefs love sous vide, but in general I am a fan of braising and roasting, not bagging and boiling. But I am not too proud to admit when I am wrong. And in this instance, sous vide does do wonders for that chicken leg, which is succulent, buttery and moist, served stuffed with corn and turnips and dressed in a rich and luscious sauce made from foie gras. It’s a home run. However, I didn’t think that sous vide was the right technique for a Tamworth pork loin ($26), which was rendered too soft and too flabby. Though it was served with lovely, picture perfect carrots and a jammy dose of onion confit ($26), I felt like I could remove my teeth and eat it with my gums. The Snowdance farm chicken breast ($28), however, with creamy ricotta dumplings and tomato sauce that was more like a smoky chunky romesco, was quite nice. The other night when Jamie and I visited, we started with a few cocktails ($11 each)— a Moscow Mule (fresh ginger beer, lime, and vodka), and a Rickey (lime, sugar, tequila), before we got around to dinner. And as we were ready to move on to wine (the list is practically all domestic) our appetizers arrived, just on time. The Jack Mackerel escabeche was bright and frisky—a real zigzag of flavors: sour, tart, sweet, pungent all ricocheting around each other. It was served with a glossy swordfish tartare, plated on zippy, lemon-pickled Kirby cucumbers—crunchy and piquant and a great vehicle for the tartare. More, please. It was fabulous. Colin’s Peconic bay razor corn chowder ($11) was a beautiful farewell to summer corn. A silken soup was showered generously with sweet kernels and slivered shallots, like confetti for the clams. For our main courses, we went with two fish dish dishes. The cobia fillet ($15/26), I am sorry to say, was disappointing. While the fish was cooked nicely, the skin was crunchy, dry and almost leathery. It was odd. But I loved its accompaniment—a creamy haze of white sweet potatoes and a mound of sharp mustard greens. We both preferred the local triggerfish—a firm, moist white-fleshed fillet that was served in an creamy emulsion of lemon and butter dotted with cherry-red aji dolce chiles and braised escarole ($17/30). With the larger space, The Tasting Room now has a pastry chef, Samir Sarsour, formerly of Chicalicious. We loved the massive Devil’s food cake sandwich filled with bittersweet chocolate mousse ($8), and the caramelized apples, served with cornmeal cake and delicious buttermilk ice cream ($9). The service at the Tasting Room has been up and down. While the staff is knowledgeable and friendly, on our first night the pace of our courses was achingly slow. We waited about 45 minutes for our appetizers (and in that time frame ate way too much bread) and could have watched an episode of Lost in between apps and entrees. But on my second visit though, the kitchen had clearly gotten it together and wait times between courses were normal. I have to be honest here, I miss the old Tasting Room. It’s just not the same in the new restaurant. But I guess that’s not the point, to be the same. We have to allow people to evolve and grow, and we have to allow for restaurants to do the same. I do love a lot of things about the new restaurant, especially the spectacular new bar and cocktail program. And I give Colin a lot of credit for his steadfast dedication, and his almost religious dedication to the Greenmarket. Every ingredient used in that restaurant, other than the lemons and limes for the bar, is sourced from a local farm; even the onions and carrots used for mire poix. There is a purity to that practice that is truly inspired, and that comes through in the intense flavors of the food. Now, I may not have loved every dish coming out of his kitchen, but there were enough there to make my heart race and want to return. And Renee is still there, doing her thing, sharing her sweetness, making sure her guests are taken care of. Change is hard for everyone. For the guests who crave the sameness of the past, and for the owners who have to adjust to a new, faster pace and a higher volume. It will take time for everyone to get used to the new place. But it will happen. And if you have a few drinks at the bar, it will happen even quicker.

Review By: Andrea Strong


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