Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s latest restaurant venture is ABC Kitchen, located at the ABC Carpet Building in downtown Manhattan. The restaurant has a very young and relaxed feel, with market inspired classics and other comfort food dishes on their seasonal menu. Thankfully, we seem to be over that period of super fancy and extremely pricey power restaurants of the 80’s and 90’s, and the latest trend towards daily market driven menus, locally sourced ingredients, and well-executed favorites has taken over. Fancy chefs have all opened more accessible places for the younger crowd that still loves to eat out, but is less likely to pay for all the extra overheads. Sister had been to ABC Kitchen several times before our last visit to Manhattan, and she booked us a table for dinner on one of three nights we spent in the city…
Sister wasn’t the only one who felt she had found a favorite new place to lunch or dine… The New York Times reviewer gave ABC Kitchen a very respectable 2 stars just months after it had opened, and days before we were to dine there. New York Magazine also gave it a good review. In case you were curious or just into marketmanila.com trivia, click on the link to the New York Magazine article, and click on the first picture which has only two diners in the dining room–one of them is SISTER. Heeheehee. That’s the closest you will ever get to a photo of her. :) She was eating there with a friend a few weeks after it opened and it just so happened the photographer for New York Magazine was snapping shots for an upcoming review…
I should disclose that Ian, the sous-chef at ABC Kitchen, is a good friend of my niece (Sister’s daughter), so there was a good reason to try the restaurant early on. But trust me, Sister would not return to the restaurant repeatedly if the food didn’t meet her high standards. Ian was one of the guests at a dinner at Per Se several years ago, click here for a description of that four star meal. I won’t go into a lengthy description of the ABC Kitchen interiors, just click on links to the press reviews for better photos and descriptions… But I will tell you what we ate that evening…
Up top was Mrs. MM’s starter, a small bowl with tender young leeks in a superb shallot and mustard vinaigrette. This was excellent. One of the finest examples of the dish Mrs. MM has tried, and she HAS tried this dish in at least two dozen restaurants around the world. I have always made this with larger leeks and the use of baby leeks is an eye-opener. Locally grown leeks tend to be rather slender when compared to their Western cousins, so now I think I will experiment with the youngest leeks I can find in the market… The third photo is my starter, a brilliant salad of fresh fava beans paired with frais de bois (wild strawberries) marinated in a vinaigrette, dotted with chunks of sheeps milk cheese all resting on tender young arugula leaves. A very good olive oil tied this all together. I loved this dish… so simple, yet so satisfying. The photo above is of a small bowl of well-executed calamari served with two different sauces. They were good and crisp on the outside and tender inside.
Chef Ian sent a few additional dishes out to our table and one of them was this ceviche of scallops with a light dressing and lots of lemon zest. If you are a sushi fan, this would take you to sushi heaven… light, bright and delicious. Amazing how little you have to do to make great ingredients sing… This was served on a large scallop shell over a bed of ice. The thinly sliced scallops were cold and possessed a wonderful mouthfeel and subtle flavor punctuated with the baby punches of lemon zest. I could have eaten two more portions of this for myself. :)
Beautiful slices of heirloom tomatoes on top of toasted bread were a simple but welcome burst of summer. Again, if the ingredients are great, how can you go wrong by presenting them in their simplest form?
Another hit was salad of young sweet peas, mixed with greens (endive, radicchio, etc.). I would have wanted more sweet peas, but I suppose that might have made the dish prohibitive in price and prep time.
Another dish sent to our table was a stunning pizza with fresh morel mushrooms and eggs. The pizzas had a thin crust and were cooked in a very hot, probably wood-fired oven. Earthy, flavorful and mouthwatering. Crust was a bit burned but that added to the rustic feel of the pizza.
As I often feel at good restaurants, we should have just tried everything on their list of appetizers and skipped the main course… I had a pork belly dish served with cherries, turnips and broccoli rabe for my main and while it was very good, I guess I should have opted for something other than pork after all of the pork experiments of the past year…
With the benefit of several previous visits, Sister dismissed the menu and knew she wanted the sea bass on greens and potatoes with a lemon broth. I got to taste this dish and it was definitely the best of the main courses ordered that evening, in my opinion. The sea bass was perfectly cooked and the lemon broth was an inspired choice of partner. This was EXCELLENT.
The Teen had a dish of very good ravioli, stuffed with cheese and basil and sitting in a shallow puddle of fresh tomato sauce.
Two people at the table that evening ordered the fried chicken, served on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes. I didn’t taste the chicken, but everyone swears by it… :)
Two side dishes sent by the Chef to our table included this simple dish of roasted yellow and green squashes with parmesan cheese…
…and this gorgeous dish of fresh peas and carrots bathed in melted butter. It sounds common, but this one was anything but common. Young pea tendrils garnish the dish.
With all the wonderful dishes so far, it’s a miracle we even managed to consume any dessert, but with the Teen present, how could we not? Mrs. MM and I split this lemon meringue pie that was only so-so.
The rhubarb pie with duck fat crust and served with a scoop of ice cream was even less appealing. But the runaway hit was the Teen’s sundae with salted caramel ice cream, chocolate sauce, caramel popcorn and chopped peanuts. Wow!
Overall this was a wonderful dinner with several simple yet surprisingly well-executed dishes. Well known ingredients and flavors were used with a light touch and always a welcome twist, resulting in an uncomplicated yet unusual meal. We ate a LOT of food that evening, and together with a few glasses of wine, a couple of locally brewed beers and various softdrinks (several lime and lemon and ginger sodas made in-house), this came out to roughly $60-70 per person before tips. Well worth the money. We will definitely be back for more.
35 East 18th Street
New York, NY 10003