Agape Substance, Paris, France

I am literally agape right now. Agape at the lack of substance at Agape Substance in Paris tonight. 500 Euro and an agonizing three hours later, Miss Love and I are trying to piece together the shards of a confusing evening of Beckett-esque futility. TL;DR: I have never had a worse meal in my life.

To put it succinctly, Agape Substance is best left for a clientele tired of being beaten with birch switches and paying for it, a special type of customer who wants something a little more public. To them, I recommend this tasting menu, accompanied by dim fluorescent lighting and sallow-toned smoked mirrors. A scarily accurate glimpse into the future, I now know how it will look when I go to the DMV when I’m 40. Throughout the course of an evening, we went through over 20 courses of incongruent, vapid bites with strange visual cues and a seemingly Freudian undertone in a restaurant best suited to a 1980’s swinger’s club. This is the fucking Dorsia of the Left Bank.

We started with butternut squash tuile. It tasted like dessicated Fruit Roll-Up housed in a customized slab of china, overly sweet to start a meal.

Following that were pork trotter chicharrones with minced dory fish on top. Crispy and porky, they gave us a vague sense of hope for the meal to come.

I was anxiously anticipating our next dish, a berce sponge with hogweed flower. Agape is known for its flagrant usage of berce, but the improbably bright Soylent Green coloring and kitchen sponge-like flavor were disconcerting.

A mini-pizza with pine nuts and caviar was tasty, if meager.

We ended our selection of amuse bouches with a dried salsify with white chocolate creme fraiche and olive. Wow, this dish was confusing. Texturally, it was like eating flaccid carrots with slightly stale dip, as though the inspiration for this was found rooting in the back of the chef’s refrigerator one late evening. The chocolate was dulled by the richness of the cream, a white sploogy void on the plate.
Our first savory course, king crab with grapefruit, mint, and artichoke consomme was inoffensive and tasty, with a vibrant sweet and savory component from the citrus fruit and herbs.

Parsnip with smoked sea salt, olive, and rye came shortly after. Tasted like a loaded baked potato sans Bacos. It was also at this point that we noticed that the “special truffle supplement,” an additional 50 Euro per person, merely consisted of hunks of truffles shaved over this, as well as other dishes, we received throughout the evening. A must to avoid.
Following this was a runny half-boiled egg with orgeat syrup, blanched almonds, and polenta. I do not know why this was placed where it was in the menu, or really, what purpose it served all. It was, as Camus may have said, an indicator of a wholly indifferent universe. It raised some important questions about taste and the meaning of life. For instance: Why am I eating raw cookie dough-flavored food sandwiched between the appetizer and main course? Who wants to see their date awkwardly dribble gooey, raw organic fluid down the corner of their mouth in public? As tasty as it was, reminiscent of marzipan, it was existentially confusing to a fault.
Duck liver with raspberry consomme, inoffensive and unremarkable. Fresh tasting but bland. The spongy liver could have easily been replaced with mushrooms and I wouldn’t have known.
A hollowed sea urchin with chestnut soup was visually impressive if boring. The richness of the soup cut the urchin’s naturally sweet, briny flavor and neutralized the effect of both.
Carrots and mustard, a trial in mental tenacity. Why, I ask, would any self-respecting restaurant toss hot carrots and mustard on a plate halfway through the meat courses? In a recent review of Agape, Alexander Lobrano praised a similarly simple dish as “lucid.” This, too, was lucid, though more in a Ken Kesey fashion than a Kubrickian genius as he would have us believe. Mindfuckery served with bread and butter.
Sea scallop with seaweed butter and chestnut foam had a dated elegance straight out of American Psycho. Served in a whole scallop shell on a massive slab of frosted, custom-cut Lucite with the pomp and ritual of a Patek, I wish I had worn big shoulder pads and Paloma Picasso to match. Shoddy preparation and repeated themes characterized this dish- the scallops had not been detached from the shell and were nearly impossible to remove whole. It wasn’t reassuring to already see overlapping flavors (seaweed butter and chestnut foam) so early on in the meal.
Sole with charred turnips, white chocolate sauce, and seabean. Nicely prepared, but too polite and impossible to eat together. The group therapy of dishes, everything participated minimally, but never really contributed to a congruent entirety.

Well-prepared venison, served with one stuffed shell straight out of le Stouffer’s. Unfortunately, the sauce appeared -how can I say this tactfully- “hand” made by the chef.

St. Nectaire cheese was tasty, if only for the novelty of eating a wedge of more expensive St. Nectaire than I normally purchase at home.

Raw cubes of kabocha squash, raw flour ice cream (really), and squash caramel. Easily the most puritanical dessert I’ve ever had. This literally hurt to eat. It was chalky, unsweetened, and vegetal. In retrospect, ordering the shredded Kiton atop crushed diamonds would have been more palatable. I witnessed another diner reach an emotional breaking point when he tasted this dish.

Blackberry ice cream, macadamia nuts, lychee, and meringue was bizarre and also clash-heavy; the buttery, oily nuts greasy mingling with icy sorbet and slippery fruit pieces.

100% chocolate, or as we came to know it, the “Everybody Poops” dessert. Overly sweetened mousse, chocolate bark, and sauce with shapes and textures more resembling emissions from our kitten than a decadent end to a meal. Tasted of Nutella, ganache, and sugar.

Passionfruit and mango caramels came with the bill, a tearful 500 Euro for two including the decent, if inconsistent, blind wine tasting. Shameful. Everything about eating here felt like an exercise in sexual transgression, from the backless chairs to the smoked yellow mirrors to the strange swathes of cowhide strategically placed around the table, and of course, the weird surprises and punishment food. I pity the waiters and waitresses, the only bright spot in the dinner service. Usually, in a situation of this nature, at least you get to see a killer rack for the price. We paid for it both in our wallets (thanks for taking one for the team, Miss Love) and in our palates and are now self-medicating with Lindt, Ambien, and chocolate milk. 

I’ve got to say, it felt like the central theme for this dinner was divorce on a plate, because the menu seemed hell-bent on ruining more than a few celebrations and anniversaries that night. Our meal was punctuated with sounds of shame and annoyance and more than one justification- “I swear, this never happens!”- the edible erectile dysfunction to disappointed dates. Come for the promise of phenomenal reviews and stay for the bitter end. You paid for the prix fixe, baby, so wipe that egg yolk off your chin, smile, and say “Merci.”

La Bigarrade, Paris, France

A difficult afternoon was tempered by an elegant night, in no part due to my dinner companion and the effortless service at La Bigarrade in Paris. I had mixed feelings about maintaining the reservation. That was the morning my grandmother had passed away, but we ultimately decided to go in her honor, toasting her with sweet wine and tender seafood. It was a dinner I won’t quickly forget, and an experience I don’t regret.

La Bigarrade is located in the Batignolles area of the 17th arrondissement, not too far from the scenic Square des Batignolles. A tiny, but bright and vibrant restaurant, we made reservations to try out their grand tasting menu as part of a dual bacchanal to celebrate both Miss Love’s visit to Paris and my 22nd birthday.

We opted for the wine pairing and found it quite manageable, definitely moreso than the all-out blowout at wd~50 and Rogue24 (review to come), with clever pairings designed to be consumed with multiple courses. This format of tasting was both economical and multi-faceted, as it allowed many scents and flavors of the wines to emerge when interacting with different courses.

We started with a bread course of Neapolitan olive oil and a light, airy foccacia. Simple, yet palate cleansing as it was meant to be.

The first two amuse bouche courses, served side by side with a 2011 Anjou (whose producer I have regretfully forgotten) were delicious and springy. The first, a delicate melon, paprika, and chevre gazpacho with a little olive oil, was floral and piquant, something I could have enjoyed in a much larger quantity. The accompanying razor-thin slices of avocado, shredded tuna and crab meat, and smoked sea salt with cilantro was a rich, saline homage to Chef Yasuhiro Kanayama’s Japanese origins. The sweetness of the Anjou played well with the smoky, briny flavors in the fish and creaminess of the cheese.

Our second amuse bouche section featured a Kumamoto oyster with champagne, vinegar, (yes, you read that correctly) Tobigo, and applesauce. This was an impeccable example of the versatility of the chef. The entire bite was infused with an effervescence from the champagne and the roe, and a host of tangy flavors from the various acidic elements of the dish. The applesauce added an essential, quirky sweetness to the dish. The second amuse bouche was a potato, beet, and red onion dish. Not the most inventive, but visually pleasing and comfortingly monolithic in its flavors, like a cold borscht. The earthiness of these flavors brought out the more musky side of the Anjou.

The seafood course came next, a beautiful blue lobster tail in a white bean puree, brown butter, and grapefruit sauce. This tasted like a lighter, more modern take on the “classy” cruise dish of the 60’s, Lobster Newberg, a dish my grandmother may have enjoyed on a vacation as a younger woman. This dish, however, was not laden with butter and heavy cream. The nutty brown butter was deftly cut by the individually riced grapefruit flesh particles, a task completed with the precision of a surgeon, lending a sweet acidity to the dish. With our second wine, a 2008 Julien Meyer Riesling Muenchberg Grand Cru from Alsace, it was perfectly paired. This Riesling had a classic halbtrocken flavor profile and sweetness, tense and honeyed with a slightly smoky finish.
We followed the delicacy of the lobster with another fish course, lemon-infused sole with thin shavings of cauliflower, brown butter, fresh thyme, and mollusks. Despite a second round of brown butter and citrus, this didn’t feel repetitive. It was crisp, vegetal, and tender on the inside, with a salty bite from the mollusks. We enjoyed this with a 2010 1er Cru Mersault-Blagny from producer Sarnin-Berrux. Notes of acacia, bitter almond, and a delicate oakiness made this one of our favorites of the evening.

Our third savory course deviated from Franco-Japanese dishes to a decidedly Southwestern flavor profile. Sous-vide pork with a corn, arugula, and soapy oaxalis salad sounds innocuous enough. However, the chef undercut the bold spices with very subversive, clever Asian flavors and ingredients within the dish, like peanut oil and lemongrass. This was one of the most delicious pork dishes I have ever enjoyed. Crisp, fatty, and smart. This was paired with the heady, masculine 2007 Domaine Lucien Boillot et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin  “Les Cherbaudes”.

Finally, we finished strong with a rare roasted pigeon with grilled mushroom and tamarind mash and a pear and potato sauce. The visual presentation of this dish made me think we were being served steak frites! This was a savage, meaty dish with bold flavors and a clean, aromatic fruitiness from the pear. Very well-balanced, and classic when paired alongside the 2008 Chateau Massereau Bordeaux.

The cheese course was simple, yet astounding, immediately bringing me back to lazy summer nights enjoying simple dinners on the back porch with Miss Love back home. It was incredibly vibrant and summery, featuring a chewy Brebis cheese, a chevre round, and a dab of the best mustard I have ever had, sweet and tangy. This was served with a small glass of dolcetto from Italian producer Bera Vitorrio.

We then started our rollercoaster ride of sweet treats, commencing with a trio of miniature desserts, all interconnected with similar flavors and sensations. A pineapple granita, fresh and icy cold, segued to a brilliant, tangy pink grapefruit gel underneath a fizzy basil-mascarpone lime cream. This second dessert may have been my favorite course of the entire evening, so perfectly was it prepared. This was followed by a basic and bold preparation of sliced figs in a white vinegar gelee.

Cardamom ice cream with a brown butter crumble followed alongside a butternut squash creme brulee, two sweetly autumnal desserts.

Tiny, tender hazelnut financiers with crispy chunks of fleur de sel made for a marvelous transition to our chocolate dessert and mignardises.

Our final dessert was simple, yet nostalgic: a chocolate torte with a smear of white chocolate and pink peppercorn. Spicy, sweet, and prepared in a way that let the natural flavors of the chocolate stand out.
The last bite of the night with the last swig of wine: tender vanilla dacquoises with a sweet Chantilly cream filling. The perfect ending to a wonderful evening. The food was artfully prepared and the service impeccable. Our waiter spoke to us in French, offering to slow down or repeat information at any time, and noticed later on in the evening that I was surreptitiously taking photos and told me not to hide my camera- that photography was fine and encouraged!

The unique flow of this dinner evoked so many memories, taking us through the seasons and years in a time-lapsed tour de force. It was sweet and melancholy given the circumstances of the visit, a bittersweet encapsulation of the passage of time in small bites. It truly astounds me that chefs whom I’ve never met, servers I’ll never see again, could evoke such precision and kindness in their cuisine. In this sprawling, lonely city, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

wd~50, New York, NY

My absence for the last few days hasn’t so much been a byproduct of business as it’s been a complete suspension of my personal gustatory reality. This week, I ate vegetarian sandwiches that tasted like meat, drank wines with the aromas of flowers, barnyards, and musk, and willingly downed not one, but nearly two large portions of tender, chewy woodear mushrooms, my own personal Kryptonite, in ecstasy and without any pretense of betting. This last fact alone proves that Chef Wylie Dufresne of wd~50 isn’t so much mad scientist, as diners have noted, so much as he is a benevolent wizard of cuisine. But I’ll get back to that.

This has been on my bucket list for a while. When Miss Love offered to treat me to dinner, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. As we drove to the restaurant, situated on Clinton street across a check cashing kiosk and Mexican grocery store, I was kind of wondering if I’d be hitting the end of that bucket list sooner than I thought. wd~50 looks completely different on the inside, and from the throngs of well-dressed people and scarily attractive clientele milling around the restaurant, it’s clear that the restaurant has many admirers despite its location. On a balmy evening, we started off our night with a few cocktails.
We ordered two specialty cocktails from their list- a wd~50 classic, the Green Hornet, with celery gin and tonic, and a seasonal selection, the aptly named ¿Qué Pasa, Calabaza? with tequila, squash, yuzu, and black salt. The Green Hornet was an excellent interpretation on an old standard. Drinking it becomes apparent that this is not the place where sticking a stalk of celery in a G ‘n’ T passes for a quality libation. It infuses all the sweet brininess of a celery stick into a drink with none of the pesky starchy xylem, working impeccably with the spices in the gin.
The ¿Qué Pasa, Calabaza? was a perfect play off the weather outside, with a very Halloweeny black and orange color scheme and a light, fruity flavor and fragrant nose. The yuzu crept in at the end of each sip, its subtle influence rendering a citrusy zest without the tartness that a lemon would typically impart. The richness of the squash was beautiful with the naturally yogurty flavor of the tequila. If there was any one element I was somewhat on the fence about, it would have been the salt. While a little was welcomed, there was quite a bit on the rim of the drink. Consuming too much salt in one sip overpowered the more delicate flavors.
While drinking, we enjoyed a box of crisp sesame flatbread in lieu of a bread basket. These had a buttery flavor and delicate texture of the crunch of popcorn husks without the annoying tooth-sticking quality. They provided a good neutrality in between dishes.
Here at Foodette, we go big and go home sloshed, so we went for the full tasting menu with the wine pairings. We started off with an amuse bouche of fluke, black garlic paste, grapefruit, toasted squash seeds, and pomegranate zest. This was an excellent way to start the meal, with a light texture yet bold flavors with the tobacco-like sweetness of fall. The crunch from the squash seeds and silky garlic sauce offset the acidity of the grapefruit and gave depth to the mild fish.
This was paired with a sparkling sake from Yamagata, Japan, which our server explained was basically regular sake made with unpolished rice, made using the méthode champenoise with a light petillance and familiar sake neutrality. It allowed the flavors of the amuse bouche and second course to shine without clashing and was a great way to ease into the meal.
Our second course was the driving force behind my desire to come here, Dufresne’s famous everything bagel ice cream with crispy cream cheese, fuzzy smoked salmon threads, and pickled onions. The presentation was stunning, from the matte sheen on the brittle shard of cream cheese to the airbrushed baking marks on the bagel and precisely placed sesame and poppy seeds. It was beautiful, if ephemeral, and had a sweet, bready quality and silky texture.
Next, we waited for our third course while enjoying our second wine, a 2008 Austrian “Trie” Triebaumer from Burgenland. It is worth noting that if you’re friendly to your server, you’ll leave with a slew of new facts about the fascinating library of wines wd~50 pairs, as well as a fairly generous pour with each new glass. This particular wine was a combination of unoaked Chardonnay, Yellow Muscat, and Muskat Ottonel, three wines that made me cringe inwardly in anticipation of the sugar shock that never came. For a trio of typically unctuous wines, this was a fairly restrained example, with a cloudy color and floral heavy, bone dry flavor that played nicely with the next course.
This was another curiosity, Wylie Dufresne’s play on a falafel, taking the “fa” and replacing it with “foie” in a melty, buttery ball of joy nestled inside a thick, chewy pita bread. The foie-lafel consisted of foie gras balls rolled in chickpeas and sesame seeds, fried inside a pita with kimchi tahini and a tabouleh salad underneath. While absolutely delightful to hold and eat, the two unusual elements, kimchi and foie gras, were buried under the pungency of the Middle Eastern spices and showed only their most basic forms in a slight piquancy for the former and fatty, rich quality for the latter. A clever interpretation, and a delicious one, but one that unfortunately missed the mark as far as idiosyncrasy went.
Our next wine followed a similar suit with the 2009 Palmina “Subida” from the Saint Ynez Valley of California. This wine was created in a similar style to red wines from the same producer, and had a beautiful basil and nut flavor with a dusty nose and a yellow hue rivaled only by the luxurious center of our next course, Dufresne’s interpretation of a Caesar Salad with a perfectly soft-boiled egg orbited by dried pumpernickel crisps, lily bulb, caesar dressing, and its own shell, recreated out of edible kaolin clay and brown butter. Flavor-wise, not the most outgoing, but the texture was seamlessly similar to an actual solid egg shell.
The udon dish completely turned my world upside down. Completely. Granted, I had my chance to pussy out at the start when the server asked about food allergies, but I decided that if I took my chances and ate mushrooms, it would be at the hands of one of America’s most talented magicians of morsels, and I would go down like a champ. Turns out I didn’t have to go anywhere. In a rare feat of bravery, this was so delicious that I ate all of mine and most of Keepitcoming’s. At its simplest, this dish mimics the textures and flavors of crispy General Tso’s chicken on a bed of chow mein. At its most daring, this was a melange of beautiful moist textures and sweet flavors. Surprisingly, mushrooms make pretty damned good noodles, sopping up the gingery sauce yet remaining firm. This was topped with soft morsels of crispy fried sweetbread. The only element that I felt could have been richer and more pervasive was the banana molasses, reduced to a mere glaze atop the sweetbread and lacking the smokiness I typically associate with the sauce.
We were absolutely smitten with the 2010 Gamay “Mon Cher” Noella Moratin. It had the gamey, rustic qualities of its varietal, with a persistent and strong lily nose, with floral top notes and a deep, bretty, almost human-like base scent, of barnyards and wet leather. It reminded us of vintage French perfumes with an old-fashioned set of scents and flavors. It added a svelte layer of grassy sweetness to the udon that the molasses lacked.
A tender, perfect piece of salmon was paired with a root beer oatmeal, sour cherry mash, and carrot. The oatmeal absorbed the snappier, minty essences of sassafras with a firm bite from the kernels and tasted fine against the mild flavor of the salmon, but both had very separate flavors and never really met in the middle. The cherry mash electrified the salmon and really boosted its natural sweetness better than the oatmeal. The carrot’s flavor was nowhere to be found.
We drank a 2010 Pinot Noir from Wilson Daniels with this as well as our next course, though I must confess that at this stage, the generous pours were getting to me and if the wine wasn’t off the charts exceptional and memorable, it didn’t really stick in my head. This was one of the more generic selections of the pairing, with a mild licorice and cherry flavor and scent.
Our next savory course consisted of a tender filleted duck breast dotted with blobs of nasturtium yogurt, roasted turnips, and nutmeg. The nasturtium yogurt was the most unique part of the dish, with a thick, pasty texture and tang similar to hot Chinese mustard but no heat. On top of the duck and countered by the rooty turnips, it was delicious, if a little rich for us at that point.
The final savory course of the evening, (which, at that point, had passed the two and a half hour mark) was a riff off rice and beans with lamb and chayote squash. A very Southwestern vibe emitted from the spices on the “rice and beans,” which were really soft, soaked pine nuts and a rice crisp. The lamb was cooked to perfection, but had a little too much fat left on. I liked the sweet, apple-like flavor the chayote lent to each bite. Cut in translucent strips, it curled around the fork, wrapping the fillings up like a nouveau American sushi roll.
We transitioned to the dessert portion of the menu with a strange little palate cleanser of candied egg yolk, brown buttermilk ice cream, jackfruit, and crushed hazelnut pieces. The dish toed the line delicately between savory and neutral, with a hint of sweetness and rush of acidity from the jackfruit. The egg yolk and jackfruit were both bright yellow in hue and the yolk had a milky, creamy flavor but was difficult to discern in each bite. The crunch of the toasted hazelnuts gave a good structural depth to the otherwise dairy-heavy dessert.
And then, we were in full-throttle sugar mode. It was awesome. The apricot, buckwheat, quince, and green tea dessert lent a range of flavors to the plate, at first resembling a set of components not unlike certain Rieslings, but with more colorful flair and less balance on the whole. The apricot pudding had an excellent texture, but its tartness mirrored that of the quince and pushed the subtle salinity of buckwheat to the back burner. The green tea powder was piled and squiggled in a way that made each bite somewhat inconsistent. Some had a mere whiff of bitterness, some, overly chalky as a result of too much powder.
Our wine with that was a beautiful Vermont ice cider, a “Honeycrisp” from Champlain Orchards. It was beautiful and smooth, with a honeyed, brown sugar flavor and ripeness of a baked apple.
We followed that wine with our final dessert and dessert wine, a Californian NV Port, the “Lot Number Three” Marietta. This was a beautiful and lush selection with a chocolatey, sundried flavor that reminded me of liquified Raisinettes. I drank both our ports with our final dessert.
This last dessert was another Dufresne favorite, the beet, ricotta, chocolate, and long pepper Pollack-inspired edible painting. I could have eaten the ricotta ice cream by the gallon, it was so tangy and delicious, with a flavor similar to, but wholly different than yogurt and cheese. It definitely had the silky, salty bite of ricotta. The beets imparted less of a flavoral difference than I expected, but accentuated the saltiness of the ice cream and provided a gorgeous color palate. For me, the chocolate was the highlight of the dish, with a fluid, semisolid texture and elastic smoothness in the mouth. A perfect way to finish the meal.
With our check came balls of ice cream coated in Rice Krispies and fried balls of a lemony rice pudding. Poppable and sweet, they helped soak up a good deal of booze for the ride back.

I got the sense that wd~50 didn’t rest all its deconstructed eggs in one basket. Their food was delicious, and their service was impeccable. Each element of the meal felt like it was executed and timed well. Considering that the meal lasted for a little around three and a half hours, it never felt like it was dragging or like we were forgotten. While I can’t say that the meal was perfect- a few of the dishes did feel like they were presented for shock value with less regard for flavor than expected, it was certainly memorable and beautiful. I’ll definitely be coming back to check out the dessert tasting and to try a few more of those cocktails.

recette, New York, NY

As we rode further downtown in the taxi, I kept asking myself what we were doing on the eve of a huge storm in an area of Manhattan we weren’t familiar with. The wind blew trash around and the street took on a yellowish tinge. New York seemed bare and empty. When we entered the doors of recette, our dinner destination for the evening, I had my answer. It was packed with patrons snaking around the kitchen bar to all the far corners of the room, and in our seat by the window, we could look out into the heart of all the bustle and action. recette was clearly the place to be, as evidenced by the throngs of New Yorkers and tourists alike sitting down for dinner.

Eating at recette is like being at a dinner party at an old friend’s house, that is, if your friend’s names read like a famed culinary rock band, with 27 year old chef Jesse Schenker and his Per Se trained pastry chef, Christina Lee rewriting the definition of centuries-old French cuisine. The outside of recette resembles a classic French bistro that’s been kicked into the 21st century, the inside filled with candles and interesting knick-knacks (as in not TGI Friday’s) dotting the shelves and staircases of the room, giving the impression of being in just one area of the event. We saw first dates, anniversary dates, and dinners with friends and co-workers materialize before our eyes as the storm set in, mere minutes after our arrival. As we tucked in to a couple of cold drinks, our server explained the logistics of the menu to us. I get the impression that everything at recette is done as simply as possible in a way that evokes an Occam’s Santoku knife, but in the best and most creative fashion. For example, the menu was set up in an infographic fashion similar to Alinea, but instead of bubbles of various textures implying the substance and flavor of the item, they were arranged from light to heavy. Although we chose to go for the tasting menu, we were encouraged by our server to pick and choose elements from the regular menu that we wanted to try and also ones that we would rather avoid. I thought this was an ingenious approach to the persistent anxiety I experience as a control freak, as I was able to maintain a certain element of whimsy to the menu yet bypass items that I would rather not eat. What can I say? I’m an infant.

We were warned that the plates veered toward the small side, but that with the tasting menu, people tended to get full fairly quickly, so we opted for the five-course tasting menu and a couple of cocktails to start off. I started with the poivre noire, a minimal yet delectable combination of Hendrick’s gin, black pepper, and cucumber spirals. This was an incredibly well-prepared cocktail with a complex flavor infused with black pepper in both large flakes and something else, perhaps black pepper vodka, that peppered (pun intended) the entire drink with piquant bursts of freshness and spice in a smooth, sweet way. It had a restrained sweetness and fruitiness to its flavor. The texture of this drink was harmoniously balanced between solid and liquid as the cucumber pieces dissolved from little turgid morsels in the glass. I was tempted to order another one of these shortly after I finished the first.

My companion went for a fruitier concoction, recette’s citron et menthe cocktail with a summery mixture of Ketel One, lemon, and mint. Another refreshing cocktail, the offspring of unsweetened iced tea and lemonade. From the start, it’s nice to see that the bustle and excitement of recette’s atmosphere balances a very delicate subtlety in the flavors of their food. No one element was over the top in our drinks.

Our tasting menu started with an amuse bouche of uni, marinated hamachi, sea beans, and a harissa cream. This was a lovely, briney bite that I scooped up and ate in one piece. The texture was soft with a bit of crunch from the sea beans and each element was complimentary to another. The hemisphere of harissa cream mimicked the spongy, soft texture of the uni and the hamachi’s velvety bite cradled the softness of the heads of the sea bean. This was a dish I could see Rodzilla relishing! It was an excellent start to our meal.

Our salad course consisted of a mixture of heirloom tomatoes, Peekytoe crab, hearts of palm, tarragon, and aged balsamic vinegar. This was a wet, succulent example of a salad that even a die-hard meat and potato lover like myself relished down to the last bite. The tomatoes were slightly warm, which gave them the sensation of tasting like they’d been recently picked after sitting in the sun that day, and were salted perfectly with a dollop of balsamic vinegar. They were sweet, much like the crab, and with the crunchy hearts of palm adding an element of spice and grassiness, made a perfectly seasoned salad to start the meal. Not a whole lot of tarragon could be tasted in the melange of flavors, but that wasn’t a big deal.

Our first main course was absolutely stunning. One of the most magical components of the tasting menu that we realized quite early on is that recette was pairing foods we wouldn’t normally order under the standard three course constraints of a meal and preparing them so perfectly so as to alter our preferences completely. This was the case of the sea scallops with artichoke, carrots, asparagus, and caviar beurre blanc. None of the elements were particularly strange, and scallops aren’t a dish I generally choose to order, yet these were prepared so perfectly, with a crisp, thick outer crust yielding to a translucent, soft interior and pops of salty flavor from the caviar bobbing in the beurre blanc that I was almost inclined to lick the plate. Even the vegetal element, which initially appeared to be a toss-away to maximize filling the plate, was covered in a slick coating of this sauce and made even the most lowly of ground roots salty and as poppable as a potato chip. Butter and sturgeon can do that to food, but this was just stunning.

We moved on to our second savory course, ocean trout with spaetzle, cockles, hummus, cilantro pistou, and pickled onion. Despite spending most of my childhood growing up on a marina where the definition of fresh fish was whether or not it was moving while on the hot grill, I’ve never quite enjoyed the flavor or texture. This, like the scallops, proved to be in a tier above the rest. As you can see, the trout was so soft that in the ten foot distance it took to carry it across the room, it fell apart. It was prepared with a slight poach on the outside with a rare, jewel-like inner core. Each of the complimentary elements added a new level of texture and flavor to the blank canvas of the trout, which, on its own, was very minimally seasoned. The cilantro pistou seeped into every cranny of the flaky trout, with a fresh, creamy flavor and texture. The spaetzle and cockles, which we originally thought were whole chickpeas, were prepared with a char on the bottom and a smoky, buttery flavor, and the hummus bound each bite together. This was a daring dish with multiple elements designed to cut through the monolithic structure of the fish. No one component outshone the other, though I’d be hard pressed to admit that I didn’t want an entire bowl of that spaetzle laced with the pistou.

Our last savory course was the only one that we found missed the mark. Missing the mark for recette would normally be the best meal of another restaurant. Had I been served this at Paragon or The Suburban, I may have been singing a different tune. This dish had an element that I’d requested, sherry caramel, glazing a piece of Berkshire pork belly (proving that we always end up where we started, no matter how far we go!) paired with a salt cod fritter, turnips, and a grainy romesco sauce. None of these elements really came together in a complimentary way. The romesco, which I suspect was an attempt at adding an acidic element to the otherwise rich piece of meat, came across a little too jammy with overachieving umami-laden notes to really settle on the pork belly, with a whipped, light texture more characteristic of dessert than of dinner. While the sherry caramel was decadent as expected, it was applied in a very light coating on the pork, more reminiscent of a regular sugar glaze on a ham than a caramel, so to speak. The pork belly was a tad too undercooked and gelatinous in places, stringy in others, and left too much up to fate in each bite. More consistency would have been preferable. Don’t get the idea that I didn’t enjoy this, though. For a “subpar” dish at recette, I ended up wolfing down both mine and most of my companion’s.

After our savory courses, we ordered another round of drinks. This time I chose the exquisite-sounding Le Figure, consisting of prosecco, agave nectar, and marinated figs. The agave added a thickness to the drink and a syrupy consistency, yet imparted very little sweetness to the beverage on a whole. The figs sat sullenly at the bottom of the drink, releasing their earthy sugars only when consumed at the end of the drink. The first 80% was bready in that typical Processo manner but unfortunately, no different from one until the end.

Our other drink was somewhat conventional, but tasty. It wasn’t memorable enough for us to want to get it again or even finish it. It had raspberries, lemon, and Ketel One, but suffered from the same tempered lack of sweetness of Le Figure. The lemon overpowered the raspberries, whose natural sugar wasn’t enough to tame the tartness of the citrine elements. It wasn’t as well-balanced as either of our previous cocktails.

To get us ready for dessert, we received a small palate cleanser after our pork. But this was no paltry spoonful of granita or melting ball of sorbet. This was a fluffy spice and ginger cake topped with an olive oil foam and a juicy piece of plum. Honestly, even though I’m not too big on fruity desserts, if I’d seen this on the menu I probably would have ordered it. It smoothly transported our tastebuds from savory to sweet with the spiciness of the ginger and olive oil and the sweetness of the fruit and cake. On a rainy, cold night, it reminded me of eating gingerbread in the winter. Easily one of the highlights of the meal.

We received two different desserts that we switched back and forth. The first dessert was an interpretation on hot chocolate, with graham cracker ice cream, toasted marshmallow accents, and a dark chocolate ganache and swirl on top. This was a warm, comforting flavor whose cozy feeling was accentuated by a surprise ingredient our server hadn’t mentioned- chili pepper and cinnamon! We liked that these were omitted from the description for us to discover ourselves, as it made the sensation of being warmed from the inside out even more palpable.

Our other dessert was a deconstructed Snickers bar parfait. A block of salted chocolate mousse topped what tasted like a Rice Krispie treat with a garnish of peanut nougatine and chocolate sauce, flanked by salted caramel gelato. This was perfectly seasoned in all of its elements, the delicate salt flakes cutting through the creaminess of the mousse and gelato. The mousse tasted disturbingly like a Snickers, without the stringiness of its characteristic texture. I appreciated the bits of crunch to give texture to the otherwise mushy dessert. A wonderfully executed piece to finish a decadent dinner.

Toward the end of our meal, the woman to our left turned to us and asked us how the pork belly was. The man sitting to our right inquired as to which desserts we’d gotten. As the night drew on, each party grew more curious and more communal. That was the crux of recette’s offerings, to entice and coax you to curiosity- a noble feat for some New Yorkers. (It is worth noting that I dispelled this hopeful conclusion in an elevated state of inebriation and shouted my answers six inches away. Dear anonymous diners, the cocktails were that good.) Although recette’s tasting menu did not offer completely customized offerings, instead utilizing smaller versions of what was already on the menu, it was an excellent way to get an idea of what the full plates and snacks are like without ordering every plate on the menu or bringing all of your friends. I’m looking forward to coming back to recette and hopefully trying the special Mondays with Jesse tasting menu as well.