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.

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