Where To Bite – ABC Kitchen [New York, NY]
You can’t make reservations more than a month in advance, and you can’t hope for a table if you wait longer. After a number of failed attempts, my family and I finally secured a spot. On November 13, a month before my father’s birthday, we reserved a table for four at ABC Kitchen, Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Georges’ award winning restaurant for local, farm-to-table, all-natural slow-food.
ABC Kitchen is also on the ground floor of a design store, and a mecca for interior whimsy itself. Massive driftwood sculptures tower near exposed wood beams, and all-white tables, chairs, and white-washed brick pop in the ambient light from exposed bulbs and chandeliers.
The menu is full of unfamiliar vegetables and seasonal flavors, and is best experienced with people you don’t mind sharing forks with. Namely your parents, and family-friend Susan who is basically the older-wiser-literary-connoisseur sister you wish you had.
Recommended Dishes: The “Market Table” section of the menu is a medley of small plates featuring the best ingredients of the moment. I recommend ordering primarily from there, and the “Appetizer” section, in order to create a cohesive meal.
The Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Celery Leaves aren’t great for sharing, but I paired them with the Kale Salad with Preserved Lemon, Serrano Chilies and Mint as a main course. This was the perfect amount of food – Two whole mushroom caps (one which I donated to the table’s enormous “share” pile) with a few delicate celery leaves added just the right amount of meat to the kale salad.
The salad is massaged with a citrus dressing – ask them to go light, but (as never before said on LWB) don’t tell them to hold it. The citrus softens the kale and makes it palatable. Otherwise, it would be tough and bitter to the tongue. Combined, the portobellos and kale salad made a perfect, light, vegan, gluten-free, grain-free entree. Which was necessary when we consider some of the rich, celebratory dishes that preceded it.
The Not-So-Good Bite: The menu has no vegetarian entrees. Plain and simple. I have to say I was surprised, and disappointed, to see that the only “entree” options for vegetarians were pastas and pizzas; not exactly the most healthy selections. It’s also not the lightest menu; few things are vegan, and many of the dishes come with cheese, a runny-yolk egg, or nuts. It is, however, extremely healthy in respect to the fact that many dishes are vegetable-based, and every ingredient in the kitchen is GMO-free, hormone-free, humanely sourced, and free of other unnatural chemicals.
Again, this isn’t a place to drop in for a quick, healthy salad to-go. If you fight for a reservation there, you should sit, order, and indulge. And you can at least enjoy the good-conscious with which the menu was curated and the deep appreciation for ingredients showcased on every plate.
The Good Bite: The menu has the stalwart vegetables you want to find when you go out to eat. Roasted beets, a cauliflower steak (roasted until soft as butter and topped with a crumb of onion and walnut and a single fried egg) and a generous side of brussels sprouts in mustard vinaigrette. But the menu doesn’t shy away from more exotic, unfamiliar offerings.
We enjoyed the kabocha squash (my new favorite ingredient for cold Northern winters), roasted until almost spread-like, served with fresh ricotta and apple cider vinegar on thick, crusty toast. Wood-oven roasted sunchokes were also a fun side for the table, soft like whole cloves of cooked garlic and topped with herbs and crushed hazelnuts.
The Best Bite: Another LWB first was the whole wheat pizza we ordered as a starter. Cut into four wide slices, this small pizza was a perfect appetizer for sharing, and as a substitute (not addition) for the standard bread basket with olive oil. It was also the special of the evening – topped with 7 ounces of white truffle, fontina cheese, parmesan, and a whole soft-cooked farm egg. At $98, it’s an over-the-top spend, but totally worth it. It’s almost impossible to order that amount of white truffle, and the experience is gastronomically mind-blowing. This isn’t the healthiest bite, but when split between four, it’s just the right way to whet the palate and indulge. How many times in your life can you eat a slice of pizza that cost $24.50, and is truly, inarguably worth every penny and calorie? Probably just once, at ABC Kitchen.
In addition to some of the best food I have ever experienced, served on deliberately mismatched China and accompanied by stellar cocktails all based on house-infused syrups, the service from start to end was truly top-notch. Our waitress laughed politely at all of our bad jokes (especially when I asked to send back the half-eaten $98 pizza) and, upon request, the bartender developed perfect, limoncello-inspired birthday shots for the table. The desserts came with candles, and all the wine, drink, and food recommendations were accurate. No, the chardonnay wasn’t at all oaky, and no, the mushrooms weren’t good for sharing. Yes, the crab toasts made the little crustacean seem elegant and yes, we definitely ordered enough food.
It was the best way to pass a birthday, in my opinion. And I think my father agreed.
Thank you, ABC Kitchen, for a perfect meal worth every moment of the 31-day reservation wait. And happy birthday, Dad. If it wasn’t for you, gently coaxing me into the kitchen with your from-scratch soup stocks after Thanksgiving and house-baked rosemary focaccia inspired by your trips to Italy, I don’t know where I would be.
I certainly wouldn’t be here, in New York, writing for a luxury lifestyle magazine, indulging in over the top pizzas, and writing about them on LWB while a spaghetti squash slowly roasts in the kitchen around the corner. I might still be microwaving Lean Cuisines, and borrowing my mother’s copies of Health while comparing our notes on the best zero-calorie sweeteners, but I wouldn’t be using them to make my own blueberry-infused cocktail syrups or cooking at all, and making my own healthy meals from scratch.
So thank you. And Happy Birthday, Dad.