September 22, 2008 | BITE: My Journal
Proud Libertine. Sincere Solace
That Ye Old Tavern spirit greets you at the door once you find Gold Street. Photo: Steven Richter
It’s pretty cocky to call your new bar and restaurant Libertine. Not that I necessarily expected to see debauchery at the low lit bar, or find Wall Streeters on the next banquette declaiming Byron, dressed like the Marquis de Sade, chanting Rimbaud, or even singing along with Jim Morrison on Karaoke. But I should not have been surprised to see Chef Sam Hazen roving the premises checking things out in his new partnership role with Todd English, consultant and brand posted on the faux faded sign outside.
Whatever Wall Street does, these sliders can make you feel very rich. Photo: Steven Richter
It’s not such a stretch to define cute little lobster sliders with crème fraîche and a dab of caviar for $30 as “morally unrestrained.” Isn’t it a shade sadistic teasing our foursome with five mini-brioches? Indeed, I feel some pain as I suggest our two guys share the extra sandwich. (After all these years of feminist liberation. More lib and let lib.)
Bacon and eggs gild this flattened pork cutlet at Libertine. Photo: Steven Richter
To sum it up, Libertine is Todd and Sam doing Ye Old English Pub - exaggerated, playful and mostly delicious - in Thompson Hotels' new Gild Hall, tucked into a former Holiday Inn. Alas, the Thompson isn’t easy to find. Wall Street (even before last week’s numbing roller coaster) is a tight little puzzle with Gold Street being particularly elusive. We circle around barriers, back up the wrong way on one-way streets, and then suddenly, there it is. With the sliders to revive us from our brief exile in the lobby waiting for a table, we get not free love and nihilism, but free bread sticks – parmesan crisps and softer Irish soda bread sticks, with sea salt butter and rosemary jelly. A bowl of crisp fried oatmeal-crusted quail parts is imminently shareable (though the maple yogurt dip is too sweet). Indeed, there’s a lot of deep-frying here, the way to a libertine’s heart. Crumbed and fried oysters in the shell on beef carpaccio atop truffle-whipped potatoes strikes me as overkill. But battered cod in the fish and chips, with malt aioli, sucrine lettuce and vinegared fries, is expertly executed, just needing salt. The tartar sauce helps. And I surrender to the unabashed decadence of flattened and breaded Berkshire pork chop with bacon and fried egg on top. I can find no fault with my quarter of the Road Food Warrior’s burger oozing cheddar and horseradish, crispy onions piled on top. Fries come spiced either thick or thin and expertly crunchy.
This juicy burger oozes English cheddar and horseradish, crispy onions on top. Photo: Steven Richter
Is it all too cutsey? You can’t hide from snark and irony even this far downtown. But I forgive the blimey, the bangers, the bubble and squeak, for that fabulous mac ‘n cheese with its Ritz Cracker crust – a generous $10 side we’re sharing – and the Shepherd’s pie with peas, turnips and spicy Merguez sausage under a roof of crumbly tomato-herb shortbread.
“This was not a diet evening,” my friend Penny says with a soulful sigh. Her determination to shed five pounds she imagined she gained over the summer postponed yet another night, she decides “cookies, cakes n’pies” will be our lone dessert. Normally a paragon of discipline, even she is tasting small chunks of warm chocolate chip and butter toffee Macademia nut cookies, toffee-filled caramel cupcake, fried apple and chocolate pudding pielettes, a white chocolate covered pretzel and housemade ice creams. Of course, a bite or three of everything is de rigeur for me. After all, it’s my job.
I’m probably not coming back to Gold Street unless I find my dream loft around the corner. It’s $50 round trip by taxi and a long haul up and down stairs on the subway. Well, maybe you could tempt me with a car and driver. I think my arteries could take it twice a year. Till Libertine clones itself somewhere in midtown when I am not near the mac that I love, I’ll try to love the mac I’m near.
15 Gold Street near Platt. 212 785 5950.
Solace for the Senses
Chef David Regueiro’s elegant and careful cooking keeps the locals coming back. Photo: Steven Richter
Every New Yorker needs a soothing spot like Solace in their Rolodex: Good food, relaxed prices, a romantic garden. It’s a perfect retreat from the sensory torture of restaurant trendiness for aging baby boomers with a little hearing loss and for their parents too. You’ll spot them in their Chanel knit knockoffs claiming the banquettes. Isolated from the flow of pedestrian traffic on First Avenue, Solace remains a secret oasis. Your husband, glued to Monday football in another zip code, is not likely to spot you out back flirting with your boy-toy.
There is music – it fills the emptiness on quiet nights – mostly European jazz, Oscar Petersen, Dizzy Gillespie. And the staff will turn it down on nights a full house gets raucous. “If we don’t notice the noise, someone will always ask,” says Chef David Regueiro who’s tended the kitchen since Solace moved into this townhouse just over a year ago. (No, he’s not the infamous David Ruggerio who admitted padding tips to pay the bills in the Chantilly space on Park, though there’s often that confusion.)
Niçoise olives, Yukon golds and anchovy dress up grilled calamari. Photo: Steven Richter.
I hadn’t been back since my first early dinner when the greeter seemed surprised to see a customer and I marveled at the prices, the reasoned measure of light and the chefs’ carefully cooked monkfish and butter braised lobster with artichokes. (Indeed, I did write his name as ‘Ruggiero’ – a misspelling of both chef Davids’ last names. It’s treacherous to work without the backup of New York magazine fact checkers.) But all summer I got invitations to taste the chef’s suckling pig special. Then came Fall and the seasonal lure was now pheasant from a farm near his Connecticut home.
| Lamb loin chops. Photo: Steven Richter
“I hate pheasant, I wrote back. It’s dry white meat for people who like overcooked chicken breast.”
“Not when the chef brines it,” I was told.
Indeed, the crisp-skinned pheasant is amazingly moist sitting on a few turnip slices and a scattering of escarole, though the plate with its three small hills of chestnut purée is pretty sparse, as you can see from my guy’s photo. Regueiro tells me he’s added roasted chestnuts and fingerling potatoes. At our tasting last week, grilled calamari Niçoise, perfectly cooked giant prawns and remarkable lamb chops with eggplant caviar (at a sane $27) reminded me why I have been sending friends craving civilization to Solace. And the bread we’re using to sop up the zesty puddle of smoked paprika-spiked tomato-chorizo sauce under the prawns is house-baked. But all of us are put off by the almost sugary sweetness of the corn soup. It seems to need something, white wine, a dash of balsamic vinegar, even tomato water, to let the corn taste through. I suppose that’s an odd little ‘kvetch’.
The secret of the chef’s remarkably juicy pheasant is in the brining of a well-brought up bird. Photo: Steven Richter.
Here’s that address for your little black book.
406 East 64th Street between First and York. 212 750 0434.
The Flavor Gospel
Click here now to buy The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg.
Will you be looking at pears finally ripening in the bowl on your kitchen counter one of these days and think, “what can I do with these besides eat one and wait for the rest to rot?” Are you eyeing the leftover pork loin from Friday’s dinner wondering what magic you have on hand to make a picnic lunch for four on Saturday? Should you thaw some ciabatta rolls and whip up some garlic-yogurt curry mayonnaise? What would Gina DePalma of Babbo do with those pears? Or Gabriel Kreuther at The Modern? Want an idea for the pork from Vikram Vij in Vancouver? That’s when you want to pick up The Flavor Bible (Little,Brown, $35) by my friends and frequent co-conspirators on tasting expeditions, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg.
The two of them, relentlessly prolific food book writers (okay, I’m jealous), often show up at dinner glowing from a five mile run to cap a deadline day. Essential sippings for their weekly wine column in the Washington Post never seem to interrupt the superhuman flow of books from their dueling computers or maybe I mean dual computers. Their IACP award-winning What to Drink with What You Eat is just being reissued as their latest hits the bookstores. Inspired by chefs’ enthusiastic use of an earlier work, Culinary Artistry, as a source of ideas for creating dishes, and by the greater availability of ingredients as well as the wide-ranging creativity of celebrated chefs, the two of them have been collecting ideas for flavor affinities and actual dishes for several years. The Bible is that gospel, a wealth of inspiration, arranged in alphabetical order.
No it’s not a cookbook with recipes. It’s a book to provoke cooks and chefs to greater creativity, classic and avant garde, or just to read when you’re hungry. Let’s see. I have this can of Spanish anchovies. Chef Jose Andres likes anchovies with nectarines. I don’t have a nectarine but I do have some sensational plums and the makings of his sherry-vinaigrette. It certainly trumps Fairway’s healthy tuna salad for lunch. Okay Jose?