July 1, 2013 | BITE: My Journal

Distilled and Dissembled 

It’s a long detour for me but I’ll be back just for these brilliant, spicy candied wings  

          Molecular cooking is rarely for me, but I’m as big a neophiliac as any other spoiled New Yorker. When I learned Momofuko adept Chef Shane Lyons was planning to do “fun food familiars with a twist” at Distilled, I was curious.  

I can’t resist fresh popcorn with or without a twist. An inspired amuse!

          Similarly obsessed foodie friends walked up from Wall Street to Tribeca, meeting me  there with their brand new heir Ted in a stroller. Strollers raise hacklettes in some places. Not here. A Staff team finds the perfect spot for seven-month-old Ted in his wheely-tank next to Mom. And from there, I can watch the action in the open kitchen while munching garlicky popcorn with Brewer’s yeast and cumin, on the house.

The satiny liver mousse gets spread on chicken skin crisps, whipped honey optional.

          Mom gives Ted his 7 p.m. bottle.  When Ted gets weepy -- you can barely hear him given the crowd and the music -- Dad walks him around and offers him a lick of chicken liver paté on one finger.  “We want Ted to experience different flavors,” my friend explains when I object.  

          I like the delicate mousse myself.  I spoon off the melted fat on top, and spread the lush cream on chicken skin “crackers,” then top that with honey foam. A second dabble offered is red wine pickled shallots, mignonette by any other name. I try that too, with and without the foam. Fun and original. Good too. 

There’s Ted in his stroller behind the almost-but-not-quite excellent Caesar.

          Granted the fuss about the house cocktails –mixologist Sheldon Wiley holds the Guinness Book of World Records title as “World’s Fastest Bartender” -- they ought to be more alcoholic, and a bit less sweet. Fastest, not best, and $14 each. Certainly, the entrée prices -- $19 to $25 -- seem right. 

The cauliflower is not-quite-wonderful too, that weird miso taste sabotages.

          Granted, I’m traditional when it comes to Caesar. Still, I think I could handle an heirloom cherry tomato or two, given such deliciously crisp, young romaine, but not tomato sauce. In a Caesar salad? By Chef Boyardee maybe.  And there is an unpleasant aftertaste in an $8 side of roasted cauliflower with pumpkin seeds and sugar snap peas. It could be the Shiro miso listed on the menu.

After fainting at the beauty of the ribs, we had to send them back for criminal a-salt. 

          My friend Lauren observes that the sweet, ripe watermelon chunks partnering the stupefyingly gorgeous glazed pork ribs cut the fierce saltiness of the meat. But on second bite, we agree the fatal dose can only be an accidental second salting, and, with great regret send the offending beauties back.

Four seats at a kitchen counter are great for a closeup of the action.

          It almost doesn’t matter, I suppose. If I lived nearby, I’d come back again just for the fabulous candied wings. The accents are Point Reyes blue cheese, the menu notes, and Gochujang. That’s a new one for me. Savory and sweet fermented Korean chili paste. It stains your fingers red too. But never mind, you’ll take a shower later anyway because the air conditioning isn’t working tonight.

Ethereal French toast waffles almost make up for a few creative stumbles.

          The French toast waffle is a revelation, definitely worth revisiting too, although the French-fried duck riding in on top would be more pleasant to eat with a layer of fat excised. 

A diehard s’mores fan will either love or hate this deconstructed diversion.

          To make up for the ribs, which the house did not take off the bill, the kitchen sends out two free desserts. The deconstruction of S’mores might not please a serious S’mores fan. Or maybe it would have them falling to their knees in awe. The apple pie soda float left this apple pie lover feeling deprived. But it’s the thought that counts, after all. So I won’t subtract a point.

I never did like sodas. Now if this were an apple pie milkshake, they’d have my vote.

          That wily and lovable old pro, Drew Nieporent, Tribeca pioneer, supposedly is acting as a godfather to the chef and owner Nick Iovacchini here in Nieporent’s old Centrico space. He was just leaving when we arrived. He shushed us as if to say, “I won’t tell, if you won’t.”  Maybe he needs to stick around and taste more.

It’s definitely a no-frills look but the crowd is mostly young, eager and hungry. 

          When I go back for those wings, I will try the dry-aged burger with tater tots and the roasted chicken, and hope to find everything a bit more focused. I will probably succumb to another round of the French toast waffles too, hoping the chef figured out how to prick away the excess fat. Then I’ll consider a second impression.

211 West Broadway 211 601 9514. Sunday and Monday 5 pm to midnight. Tuesday through Saturday, till 1 am.

Photographs may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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