Even the most adventerous New Yorker can get caught in a neighborhood rut. I use the term “New Yorker” very loosely since I know very few people in Manhattan actually born here. I am referring to people from all parts of the U.S. and other countries who have made New York their home and inhabit a neighborhood that they now very rarely leave.
I had dinner tonight with a friend originally from Boston and his date, a beautiful Cuban woman — both now New Yorkers. He, an inhabitant of the upper east side along with she, an upper west sider along with myself, a ten-year resident of the Gramercy Park neighborhood and weekend resident of the North Fork had dinner at 299 Bowery. I lived in the east village in the grit of the 80s and you could have never told me that “the bowery” would become a culinary Mecca and home of DBGB, one of Daniel Boulud’s newest gastronomic ventures.
As a North Fork chef at La Cuvee Bistro and Wine bar, I am a lover of farmstands. I was inspired by the bounty from New York farms served to the discerning palates of New Yorkers sitting at the tables in DBGB. I was thrilled with Boulud’s use of the “common egg” along with other ingredients accessible to all of us at the Farmer’s Market in Union Square or Chelsea Market or on the farmstands of the North Fork.
You almost miss the place since the entrance is actually on Houston and the corner of First Avenue. Shiny glass windows with French bistro inscriptions blazing against the backdrop of the lingering grit of the Bowery.
We started with appetizers including an egg served “en cocotte” but somehow wrapped with crispy duck cracklins served on asparagus and garnished with duck proscuitto. The center of the egg remains runny and is juxtaposed against the crispy skin. It seemed decadent.
We also had an octopus appetizer which was finished on the grill leaving the large chunks of octopus very tender. The octopus was served with an aubergine caviar and a slice of a fried farmer’s cheese. Again Boulud seems to like the contrasting textures of creamy and crunchy but then who doesn’t? The least exciting appetizer was the Tunisenne sausage. It was a seemingly ordinary Merguez-style sausage served with a spicy Harissa sauce and braised garbanzos. The accompaniments were better than the sausage. I had a signature cocktail made with St. Germain and Elderflower and enjoyed it too.
Two of us had the same entree, the Skate in pistou. It was very light and flaky sitting on a bed of fresh vegetables. Artichoke, Fava beans and tender yellow wax beans at the bottom of the plate drizzled with a bright green Pistou. Maybe it needed a dash of something slightly spicy to make it excellent although “very good” was good enough.
My other friend had the lamb shoulder which was served with vegetables. I think he would have just preferred to have another plate of octopus.
We had wine with dinner. A bottle of crisp Muscadet from the Loire Valley striking a good balance of fruit and minerality. Especially good with the Skate.
For dessert we had a “crazy” sundae. Where else will you have an ice cream Sundae made with homemade peanut butter ice cream, macademia nut prailine and homemade brownies? And one was enough for the three of us.
This meal inspired me to head back to my kitchen and try harder. I buy my eggs at a farm in Aquebogue, the first town after Riverhead. I thought about DBGB’s egg en cocotte and the duck cracklins. I thought about stopping at the duck farm also in Aquebogue and picking up some duck for this weekend’s menu and trying something totally new. Maybe some cracklins?
If you are a New Yorker, venture outside of your neighborhood and try something new. If you are a North Forker or Hamptonite, catch the next Hampton Jitney and take a quick taxi ride to the Bowery instead of the ubiquitous midtown theatre eateries. Leave your comfort zone and come back to your kitchen inspired!