Bar Food Becomes an Entrée
Bar food has always been a culinary specialty in this hectic, 24-hour town. But as the Gospel of David Chang continues its inexorable spread throughout the restaurant world, there has never been a better time to belly up to your local gin den, or whiskey joint, or noodle bar for a slap-up feast. My favorite haute-Brooklyn-style dinner in Greenpoint these days is the $95 Scandinavian-themed tasting menu that the ex-Momofuku chef Daniel Burns and his bewhiskered band of cooks serve every night at Luksus, which you’ll find behind a small door in the back of neo-Danish beer hall Tørst. The studiously exacting Swedish chef Fredrik Berselius serves similarly ascetic, locavore-themed treats at his seven-table restaurant, Aska, in Williamsburg, although if you’re looking for a proper rib-sticking dinner, the place to find it is at the long, burled-wood bar, where the rotating menu includes winter specialties like skate wing cooked in vinegar; richly fatty, deboned pig trotters sweetened with apples; and an excellent rendition of the classic Swedish potatis dumpling served in a pool of smoky farmer’s cheese flavored with lingonberry and fennel fronds.
There are no Changian steamed pork buns available at Wylie Dufresne’s modernist gastropub Alder, which opened last summer several doors down from the original Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village. But Dufresne and his army of madcap chefs have created an interesting interpretation of pigs in a blanket, made with sweet Chinese sausage instead of hot dogs, to go with the impressive house selection of cocktails, draft beers, and rarefied, highbrow sakes from Japan. In Dufresne’s competent hands, foie gras turns out to be an excellent drinking dish, too (it’s served in terrine form), although if you’re wise, you’ll save room for the great chef’s interpretation of New England clam chowder, which is as thick and creamy as melted ice cream and sprinkled with actual dehydrated oysters, instead of oyster crackers, for an elevated, big-city crunch.
Similar pleasures are available at the bar of Hooni Kim’s new Flatiron bar-restaurant, Hanjan, where I like to repair, after a long, bilious night on the town, to graze on restorative Korean joomak bar-food specialties like pig trotters with fermented-shrimp dipping sauce on the side, hot bowls of bokkeum bap rice mixed with fresh eggs and chunks of brisket, and skewers of Kim’s signature “fresh killed” chicken marinated in bowls of sake and soy. If brown spirits are your elixir of choice, however, I recommend you stagger across 26th Street to Maysville, where you can supplement the bar’s impressive collection of more than 200 single malts, bourbons, and rye whiskeys with elegant southern delicacies like roasted Brussels sprouts feathered with crispy pig’s ears and buttermilk dressing, and a superb fried-chicken leg, which the former Gramercy Tavern chef Kyle Knall composes on the plate with gourmet-quality collard greens, a dainty spoonful of whipped potatoes, and a smothering of deliciously tangy vinegar gravy.
After years wandering the culinary desert, dabbling in an endless variety of cooking styles and techniques, the talented chef Ignacio Mattos seems to have found a home at the new bar-restaurant Estela, in Soho, where food-loving boozers line up early in the evening at the long marble bar to nibble on Mediterranean-themed small plates like whipped cod with matzo crackers; cool, plump mussels escabeche; and bowls of classic ricotta-gnudi dumplings, which the chef soaks in butter and serves over drifts of white-button mushrooms and Pecorino cheese. Connoisseurs of the gin-and-tonic are flocking to Cata, on the Bowery, where you can complement the excellent tapas menu with over twenty varieties of this great Victorian libation, flavored, the way gin-and-tonic-mad Spaniards like to do these days, with such exotic garnishes as star anise, Thai basil, and plumes of fresh mint.
If fine wine is your addiction, there’s no better place to end an extended culinary bar crawl than Pearl & Ash, on the eastern fringes of Soho. This self-styled “progressive wine bar” features 53 white wines from the Loire Valley alone and 49 different varieties of Champagne. But if you’re wise, you’ll focus on Richard Kuo’s deceptively artful menu, which includes lozenges of deboned quail wrapped in chicken skin, bites of octopus rolled in Japanese togarashi spice powder laced with Sriracha, and ice-cream sandwiches for dessert, touched in high-boozehound style with the Italian digestive liqueur Fernet-Branca.