May 3, 2004
It only took Roll-n-Roaster—the legendary Sheepshead Bay fast-food joint, whose motto is “Your wait will be tastefully rewarded”—33 years to branch out to Manhattan. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself (along with the slightly perturbed posse of huskies huddling around the counter) waiting for your order to be filled: It’s worth it. All the satisfying sandwiches come on soft kaiser rolls from a Brooklyn bakery. The lemonade is tops, the baked sweet potatoes come sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon, and the house fromage is Cheez Whiz, which the staff will gleefully add to anything you like.
64 Third Avenue
Destination dining in a Rockefeller barn? Holy cow.
The closest most New York chefs get to their food supply is rooting for sunchokes at the Union Square Greenmarket. Blue Hill has gone one significantly idealistic step better: On May 1, after two weeks of previews, it opens a satellite restaurant at the new Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, where much of the seasonal menu, from lola rossa to lamb, will eventually be grown or raised in the rolling pastures and fields visible through the dining-room windows. Blue Hill at Stone Barns is only one part of the ambitious 82-acre complex, in Westchester’s Pocantico Hills, that constitutes David Rockefeller’s $30 million tribute to his late wife, a champion of local farms and sustainable agriculture. Rockefeller donated the land and funded the conversion of the Norman-style stone barns built by his father into a working farm and educational center, a place conceived to promote local agriculture with programs for children and seminars for adults and to sustain itself with like-minded moneymaking ventures—an elegant 90-seat restaurant, private dining room, casual café, and catering hall, all independently operated by Blue Hill (which has to pay rent and buy its own provisions, from Stone Barns as well as other Hudson Valley farms). Once the four-seasons greenhouse and four-acre fields start yielding crops, co-chefs Dan Barber and Michael Anthony will be able to incorporate more and more local ingredients into their refined, seasonal menus, and diners will have the rare opportunity to see livestock like black Berkshire pigs and Red Bourbon heritage turkeys in a rural setting and not just on a plate.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
Chef Zakary Pelaccio coined the term “Brooklyn Global” at Williamsburg’s Chickenbone Café, and judging from the menu at 5 Ninth, his new meatpacking-district digs opening next week, he’s still drawing inspiration from every place he’s ever cooked, from Kuala Lumpur to the French Laundry. “Shrimp shrimp” pairs “Armagnac-drunken” shrimp with guanciale-roasted ones; roasted lamb comes with black chickpeas and curry leaves. And for dessert? A nice slice of durian cream pie with salty coconut crumble and mangosteen sorbet. The setting is much more New York–specific than the menu: a nineteenth-century three-story brownstone, girded for our volatile weather patterns with six fireplaces and a garden.
5 Ninth Avenue
Drink at Home
Home Restaurant co-owners David Page and Barbara Shinn pushed local wines back when few took New York viticulture seriously, and on May 1, after six years of planning and planting, blending and bottling, they’ll finally start pouring their own. Shinn Estate Vineyards “Young Vines” Merlot 2002, made from a blend of five red-wine grapes grown sustainably on the couple’s 22-acre Mattituck property, retails for $24—if you can find it. Only 310 cases were produced, and they’re being sold through Home’s mailing list, at Vintage New York wine shops, and at the vineyard’s North Fork tasting room, which opens to the public (by appointment) on May 1. The Merlot also gets a spot on Home’s wine list, where it will soon be joined by Home “Red Table” Cabernet Franc 2000 and Home “White Table” Chardonnay 2002, both slated for release this June.
The Icing on the …
Incredibly, in spite of ’round-the-clock cupcake coverage by certain daily newspapers, the city’s absolute best examples have, until now, escaped mention. They are the supremely moist, uncommonly rich, deeply flavored cream-filled chocolate cupcakes baked by Karen DeMasco at ’Wichcraft, and the petite specimens (pictured) from Blue Smoke pastry chef Jen Giblin. Wonderfully fresh, not too sweet, and fashioned in four tasty varieties—devil’s food, Boston cream, coconut buttercream, and espresso with coffee buttercream—Giblin’s cupcakes make the competition seem like Easy-Bake Oven castoffs.
116 East 27th Street
$7.95 for a box of four
49 East 19th Street
at the greenmarket
On A Rampage
Get out the Tic Tacs: It’s ramp season at Union Square. The cheekiest member of the pungent Allium family (chives, garlic, onions, scallions), ramps, a.k.a. wild leeks, incite riotlike fervor among certain chefs. “It’s such a fun crop,” says farmer and ramp go-to man Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, who plucks the stinky stalks from steep slopes near his Roscoe home and sells them to everyone from Beppe’s Cesare Casella to Daniel Boulud. “Great flavor, intense following, and a really short season,” says Bishop. Indeed, as with cherry blossoms, ephemerality is part of the ramp’s appeal. “You can get asparagus at Pathmark in January and strawberries for Christmas, but ramps are a few weeks a year and that’s it,” agrees fellow ramp champion Mario Batali, who adds that “ramps are my soul”—a character trait one shouldn’t necessarily associate with Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, who had garlic—not ramps—in his soul.
Is Per Se worth the wait?
Fate was a cruel bitch to Thomas Keller, shooting flames up the wall of his precious kitchen, closing down his $14 million Per Se in its infancy. Now, as it sprouts from the ashes ten weeks later, any tiny bitches from me, or parody of menu reverence for butter churned exclusively for Keller from the milk of cosseted cows, seems redundant. Rather, I’m savoring memories of a delirious high at an early chef’s tasting. Oysters in pearls of tapioca and black pearls of osetra. A coddled hen’s egg tasting like a new invention, in brown butter under a ton of truffle debris. Buttery hand-cut noodles with more truffle dust. Lobster—just barely jelled—in that butter. Foie gras so exquisite I’m reminded why I first fell in love with foie gras. Red-wine-braised beef from a farm that raises cows as if they were Kobe. A revelation of vacherin with sweet-potato mille-feuille. And a citrus sorbet, sharp as a scalpel, to keep me alive for the yogurt panna cotta and variations in chocolate. That was winter; now spring’s precious harvest has arrived. Yes, the backup for a table will be more maddening than ever. But set aside $500 to finance a chef’s tasting for two, and surrender to an evening, a longish evening, of sensuous drama—Western kaiseki—quite unlike anything in town.
In the Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle, at 60th Street, 4th floor