Jean-George Vongerichten’s James Beard Award-winning restaurant, ABC Kitchen offers casually elegant farm-to-table dining…if you can get a reservation. Still one of the hottest spots in town, this Gramercy restaurant is booked for weeks at a time. For the lucky few who are able to get a seat, be prepared to hold your own in the bar area. From the model-esque patrons desperately seeking a table, to the bartenders who pretend not to notice you, to the ostentatious décor (the crystal adornment that sits behind the bar is a mystery even to the bartenders), the bar is effortlessly pretentious at every turn.
But don’t let this scare you off. Once your name is called, an elegantly-clad hostess will escort you through the bar into a seemingly different dimension, where the servers are more hipsters than models and chic is just a four-letter word. The restaurant is open, bright and inviting with eclectic furnishings, warm hard wood floors and artwork from local artists. Think the Hamptons meets Old MacDonald’s farm.
As you are seated, you get your first glimpse into the great lengths the restaurant has taken to be sustainable and organic. Themenus are made from recycled paper attached to pieces of cardboard. The placemats are compostable, and the tables are set with hand-picked wildflowers. Even the mismatched dishware, which is created by a local artisan, taps into the green theme.
While “organic” can often imply food that looks and tastes like cardboard, the cuisine at ABC Kitchen couldn’t be farther from this stereotype. Executive chef, Dan Kluger, makes magic with locally sourced produce, meat, fish and dairy.
For starters, try any of the “toasts.” The crab toast is a crowd favorite, which comes with several pieces of crunchy, olive-oil fried crostinis affixed with peekytoe crab and a citrusy lemon aioli that mingles beautifully with the rich, buttery toast and sweet, delicate crab.
The sugar snap pea salad, a seasonal selection, is a must have if you’re lucky enough to find it on the menu. Crispy, julienned sugar snap peas are tossed with endive, radicchio, grated parmesan and a homemade parmesan dressing. The combination of the sweet peas, the peppery lettuce and the salty parmesan sparkles on the palate.
Chef Kluger takes a playful twist on calamari, by dusting it in a pretzel batter versus the more traditional flour-based batter. The result is a light, crispy ring of succulent squid that almost holds up to accompanying fiery tomato sauce.
The entrees, as intriguing as the myriad of appetizers, range from pizza to lobster and everything in between. You can’t go wrong with any of the pizzas. The caprese pizza with jersey tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil is classic, while the spicy calabrese meatball pizza is not for the faint-hearted. The combination of the spicy meatballs and habanero tomato sauce will have you reaching for a pitcher of water. For seafood lovers, the black sea bass is pure bliss. The mixture of chilies and lemon hits the tongue first like an explosion of fireworks, then melts into the buttery, sweet flawlessly cooked fish, while the sautéed spinach and baby potatoes provide texture. The roast suckling pig is so supple and juicy, it literally falls off of the fork and melts in your mouth, and the aroma that wafts off the plate is dizzying.
No meal is complete without dessert, and ABC Kitchen offers a distinctive assortment of goodies. The rhubarb almond crumble tart tastes much better than it looks. The brown sugar crumble blends perfectly with the tart rhubarb to create scrumptious bite after scrumptious bite. But quite possibly the single-best dessert on the planet is the warm doughnuts. Doughnuts are not an innovation on a dessert menu. What makes this item a show-stopper, is the bacon fudge dipping sauce that comes with the doughnuts. Each bite is sweet, savory, light, fluffy, sugary heaven. Everything really is better with bacon.
35 E. 18th street (between Broadway & Park Avenue)
New York, NY 10003
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