Lemon pound cake with small, local strawberries, topped with a cloud of Riesling-flavored sabayon.
Danny Meyer, the Clayton kid who grew up to become one of New York's princes of the city, has, sort of, opened a new restaurant. His Union Square Hospitality Group had been running the restaurant Untitled at the Whitney Museum on the Upper East Side.
But the Whitney shut down entirely for five months and moved to a new Renzo Piano-designed building on the Hudson River below 13th Street. A totally rebooted Untitled has emerged.
Floor-to-ceiling glass walls face the street, and inside, the decor, too was done by Piano. Wondrously comfortable chairs remove any thought of gobble-n-go; one could lounge for hours in them. This time of year, there's plenty of outside dining, too. Michael Anthony, executive chef of Gramercy Tavern, Meyer's flagship, is in charge of this kitchen, too. Suzanne Cupps is chef de cuisine, her sole responsibility at this location. Anthony, it seems, is working on a cookbook tentatively titled "V Is For Vegetables". That focus is readily apparent in what appears on the tables.
This is physically a deeply minimalist menu, no excessive verbiage, not even any discussion of what categories dishes fall into. (It's considerably briefer than what's currently online, as well.) The first cluster of four dishes are, we were informed, snacks. The next five options are salads, the following five vegetables, and the last five main courses. All this takes up only half a page, as seemingly simple as the building itself.
The opening kickoff was a dish of marinated mussels resting atop fava and marfax beans (above), all in a liquid that went beyond mussel juice, with lemon and pepper chiming in. Marfax beans are an old Maine breed, known for taste and for keeping their shape in a dish. The entire ensemble worked well together, the mussels perfectly cooked before being chilled, and the beans exciting on their own.
A salad of baby lettuce and caesar dressing (above) didn't look Caesarian, with its stained-glass-thin shaved carrots and radishes, but it tasted just as it should, the anchovy notes in the dressing adding to the savor.
Baby beets, marinated in a light vinaigrette, appeared atop snow peas and a few English peas as well, the sweetness mirroring the acidity. A few leaves of tiny beet greens drifted atop things. Then the hot dishes began to appear.
Roasted cauliflower (above) smiled at us from a coconut curry sauce, not hot-spicy, but that Thai-style balance of sweet/sour/spicy which so charms. And roasted carrots - chunks of carrot, chewy on the outside, still a little firm on the inside, all in a guajillo chili sauce sprinkled with peanuts, a dish designed to make carnivores forget about meat for a few minutes. Absolutely superb. Again, the sweet-spicy balance, but while the curry sauce had run to the sweet, here it was spicier, although very far from raging hot.
An entree of black bass in a mushroom broth with baby bok choy was far simpler in its flavors, nicely mushroomy, and the fish perfectly cooked, the crisp skin staying out of the broth to enhance things.
More intriguing was the pasta, stradette, noodles an inch wide or so laid out like strips of pie crust (above). Topped with a pesto made with broccoli rabe and roasted vegetables like mushrooms and Chinese long beans, plus some fresh cheese rather like ricotta, here again the vegetables were the star.
On the whole, it's never a good idea to decide against dessert in any house that Meyer built, and that's certainly true at Untitled. Much fuss has been made over their gluten-free chocolate chip cookie, but a simple cookie doesn't challenge a kitchen like this. For instance, a lemon pound cake, quite unsweet, had any dryness offset by the generous amount of small, obviously local strawberries, fragrant and endearing, atop it, the whole topped with a cloud of sabayon flavored with Riesling.
Another dessert getting a lot of press is the peanut butter blueberry crunch cake (below). Yes, it sounds over the top. It's not. It's delicious. Peanut butter frosting on tender layers of sponge, the whole with a generous amount of blueberry sauce, topped with fresh bluebs and small pieces of sesame toffee sprinkled over. It was a sophisticated take on a seemingly unsophisticated ingredient, the peanut butter, taking the good old PB&J to a new level.
Warm, pleasant and definitely non-condescending service, the hallmark of Meyer restaurants, was obvious at tables all around us. Lots of staff, all moving constantly, even as the lunch crowd thinned. Reservations are a very good idea.
Untitled can be visited without paying the museum entry fee, with entrances from both the lobby and outside. The Untitled team also has the Studio Cafe on the eighth floor of the museum, with lighter food, and a large outdoor terrace. (Non-eaters can also go onto the terrace, a graceful move on the part of the Whitney.) I heard good reports on its food from a reliable source. Museum members receive a 10% discount at both restaurants.
Eat your vegetables, and you may have dessert.
Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St.
New York City
Monday - Saturday
Lunch: 11:00am - 2:30pm
Dinner: 5:00pm - 10:00pm
Lunch: 11:00am - 2:30pm
Dinner: 5:00pm - 9:00pm
Open throughout the afternoon for drinks and light fare