35 East 18th Street, near Broadway, Flatiron District, (212) 475-5829
Getting There: 4,5,6,L,N,Q,R,W to 14th Street-Union Square
Restaurant Review: ABC Kitchen
Open and elegant with a touch of country and class, Jean-Georges Vongerichten didn’t just stumble upon the James Beard Foundation Award winner for Best New Restaurant of 2011- he meticulously concocted its every detail. From the back entrance through the ABC Carpet and Home store, which is literally steps away from retailed housewares, the angelic, open-spaced bar and host stand, a setting which at first glance, can only make you smile, begs you to glare around, axnious to feast on the restaurant’s potential.
Now, ABC Kitchen is a farm to table restaurant, using locally produced ingredients until their availability wanes. The dining area displays an open kitchen, flanked by a long table of fresh vegetables, as bustling chefs work their craft. The casually dressed, but friendly, conversational wait staff is patient, affording you the opportunity to take your time, and take in the calm ambiance of the open restaurant while settling in. But the menu had us too excited to simply relax.
While the food here is special, the atmosphere does not necessarily cater to the jacket-required crowd. The informal nature of the workers and patrons is a welcome change of pace to the uptight, seemingly always stuffy prerequisite of other posh Manhattan eateries. The restaurant manages to be chic and modern while appropriately avoiding the pretentiousness that a celebrity chef hotspot would typically bring about, due to its casual innocence.
We opened with the “crab toast with lemon aioli” ($15), an inch thick slice of precut bread, toasted to perfection and topped with white chunks of fresh crab meat, that left us with an “eyes roll back in your head” reaction. The light aioli complimented without overwhelming, as the small but scrumptious starter was polished off seemingly as quickly as it was served. Similarly tasty, the massive plate of “cured meat and local cheeses” ($17) was a smattering of salty salami, prosciutto, sopressata, and pancetta surrounded by three distinct cheeses, with grain mustard, pickled root, and sweet honey for pairings. The “sweet pea soup with carrots and mint” ($12) became a light, refreshing change of pace from the aforementioned heartier appetizers, and proved a worthy pallet-cleanser for our remaining dishes.
Although we dined at ABC Kitchen for brunch, the options seemed boundless. With breakfast options like “eggs benedict with flying pigs farm ham” ($18) and “buttermilk pancakes and lemon curd” ($15) to more substantial fare like the “wood over roasted Maine lobster” ($37) with an oregano and lemon-chili vinaigrette, and a list of salads and sandwiches galore, arriving at 2pm can secure you any meal of the day. In fact, the pastas and pizzas portion of the menu proved to be some of our favorite dishes. The “spinach, goat cheese and herbs pizza” ($16) was a fluffy, airy personal pizza served on an elevated rotisserie tray, topped with sautéed spinach and sharp, creamy goat cheese with hints of fresh basil. The dish was outstanding and even paired incredibly well with the “kasha and bowtie pasta with veal meatballs” ($24). The full-sized portion was served in a thick, gravy-like sauce, with a creamy helping of ricotta square in the middle. Sprigs of fresh herbs were parsed throughout as garnish, but the tender meatballs in the lacquered red sauce were the standouts here.
We would have been remiss not to taste at least one of the restaurant’s signature entrees and the “steamed hake” ($29) would prove a worthy representation of ABC Kitchen’s lofty distinction. Served with bulbous roasted maitake mushrooms, and braised with a spring chili vinaigrette and asparagus pieces, the white fish was light and weightless, and presented remarkably. The salty broth turned dipping sauce, paired admirably as the mushroom and steamed fish were completely covered by meal’s end.
What is left to say about a meal that has left you speechless? About a restaurant that has received the highest distinction for any newly opened place in the industry? About yet another spot headed by a famed chef that actually manages to live up to the hype? About a restaurant that has opened in the back of an interior design and store and manages to mix a farm-like theme with the refinement of New York City, and manages to deliver superior fare? You simply raise your glass to ABC Kitchen, for pulling off the seemingly unfathomable. And for doing it marvelously.