Atera, NYC 2
May 6, 2014
On March 1, 2014, Linda and I returned to Atera. Our previous visit had been almost two years earlier, just after Atera had opened under Chef Matthew Lightner. He had brought with him ideas from his previous restaurant, Castagna, in Portland, Oregon, from a short stint at noma and from eighteen months at the famous Mugaritz in Spain’s Basque Country. We were very impressed with our meal, as were most of the critics. Atera gained two Michelin stars. Now we were looking forward to seeing what Lightner had developed during his two years in New York.
As there was surprisingly little traffic on this Saturday, we arrived twenty minutes early for our 6:00 reservation. (One has a choice only of 6:00 or 9:30 for the start of the three-hour meal.) We were seated in the cozy downstairs lounge/bar and ordered a half bottle of 2011 Alfred Gratien Brut Classique Champagne. A few other early arrivers joined us. At 6:00 we were taken upstairs to our seats at the counter with a full view of the upstairs kitchen.
Captain Matt Abbick consults with Jaime Young, chef de cuisine
Then came a cup of
Toasted Grain Broth Collard Greens
guanciale, winter greens (brassica oleanacea)
We were offered a supplemental course of Bulgarian caviar, a black olive and walnut ‘tapenade’ and a burned crème.
We ordered one to share. It was very good. The tapenade, on the left, was salty, which was redundant, but the cream on the right went nicely with the caviar. Fortunately we still had some Champagne to go with this.
We declined the beverage pairing (with fourteen different selections, too much for us) and ordered two bottles which we had found perusing the wine list downstairs.
2009 Puligny-Montrachet from Francois Carillon, a vintner whom we have visited in Burgundy. This wine is very typical of its highly regarded terroir. On the right of the photo are Scott Cameron, the sommelier, and Jaime Young, chef de cuisine.
On leaving, we were given an envelope with a printout of brief descriptions of dishes we had been served. The descriptions in italics above each photo come from it, although I have added some ingredients. For some reason, Latin botanical names are included, mostly of common herbs. We were having such a good time enjoying the cuisine, our wine, watching the kitchen theater in front of us and occasionally chatting with the servers, our amiable and knowledgeable Captain, Matthew Abbick, and twice with the chef himself, that I did not take notes, but I did remember to take photos. The pace was fairly rapid, appropriately so for such small dishes. Fortunately, Matthew later supplied me with ingredient and preparation details for many dishes.
Amaranth crackers, smoked trout roe, ramp tartar sauce
This third trout course was superb. The smoking of the trout roe, served in a chicken gelée, really worked well and the amaranth crackers gave just the right amount of crunch.
I have usually found razor clams to be short on flavor. Here they were visually indistinguishable from the almond slices and garlic, tamed by pickling. This artistic creation was very subtle.
lardo, air baguette, smoked potato
Maine Lobster Chamomile
onion gel (matricaria recutita)
Lobster tail meat is smoked over cedar wood, dressed in chamomile oil and topped with charred onion gelée. This is a good example of how complex preparation can result in an excellent dish which seems simple and stars the main ingredient.
This is the only dish to have remained on the menu since atera‘s beginning. It is claw and knuckle meat from the same Maine lobsters as the previous dish, with a little mayonnaise inside a yeast meringue sandwich and is superb.
crème fraîche, wheatberry (artemisia dracunculus)
A piece of cuttlefish is brushed with pork fat, over sprouted wheat berry and tarragon crème fraîche, dressed with meyer lemon brown butter.
foie gras. Pine nut miso, pickled garlic seeds.
The warm matsutake mushroom broth was poured on in front of us. Its woodsy flavor went well with the slab of foie gras, which we had to eat right away before it melted.
Roasted Duck Fennel
pickles, duck jus (foeniculum vulgare)
The crispy glazed-skin roasted ducks were picturesquely sitting in their pan on the counter when we arrived. Now one was reheated and carved. The breast, leg, jus and glazed skin were served with a few garnishes.
We asked for a pause as we still had some good red wine in the carafe. Then the desserts came.
Sweet Potato Doughnut Yuzu
sugar, citrus curd ( citrus ichangensis)
Our meal was really exquisite. My lack of comment on each dish above does not mean that we were neutral on them. They were all interesting, well-conceived and well-executed. Beyond that, they had a certain playful joie de vivre about them that is very rare in American restaurants. Their creativity did not rely on complexity, although there was certainly more to the preparation of many than was evident to us. All of these dishes, except the lobster roll and the chocolate walnuts, were new to us. Matthew Lightner’s creative skills are exceptional. He also knows how to bring out a feeling of hospitality in his restaurant. We have never had a better meal in the U.S.
To see our meal at atera in April, 2012, click here.