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.
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Captain Matt Abbick consults with Jaime Young, chef de cuisine

The first amuse gueule was a slice of lightly pickled beet, coated with beeswax and topped with flowers
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Then came a cup of
Toasted Grain Broth                  Collard Greens
guanciale, winter greens           (brassica oleanacea)
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We were offered a supplemental course of Bulgarian caviar, a black olive and walnut ‘tapenade’ and a burned crème.
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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.
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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.

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2002 Savigny-Lavieres, 1er Cru
The wine list is strong on Burgundies at reasonable prices. These were very good.

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. 

Trout Liver
fresh apple, brown butter, rye toast
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NY Brook Trout, salt cured and hot smoked with pork fat
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Subtle and nice.

Amaranth crackers, smoked trout roe, ramp tartar sauce 
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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.

Razor Clam
garlic, almond 

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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.

Dumpling Lemon
chicken, shrimp, citrus,
velouté, pickled truffle slice 
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The chicken velouté made this dish reminiscent of grandma’s dumplings, but they were well enhanced here.

lardo, air baguette, smoked potato
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Diver Scallop
scallop mousse
, dried scallop broth.
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Maine Lobster           Chamomile
onion gel                   (matricaria recutita)
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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.

Lobster Roll
yeast, meringue
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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.

A slice of sourdough rye was served. The butter is churned from cream steeped with winnimere cheese (same as the cheesecake/ice cream dessert below) for five days. It is delicious.
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Sepia                                            Tarragon
crème fraîche, wheatberry    (artemisia dracunculus)
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A piece of cuttlefish is brushed with pork fat, over sprouted wheat berry and tarragon crème fraîche, dressed with meyer lemon brown butter.

Sea Urchin
milkskin, mushroom dashi, fermented rice
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Luscious and delicious.

Pig’s Blood Flatbread
marrow, vinegar
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smoked yolk, pickled corn, dusted with dried chicken powder
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Warm sourdough rolls heavily basted with pork fat were served on top of our rye bread.
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Standish Oyster                          Meyer Lemon
salt-baked turnip, rice                (citrus meyeri)
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The Massachusetts oyster is smoked over cedar. The rice is Carolina Gold Rice; served as grits and as rice milk.

Matsutake Consumé
foie gras. Pine nut miso, pickled garlic seeds.
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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)
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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.

Duck Chip
ragu: heart and liver
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This little boat made of reduced duck stock filled with diced innards was served while we were enjoying the duck. It provided an extra point of interest.

We asked for a pause as we still had some good red wine in the carafe. Then the desserts came. 

lime, grapefruit, blood orange, mandarin
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Cheesecake                                    Burgundy Sorrel
winnimere ice cream                   (oxalis triangularis)
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marshmallow, brown butter
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Sweet Potato Doughnut                        Yuzu
sugar, citrus curd                     ( citrus ichangensis)
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Pretzels of hazelnut caramel with chocolate and cocoa.
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Faux walnuts made with black walnut caramel with feuilletine in a dark chocolate shell.
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The very talented and genial chef came by to see how we liked our meal and, at my request, pose for a photo.
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Captain Matt Abbick took us on a tour of the basement. There is substantial wine storage and a very modern prep kitchen. On the left are huge walk in refrigerators.
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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.

3 Responses to “Atera, NYC 2”

  1. Yves Says:

    I have been reading your fantastic culinary adventures for some time now and would just like to say how much I am enjoying them. They give us a lot of great tips for places to visit.

    So thank you.

  2. I have no words other than WOW. I loved reading this post- Linda told me in detail how much you enjoyed your meal there, but reading it and seeing the photos made it come alive. I don’t think there can be a better compliment other than what you said- “We have never had a better meal in the U.S.” Very impressive. So glad you had this experience!

  3. Blair Says:

    “We have never had a better meal in the U.S.”

    As a man of metered words this statement is particularly bold.

    Looks fabulous, glad you enjoyed it so much!!!!

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