Atera, NYC 4
August 25, 2015
Atera, under Executive Chef Matthew Lightner, had become our favorite restaurant in the US. But earlier this year he mysteriously left. (He is now about to open a restaurant in downtown Napa.) After an intensive search, owner Jodi Richard hired Danish chef Ronny Emborg to replace him. This surprised some, who had thought of Atera’s specifically American aspect as being important. Linda and I returned to Atera for dinner on August 4, 2015 to try the new chef’s menu.
We were seated at the center of the counter where we had a good view of things. The layout of the kitchen seemed to be the same, but it gave a more neat and orderly impression. Facing us is Executive Chef Emborg; on the right is Chef de Cuisine, Jaime Young, who continues in that spot from before.
One big difference we sensed immediately was that the volume of the music was higher. This is significant, and unfortunate, in a restaurant where interaction across the counter between the chefs and the diners was important.
We started with glasses of Billecourt-Salmon Champagne. Fortunately these were refilled and lasted through the truffle and caviar courses, for which they were a good match. Wine pairings are offered and there is also a reserve pairing option with five of the ten wines in a higher category. We considered this, but opted to order two bottles to accompany what we knew would be a large menu.:
2007 Jean-Louis Moissenet-Bonnard Meursault
2001 Les Lavières 1er Cru, Domaine Chandon de Briailles, Savigny-les-Beaune.
The Meursault had a strong, good, typical flavor, mellowed by its unusual age. The Savigny, on the other hand, was aged and understated, which was okay with the cuisine.
There is also a “Temperance Pairing” offered, which is not our style, but seemed very interesting. Seated next to us at the counter was a professional photographer who had ordered it and, I think, was being given an especially photogenic treatment. That was good theater for us.
The three bottles were non-alcoholic versions of the flavors that make a Negroni: gin, red vermouth and Campari.
There is also a “Tea Progression” offered.
The dinner course titles below come from the printed menu we were given as we left, although I have changed a few ingredients to try to reflect what we were served. Substituting with what is fresh and available is good.
These were to be dipped into the shrimp cream before tasting. We were told to start with the nasturtium blossom, then go clockwise to the cucumber blossom, agretti, sea samphire, fino verde basil and lime mint, which was not to be dipped. Nice.
BAERII CAVIAR / PISTACHIO, BEER
Baerii caviar is from a Siberian sturgeon species smaller than the more renowned Caspian variety. It is farmed in Southwest France. The pistachio ice cream and the “beer cream” were good accompaniments. (Beer cream is made from cream combined with buttermilk and Perpetual IPA (Imperial Pale Ale) from Troegs.)
Small, live scallops were hiding under the very thin radish slices. They had a delicate, fresh flavor. The horseradish was very well prepared and not very strong, but still too much for the scallops. It would have been great with the oyster two courses later instead of the somewhat ordinary ponzu sauce. The sauce poured into the plate was green strawberry juice with parsley oil. It was appropriately delicate.
WHOLE WHEAT BATARD
A bâtard is half the length of and thicker than a baguette. The yellow butter whipped with yoghurt was excellent. I did not care for the tan caramelized onion butter, although caramel is usually one of my favorite flavors.
RAZOR CLAM / BITTER GREENS, MISO
The froth on top is miso; underneath is a warm, perfectly-made brown butter, an unusual, but excellent, sauce for the razor clam meat. The bitter greens provided a counterpoint to the slight sweetness of the other ingredients. Very good.
FOIE GRAS / BLACK CURRANT, APPLE, PEANUT
A thick foie gras lobe had been nicely seared. It was matched with apple curls on top. Underneath was a rich black current sauce and a bed of peanut butter, which really went well.
A very good slice of lamb was in a pastry boat topped with various garnishes. To make the sauce the onions are charred black and pressed for their sweet and bitter juice. It was very good; too bad it was mostly used for decoration, but I could swab up some with the pastry. This meat course was one of the best, which is unusual.
These chocolate coated marshmallow treats are a favorite in Denmark.
The cuisine was always interesting and good. Compared to Atera before Ronny Emborg it had a certain Scandinavian austerity about it while still being mostly American. The ingredients were partially seasonal and local. It was nice not to have to worry about unexpected, palate-killing red chili flakes or excessive vinegar which plague so many American restaurants.
The pace was just right. (The first sitting meal must be done within three hours so the dinner can be repeated for the second sitting.) The service was friendly and efficient, but the warm interaction across the counter, which was so important before, was largely missing. The excessive volume of the music is primarily responsible. One can hear, but not in a pleasant, relaxed way. (There was also a loud, annoying, disrespectful group of five diners at the table in the back.) We did enjoy frequent discussions with Captain Matt Abbick, who could stand between us and be heard. (Matt also provided many of the details above when I was preparing this blogpost.)
To see all of our meals at Atera click here.