ABC Kitchen at ABC Carpet and Home is the high temple of organic and local food. Locanda Verde and ABC Kitchen are our two favorite places to eat, when not cooking at home. The food simple, elegant, impossibly tasty and addictive. Chef Dan Kluger, a veteran of many New York kitchens including that of chef Floyd Cardoz formerly of Tabla, is in command in the kitchen and proves that magic does not always need extravagance of the sorts we have become used to. Kabocha Squash and Brussels Sprouts shine vividly and with flair in his hands, pans and recipes. His food dreamy, delicious and decadent - yet honest, humble and haute, all at once, in its memorable manner.
The toasts picture above celebrate the luxuriousness of the squash, the power of vegetarian indulgence at the hands of a magician, and the incredible strength of seasonality, local foodways and deft handling of food at the hands of a master. In the case of ABC Kitchen, not one, but two. A master (Dan Kluger) and a Grand Master (Jean Georges Vongirechten). Charlie and I were eating these a second time in less than a month, and yet we were excited beyond words could ever describe.
This roasted kabocha squash toast come with fresh ricotta and apple cider vinegar. Garnished with basil leaves. It is one of Charlie and Gael Greene's favorite bites anywhere. Ida Shen, our visiting friend also enjoyed it thoroughly. As much as I LOVE It, it lacks a certain heat to balance the sweetness of the squash. I am that way with all squash and pumpkin dishes, I need very elevated level of heat to be able to enjoy these yellow vegetables. I am stupid. What do I know. And yet, it is the first squash dish in a restaurant that is not Asian that I have enjoyed. That alone is a HUGE compliment for the chefs at ABCK.
Our friend Ida Shen made her own version of the roasted kabocha squash toast for her family in East Bay in San Francisco. Ida is one of the best chefs I know. She is able, talented, smarter than the best I know, sharper than a Korin knife, and wittier than most anyone else I know anywhere. When Ida speaks, I listen. When Ida exclaims about food, I am hooked myself on the tastes and flavors. When Ida discovers, I am hungry to learn and discover myself. She emailed me last night a photograph of her version of the ABCK kabocha toast. It looks delicious for sure. The plate, another simple meal at the Shen household. But so colorful, pretty and inspiring. How I wish more Americans would eat this way. Ida used a chiffonade of mint in place of the basil. Ida said it worked better. Chefs at ABCK, I would experiment, Ida is hardly ever wrong. Here is a woman who grew up Chinese, in one of the richest parts of the Bay Area, went to learn cooking in France and now heads up the kitchen for Cal Dining at UC Berkeley. Not as glamorous as ABCK for sure, but a job that requires a lot of thankless hours and planning. Ida is someone I respect a great deal. LOVE YOU IDA!
Food has the power to inspire and good food has the power to inspire even more tangibly. Such was the result of the meal at ABCK. Thanks ABCK for doing what you do. Charlie, Gael Greene, Steven Richer and I are fans already, but see how you even changed the world of Chef Ida Shen?
The center pieces at the tables and the candles add great subtle yet glorious aura around the room and around the diners. ABC has always been one of Charlie and my favorite places to shop. Now, it houses one of our favorite spots to eat comfortably and happily.
Tis the season for fiddlehead ferns and you will not be robbed that indulgence. Cooked simply, with austerity and dexterity. A quick saute, some good oil and some lemon make for perfection at each bite. Surely salt and pepper and some seasonings must leave the hands of Dan Kluger and his able team, but one would hardly ever know or taste. The seasonings that are there, are there for a purpose - the celebration of Fiddleheads, first and foremost!
That my companions on this culinary adventure were too busy enjoyingh the Kabocha toasts was my good luck. They allowed me full and almost complete indulgence of these breathakingly Ramp'y Ramp Toasts. Never have I enjoyed ramps as much as I did that night. I was in Ramp heaven. And I would have found my way to heaven without the need of a ramp with endlessly long legs. This was a straight shot from eart to heaven, without any fuss or muss, without any loss of the flavors of ramps, and without any effort made in lowering the garlic flavor. LOVE that they made ramp butter for the toast. Added to the rampiness. Fairhaven goat cheese (from MA) was sweetly delicious and a good contrast. Pickled ramps added a nice contrast to the heft of the toast.
The lights too add their own magic to the space. They always do, but at ABC Kitchen, there is a certain gossamer quality to their lighting. It makes everything in the room and everyone seem very golden and special.
Ida ordered the fresh ricotta, crispy prosciutto and dates pizza for her main. Of course we all shared it. The crust is crisp, light, chewy and supple all at once. I remember the mozzarella and tomato sauce pizza I had enjoyed a week before to be exrtaordinary. That the crust was whole wheat, hardly mattered. In fact the chewiness is a nice surprise. Now we need to get pizza like this to the kids and into school programs, that still serve pizza. The tomato sauce that the kitchen makes is VERY tomato-ey.
The Roasted Brussels Sprouts with mustard vinaigrette havve been divine at each visit. In New Orleans I enjoyed finding brussels sprouts on almost all menus... sadly, each place salted them beyond necessary and made the enjoyment somewhat of a challenge. Lots of water, and lots of courage, and my LOVE of brussels sprouts made sure the plates were left clean. I am mad! At ABC Kitchen, the chefs pay attention to salting and I have never had to do any theatrics on my end. I could eat these for breakfast.
The Truly Crispy Pork Belly with Radish, Fennel and Citrus Salad was incredibly beautiful and satisfying. The Buddhist Vegetarian in me was in Buddhist Heaven when Charlie offered me not one but two tastes. WOW! The salad of course was light, crunchy, crispy and full of zing... a great counter to the fatty unctuousness of the pork. Of course the meyer lemon glaze made everything that much more special and noteworthy.
Snow peas in endive - who would have thought of that? Only at ABC Kitchen. Marvelous dish, with an incredibly fresh and savory taste. Just salted enough to allow the flavor of green fresh peas to come out and get all the credit. WIth some cheese (salty parmesan) thrown in for yet more salt and some textural contrast and smoothness. The endives made for a wonderful vehicle for the enjoyment of the peas and only added to the overall magic of the peas, rendering themselves silent as far as taste goes.
There is always something happening at ABC Kitchen. And the restaurant provides enough design and architectural detials through which you can create your own kind of theatrical production if you will.
Flowers that begin showing off their presence whilst still inside the vase add to the overall mystery, seduction and drama - that take place every minute that one is present at the restaurant. As a diner, I love when my eye can find beautiful details to romance and savor. Food is great.. but one that is visually most excited - need such visual candy for the appreciation of all other joys that life sends their way. For me, the great food at ABC Kitchen is made only that much more special by all the wonderful tchatchkees that are presented for my pleasure throughout the space.
The kitchen sent out some beef carpaccio. It was heavenly. Deftly prepared. Kept minimally fussed over. Great olive oil, some capers and good salty cheese added just the right companionship for the sweet-fatty fine shavings of beef. I know Ida could have eaten the whole plate. But lucky me, I got two tastes, and I was thrilled beyond words.
Nothing in life is perfect! The housemade ricotta ravioli given us this particular night was lackluster. It was not of the same brilliance as the other dishes. Of course, it would be infintely better than any other we could get in most restaurants anywhere. But when served with the other dishes that had such amazing taste, it paled in comparison. I am sure the kitchen can do better. I am sure they do better. If one out of scores of dishes is not magically great, that is more than OK. I found the pasta too thick, the flavor too bland, and the sauce too jammy. I enjoyed it as best I could. Charlie and Ida took small nibbles and decided to indulge the other dishes.
We had two fish dishes. One was the slowly cooked arctic char with a sweet and sour carrot sauce with basil and the other the black sea bass with chilies and herbs, baby market potatoes and spinach. Each was divine. I know we forgot to photograph the chicken liver toast that Ida ordered. I got one little bite. It was DEELISHIOUS! We also ordered the house cut fries. As is the norm, they were sensational.
These radishes, baby ones, came as our amuse. We did get other offerings from the kitchen as well. Itis these small gestures, even in small sizes, that make the kitchen and the restaurant seem larger than life in scope and vision.
The lounge area is wonderful and so very attractive. Sadly for patrons, but luckily for the restaurant, it is always busy. Every attention to detail has been given for a very wondrous experience by the diners.
Chocolate cake - with malted chocolate ganache and a toasted marshmallow icing was nice. It was wonderful to see the plate it was served on. It is this sense of quirkiness that makes ABC Kitchen a dreamy place for me. I am certain that each visit, I will get amazing food and tons of beautiful "things" to look at and savor as part of the experience.
The apple crumble tart came with buttermild ice cream. It was divine. Just the right amount of sweetness and spice to it. I am usually sickened by the amount of cinnamon added into anything apple in America. Not so here. This was elegance at its best. Every aspect of the dessert was in balance to the other. It was the apples that were being showcased and they came across being the winners on the plate.
Pastry chef Cindy Bearman has won my heart with all her creations. What a shame that none of my photos of the supernal Sundae came out nicely. It is a celebration of her brilliantly excecuted salted caramel ice cream. Served with candied peanuts and popcorn. Some whipped cream, just the right amount and an exceptionally chocolate-y chocolate sauce. I could eat this Sundae every morning, noon and night of the week. It is simply amazing!
We ended the night with many people still savoring their meals and enjoying the warm and incredibly welcoming air of ABC Kitchen. That the last sweet notes that brought our dining experience to a close were as brilliant as the savory ones was yet another reason to salute chefs Jean Georges and Dan Kluger and the man who supports their dreams, the able and smart Phil Suarez.
NYC is lucky to have this kitchen in its lap. A luxury really, but one that is worth celebrating and indulging in. Dining at ABC Kitchen gives you the feeling of being on a vacation. Perhaps it is the country-chic decor, the casual yet superbly attentive service, or the attitude-free menu offerings that make it so. In any case, if you are in the city and wanting to take a fresh break from a week of madness, run to ABC Kitchen, if you can get a table that is, and allow yourself to be indulged. That the restaurant is not too pricey, only makes it so much more special. Too many expensive meals are nothing to write home about. ABC Kitchen and the chefs who created and maintain its magic are worthy of all our affection, praise and accolades.
PS: I was at ABC Kitchen in very early Spring. This post took a LONG time getting finished. The menu could have changed. Forgive me for that.