Thursday, October 06, 2005

71 Clinton Fresh Food

Last spring, Andrea Strong wrote a column/rant in the Strong Buzz urging New Yorkers to go to restaurants with challenging menus. If New York is to remain a world-class restaurant city, she argued, New Yorkers need to support chefs who stretch themselves beyond a really nice roast chicken. High on that list of restaurants was wd-50, Willie Dufresne’s Lower East Side restaurant.

Still, I wasn’t sure I wanted challenging for my birthday dinner, so we had a drink at wd-50 and headed across the street to Dufresne’s first restaurant (now under its third chef), 71 Clinton Fresh Food. The menu at wd-50 looked even better in person than it had on the web; the restaurant even prettier at night than it had walking past one midday last spring. Our drinks were lovely; the bartenders knowledgeable and friendly (a nice combination). In short, we were a bit sorry to have been conservative in our choice.

But the meal at 71 Clinton did not disappoint. My husband started with a salad of heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese curd. It was lovely but my appetizer was stratospheric: a foie gras nougat (a huge, creamy dollop of foie gras) sitting on a bed of what looked like tiny grape nuts but were caramel crunchy things, and covered in pale green basil foam. To the side was a small lump of pink gelatin with a rosy-citrusy taste. I was in heaven. It was so pretty and really one of the yummiest things I’ve ever tasted.

My veal (and yes, I ordered foie gras and veal: with a babysitter about four times a year, each event ought to be a real blow-out, I think) was a little intimidating. I don’t think I liked it—well, I know I didn’t like it but it was interesting enough and good enough that I’m willing to believe I might be partly to blame. Anyway, it was a very big, very, very pink piece of meat: about six or seven thick two-bite pieces. In college, I had a friend from Pakistan who complained that all the meat in the states really tasted of meat; she was used to cooking with lovely masking sauces and vegetables in which you weren’t so aware of eating flesh. I thought of her.

My husband’s chicken was divine. Cooked sous vide (under empty?—the waiter says they seal it in a pouch and poach it), it was pale, pale, pale (more meatiness, but less jarring to me) and tender as butter. It sat atop a little pile of swiss chard next to a small pile of gnocchi—the best, lightest potato pillows!—all bathed in a brown butter and foie gras (mmmm…) sauce. His chicken matched my appetizer.

For dessert? Chilled peach soup with vanilla shortbread cookies and a generous dollop of crème fraiche gelato. Delicious.

Clinton Street and the Lower East Side in general was hopping after dark—I love just being out and feeling myself part of a scene—and Malcolm Gladwell was seated just a few tables away from us inside, so all in all, it was a good night. And, thanks to the New Yorker writer with the huge forehead and crazy hair, I even managed to get a smidge of literature in this post…


Louise said...

Hello Anne,

Ah foie gras sounds amazing from this side of the planet. Though lotus flowers and fresh mango are rather lovely too. Have just returned from Siem Reap in Cambodia where the food was both stunning and stupidly cheap ($9 for two people inc drink) but somehow your East Side Story sounds far more tempting.

All my love,

Unknown said...

Dearest L, Mangoes sound great, but you're right--foie gras is pretty hard to beat! Still, nothing here is stupidly cheap. Enjoy. And come to New York!! xxxx