This week, Sifton reaches into the sleeve of his wizard robe and pulls out two stars for Recette, once again coming in on the high side of expectations. Sounds like a nice place, though not one that automatically translates into music. The chef, Jesse Schenker, used to run the place as a private supper club from a Harlem bakery, and now it's in the West Village. In a pinch, playing "Take the A Train" backwards would work, but who would want to know what kind of subliminal messages Duke Ellington has for us?
Sometimes, it appears that there is some sort of deal in place where Sifton is to deliver a more or less straight review, but gets a graf or two where he can indulge his whimsies, kind of like the Planet Drum segment of a Dead show. Ideally, this stretch will suggest just a little bit more about Sifton than one might want to contemplate about a restaurant critic. This week delivers:
Mr. Schenker’s foie gras terrine is revelatory, a single slice revealing a kind of glistening mosaic, perfect in its form, each lobe of the liver unmolested by the process: luscious, creamy, with a faint mineral tang. It’s a meat painting, an organ sculpture; like most complicated French cooking, it tastes utterly complete, perfect in the way a ripe strawberry is, or a fresh-shucked oyster. In that, the terrine plays ingénue to Mr. Schenker’s tête de cochon, also on the plate, a rough-hewn and big-flavored head cheese. There is some grainy mustard with it, a few sweetly pickled vegetables. These act as rings and scarves and kohl do for Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp. They elevate toughness to beauty.
Sifton at good at making places he likes sound like places you would want to eat, a gift that is unfortunately not shared by all restaurant critics. Reading this review is like dining with an expansive friend who keeps calling the server back for more wine, and to try more apps -- you hang on for the ride, and hope very much that the friend will pick up the check, and wave off your halfhearted gesture in the direction of your wallet:The codfish fritters come beneath a drizzle of curried aioli, bright and lemony, and above a few tablespoons of fiery lamb-sausage ragù. This is a head-scratchingly good combination. You may wish for a double order, though the fish ’n’ meat combination is revisited with those soft white cannellini beans in their porky chorizo sauce, beneath anchovy hats. Brightness and fire combine again in the presence of acidity. Some more of that grüner would be nice with this.
The Anchovy Hats? I have their first EP on blue vinyl.
Here and there are moments that cloy -- not sure if "deconstructed s'more" is Recette or Sifton's conceit, but, please. Even if someone did get kicked out of the Boy Scouts for deconstructing a brownie in their tent. And:Mr. Schenker’s ocean trout is sweetly nutty beneath its crisp skin, with an earthy dressing of smoked bacon and savoy cabbage, bluefoot mushrooms and a foam of emulsified shellfish broth that’s dated enough to be cheeky. It tastes of high tide and the sun. Pair it with a golden baby chicken served with soft grits and a rough mustard soubise. This makes for hearty eating and a strong case for more grits in your life besides.
Foams are now like edible legwarmers? You have your grits epiphany in a Spanish/French restaurant on West 12th? WhatEVER. But to return. The concept, according to Sifton, is "American food with Spanish flavors, cooked with French technique" the which could be an Epcotty nightmare, but sounds quite good. In the spirit of refined Spanish, "Andalucia," from Paris 1919. Classy, but a little bit eccentric, right?