Atera. 77 Worth St. New York, NY 10012 212.226.1444
Michelin Stars: 2
Cuisine: new american, seasonal bounty and all that
my rating: 7.5/10
|I spent a positively lovely week working in NY this past month. It was just magical and I plan on going back roughly once a month from now on. I got a chance to do a bit of eating while I was there, so over the next few days I plan to roll out some o those meals. I would be lying if I didn’t say part of the reason I will be back in NY so often didn’t have anything to do with the food, but also, work was just incredible. Thank you to the wonderful folks I got to meet! I adored ever one of you.|
Atera was recommended to me by a friend who works at Crenn. It has been a few years since I stepped foot on the East Coast for anything longer than a twenty four hour funeral run so I hadn’t much been keeping up on restaurant news for NYC, which is why its the only newish spot on my list. I went first with three lovely ladies, my friend Robin with whom I am available for doubles (check out that split tongue, meow), and then my dear friend Donia who works for a wonderful company that I love (more on that in another post) and a friend who was visiting her from across the country, and then I returned again by myself the night after and a damn good time was had on both occasions. The serve a tasting menu and they did a great job of changing it up a bit for me on the second night.
The space is beautiful. Dark lush woods and living plant walls and all that. It kind of reminds me a bit of the front room at Coi (except the food at Atera doesn’t suck) but with a bit more of a deep, rich, antiqued look to it.
I really enjoyed the service at Atera. I felt that while everyone was absolutely as professional as expected at a spot with two stars from the tire factory’s restaurant guide book (+ 3 stars from the NY Times’ Pete Wells) while retaining a wonderfully warm and friendly demeanor, which is really important to me. As I mentioned, without me even asking, they subbed a few things on the menu the second night so I could try a few extra things, which was very much appreciated. Everyone was perfectly attentive and lovely to talk to, always right there when I had a question (and always quick with an eloquent and knowledgable answer) and scarce when I wanted to be let be. I really feel like they have that awesome, perfectly intuitive service down.
After dining twice, I felt pretty good about the food. My overall opinion was that most dishes were very solidly enjoyable with a few the totally knocked it out of the park, and thankfully, a lesser few that really didn’t do it form. I will definitely return to eat here again and I look forward to seeing how the menu changes with seasonal availability. I generally prefer the late Spring through early Fall offerings at places so I get excited when I like a winter menu a good deal.
When we arrived we were escorted by elevator (yay HC access!) their lovely, intimate twelve seat lounge downstairs ( here’s an article about it http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/12/starter-atera-opens-a-reservation-only-lounge/?_r=0) where we waited for our seats to be ready (most of the seating is at a counter surrounding the kitchen, which is probably my favorite style of dining set up, plus they have one or two tables I believe). They have a short be very nice cocktail menu. I am sad to say I didn’t write down the ingredients or names of the cocktails we ordered from the list since I foolishly though I could look them up later, but here is a few photos (and here is a grub street article about the lounge and bar program to give you a better idea about their lovely drinks: http://www.grubstreet.com/2012/12/what-to-drink-atera-downstairs.html ).
I can’t tell you what was in this, other than that it totally ruled and I ordered three of them.
This was what my friend ordered, which was good, if a bit strong for our tastes.
Now we shall move onto the many upon many delightful little courses.
Beet Macaroon with creme fraiche and sturgeon caviar. For me, this was an inauspicious start. From the description I would have though I would find this to be fan-fucking-tastic but you know what it tasted like? A bit like a sour cream and onion pringle. I don’t know if I have a problem, because there has been a lot of nice restaurants I’ve been to lately where there is a small bite, early in the menu that is without fail, either pringle-y or cheese-it-like (such as the first course at Commis which is made to look like a stone…. cheese it central). I didn’t hate this but I also wouldn’t have eaten another.
This was more like it! Pickled beet that has been dipped in beeswax. I loved this, especially it’s really amazing texture which was creamy (not waxy at all) and velveteen. The flavor was sweet, earthly and delicately floral. I could munch on these all day.
Geoduck with smoked potato and cured pork fat. This was utterly luscious. My handwriting is so terrible that even I can’t understand it sometimes when I read it later but what I looks like my comments read as “So fucking good. Like Like my whole body is blushing”. Maybe it was the equivalent of my mouth coming (as S. Grey writes in the Juliette Society, I also don’t approve of the changing of ‘come’ to ‘cum’. None of the latter for me. Come is just fine). But whatever, all that is important is that this made me want to touch myself it was so good.
Amaranth cracker with trout roe and ramp tartar sauce. So if I though the beer macaroon had a slight pringles taste, this was like pour all the little crunched up bits with the extra flavor powder at the bottom of the can into your mouth at once (a combo of the sour cream onion and bbq flavor I daresay…. I haven’t eaten a pringle in probably a decade but I have incredibly visceral sense memories of them…. like as soon as I put this in my mouth I was seventeen and a filthy crust punk dressed in my homemade carhartt skirt sitting on the side of the interstate 80 outside of Reno with a cardboard sign that said “East of anywhere but here” and my thumb out, snacking on pringles and sriracha). I didn’t like this and don’t think I even finished the second bite. I think it was the ramp tartar sauce. But I don’t like tartar sauce as it is, so maybe this particular dish is not a good one to take my word on.
Now here was one of the stars of the meal. Atera’s version of a lobster roll, served on savory meringue. The first night I was here, when they served this dish to the four of us, the restaurant was drowned out in our overwhelming moans of pure ecstasy. Melt in your mouth sweet, amazing creaminess. I put a star next to this one in my notes, so one of my faves.
This bad boy right here was awesome as well. Its a beef tendon glazed with a sea urchin fish sauce. If you have ever had those Asian shrimp chips that sort of crackle and cling to your tongue in an oddly pleasant way, these have a similar mouthfeel to them. Like a cross between those a chicharones. This is another moment where I am resolving to improve my writing because this has a many step process to getting it like this and I can’t read all of them (curses!) but it goes something like slow cook, do something else, dehydrate, freeze and then fry (don’t quote me on that). I really enjoyed this. In fact I ate two of my other friends portions who couldn’t get over the idea of beef tendon.
This cocktail wasn’t on the menu and was what the bartender came up with when I requested something light, refreshing and fizzy. Its pear liqueur and brandy, pear macerated with wintergreen and soda water. Super refreshing and awesome. I think this was my first winter green drink. I had a few other beverages the first and second night, but felt this was the most special.
A two part snack right here, the white spheres are pickled quail eggs and the crackers are wafter made of pigs blood with chicken liver and huckleberry. I feel like its hard to go wrong with quail egg, so of course I enjoyed that, but it was the other part that really impressed me. The pigs blood wafers tasted a little bit like christmas. I don’t know how to explain it better than that. Not like turkey and spiral cut ham and apple pie but… like christmas itself? My words are failing me. But trust me it was good, especially with the addition of the mouth watering chicken liver mousse . To make the crackers they take blood sausage and spread it out with added wheat flower, dehydrate, bake and then put in a waffle iron. I am always so impressed with stuff like this. People sometimes get in my face about why I am such a snob and why this is the kind of food I always go out to eat and this is why. Because I am a great home cook but I would never think of nor could ever execute this. I go to restaurants not only to be sated but also to be amazed and delighted. I think food like this is about as close to magic as it gets for me.
Bone marrow served in hearts of palm ‘bones’, butter-lemon béchamel sauce and panko. This was pretty good. I didn’t freak out over it, but all my friends did. My notes (the types ones) say that is smells like Ikea to me.
Salt cured hot smoked swordfish belly and pork fat. Good, subtle, greasy in a good way. Not something I’d want more than one slice of though.
This was one of the substitutions made for me the second night. It is a ‘caviar’ of pomello, pickled garlic and finger limes and also received a star on my notes. This was so simple, so ingenious, so incredible. I would bath in this. I can’t tell you how hard it was to restrain myself from holding out my bowl and doing the whole Oliver Twist “Please Sir, I want some more”. Served cold, it has so many layers. The perfect mixture of subtly different textures, the small caviar-like pop of the finger limes with the oblong, slightly more giving grapefruit cells and then the garlic, that perfectly sweet pickled garlic.
Grapes and olives (with no olives for me). Almond paste? Salty and a sweet. Interesting, though I’m not sure in a good way.
Salad of yellowfin with preserved tomato. So fresh and so fatty in the best way possible at the same time. One of those dishes that just seems like an any more perfect balance would be hard to find. The preserved tomato just gave such beautiful brightness to the richness of the tuna. Wow. Also, I watched this be composed with tweezers which would have been impressive if the next dish’s architecture wasn’t so mind-blowing that I just forgo about the construction of this one.
This little power tower of deliciousness is another of my favorites from Atera. The star next to this one had a big fat triple circle around it. Simple and elegant, this gorgeously constructed little temple to gastronomy is made of pickled garlic, almond and razor clams. The differentiation of texture, incredible flavor and monochrome palate really made this both an incredible tasting experience as well as a tiny work of modern art.
Flowers, uni, squab and miso. The miso was way too intense and salty for me and it was easy to only get one thing in a bite. If you did manage to get all the ingredients in one forkful, it was decent, but definitely not something I’d be looking forward to eating and dreaming about in the meantime. The sweetness of the squash with the uni and slight spiciness of the nasturtiums was pretty good, the miso just ruined it for me by being too overpowering.
Fluke and grapefruit. Just like it sounds. Simple but amazingly tasty in that simplicity.
This was a bastardized version of an aviation that was made for me when I requested something with gin and floral notes. Incredible. Had a strong rose scent to it that I loved. It also was strong without tasting strong. It has the kind of power to it that you can feel in your pussy, like when you are just super fucking turned on already and about to get amazing head but whoever is about to be going to town hasn’t actually touched you yet, just teased you excellently. Yep, strong enough to send a warm rush of blood to all the right places without making me grimace due to the strength’s taste. A+
Diver scallops, cabbage, monkfish liver and hazelnut butter. This was overly salted both nights. I think it would have been lovely if the sweetness of the scallop had been allowed to shine through.
Bay Scallops with meyer lemon brown butter. Everything missing in the first half of the scallop duo was present in this one and all wrongs were righted. Sweetness and tartness perfectly married and that tasty, buttery, little scallop, Jesus H. Christ!
Salted rye bread with house made butter churned from cream seeped with harbison washed rind cheese. Decent but not, like, the best thing ever or anything.
So at this point in time I had two different dishes on each night. The one pictured above is a lovely matsutake mushroom thing with miso, blueberry and foie gras which was pretty darned good (my actual notes say “holy fuck so much better than the matsutake I just had at meadowood). The other dish, however, I think I might have forgot to photograph, but I am not sure. There is is a picture four photos down that looks like it contains rose petals in a dish that I have marked down as Nova Scotian Halibut with garlic and rose petals with the words “pretty awesome” next to it. However, the second night, when I was using handwriting and things got a bit messy, I am pretty sure I was served a different dish with rose petals entirely. If I am reading my handwriting correctly, in addition to white rose petals, it had either artichokes or arctic char (I will call when Atera opens tomorrow and ask) and this dish wasn’t just “pretty awesome”, it made me feel like I was skinny dipping in and MDMA casserole. The words I can decipher are something like this “holy fuck, hot/cold/totally innovative, OMG SO GOOD, sweet, delicate sugars, balanced by vinegar, pear poached in [something I can't read], HOLY SHIT THIS IS GOOD.” All I remember is the rose and and how overwhelmingly, system re-bootingly good it was.
This bread was also the jam. Its a sourdough roll glaze in pork fat and I loved it!
This is another wonderful, wonderful dish I had the second night (once again my awful doc’s handwriting is really not helping and I need to call and ask them the ingredients since this wasn’t on the menu I took home with me. I know it had sprouted wheat berries but other than that, if I am deciphering the ancient scribblings of last week, I think it says golden nettles and aged pork fat with some kind of craime fraiche. Don’t hold me to that ingredient list. Anyways, it was retardedly good is what I CAN tell you. It has a lush almost tapioca consistency but with a pleasant almost soft crunchy nuttiness to it. I can read that I wrote “total show stopper”.
King crab with cedar over salt baked turnip and yuzu. Lovely, delicate perfection. Just a hint of spice from the little green caper/clove looking things. Yum.
Poached Nova Scotia halibut with garlic and rose. I know this isn’t the rose dish I freaked out for because I was served a different fish course the second night, Medai with charred alliums and sunflower seeds and artichoke seared on coals for which I have written “puts last nights halibut to shame. One of the best cooked fish courses I’ve had in several months [since saison's fish cooked in sauce made of the bones plus red curry].
I’ve never met a squab I didn’t love devouring and this was no exception to the rule. Served with berries, black garlic and bronzed fennel along with a ragu made of squab offal, it was wonderful. The breast was perfectly cooked and the offal ragu had a wonderful light spiciness that I enjoyed very much.
Apparently their was a decent Elysian Fields lamb rack with pepper condiment and New Zealand spinach but any photographic evidence has failed to appear.
The second night, in place of the lamb I had this wonderful beet bordelaise dish, which was super good and outshone the lamb for sure. Perfect caramelized garlicy sweet goodness, with a sauce made of more garlic in a thyme butter bordelaise. This might be the best vegetarian main course I’ve ever had at a restaurant like this. Definitely impressive. And making the beet the way it was requires a long, complicated process that involves dehydrating and pressure cooking and more, so another cool thing I probably can’t figure out how to do myself.
I can’t tell you how good this harbison cheesecake was, with lemon sherbet and sorrel. It was he perfect spot between savory and sweet and the second night you bet your ass I was rabidly waiting on the edge of my seat for this bad boy. By far my favorite of the dessert courses. Really interesting. I very much hope this is still on the menu next time I go back.
Chef’s milk and crackers carmello. This was fine. A nice little treat but nothing particularly special.
There was a bourbon cask ice cream sandwich which I guess I forgot to photograph. so sue me. My notes say it was terrific though.
I hate but pretzels and walnuts so I didn’t try this but my dining companions thought both were lovely. Itw as a ‘walnut sunday with celery root” plus the pretzels made of chocolate (another thing I am uber picky about).
Photo of the menu
Part of the beautiful kitchen
Robin and I kickin’ our shoes off after getting home.
Overall the meals were great. I thought night #2 outshone the first meal. I do think that the few bad/pringley/overly salted things put a damper on the meal though. Other than those few disappointments, I definitely would recommend and I look forward to returning myself.