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Dining

The Prettiest Pig Face

Justin Hilbert works wonders at Blenheim in the West Village
Justin Hilbert's squab and cherries at Blenheim in the West Village
A shower of nasturtium leaves and flowers over squab, beets and cherries

First, a bossy waiter will instruct you to read the "mission statement" on the menu. Then he will speak in whispers about the chef, as if he were a celebrity.

Hang in there! If you can get past this goofy spiel, you're in for a really good time at Blenheim.

Remember Justin Hilbert? He used to bake whiskey bread at Gwynnett St., a gem of a bar and restaurant that once existed on the eastern edge of Williamsburg. 

Now he's in fancier digs in the West Village, making beautiful things like the very thin slices of pig face confit, which are vaguely sweet, intensely porky, see-through spirals of light and dark meat--jowl, ears, snout, tongue. On top, there are Sicilian pistachios, wine-soaked raisins and fuzzy little leaves of lemon balm. It's a wonderful dish, as delicious as it is pretty ($16).

The trout meat is a deep orange, served rare and big as a steak with the kind of soft, silvery rainbow-catching skin that generally gets blasted until it's dark and crisp. Hilbert cooks it gently, then showers it with purple borage flowers and trout roe ($20).

Blenheim is decorated with hammered metal pots and big tools meant to evoke the dreamy farm of the same name that the restaurant's owners run in the Catskills--it supplies honey, butter, meat and vegetables to the kitchen (see: mission statement).

The food is stylish and vibrant, but the crowd is all dowdy power suits and tailored linen jackets. Next to me, a couple refuses to look at the dessert menu.

They miss a delightful ring of lambic, gelled to hold cut strawberries, grapes and cherries. It looks like dessert from an English garden party, circa 1970--some too-firm, elaborately shaped, mouth-staining crown of red gelatin--and it comes with a very generous slice of glazed pound cake.

It's nice to be reminded that serious, brainy cooking can also be fun.

  • At Blenheim, in the West Village, you'll find a small menu of about 12 dishes. They change daily depending on what's growing at the restaurant owners' farm in the Catskills. Justin Hilbert is making magic in the kitchen with big, colorful dishes like this steak with asparagus and morels. 

  • Hilbert, formerly at Gwynnett Street in Williamsburg, has a stylish approach to cooking.

  • Zucchini and its flowers, drenched at the table in a zucchini vichyssoise that's been flavored with pine and hemp.

  • A particularly beautiful dish of squab with nasturtium leaves and cherries.

  • Pink gin, the classic cocktail, appears as a highball with tonic and angelica.

  • Stir the drink a little to distribute the float of bitters.

  • Owners Min Ye and Morten Sohlberg run Blenheim Hill Farm--150 ­acres in the Catskills--which provides meat, produce, honey and butter to the restaurant.

  • A wall of gorgeous farm tools in the back of the dining room.

  • Hilbert, who once worked for Alex Stupak in wd-50's pastry kitchen, has a way with desserts. Here, strawberries with verjus and cress.

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Blenheim 283 W. 12th St. New York NY 10014 212-243-7073
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