"Beets," Andrew Carmellini sighs. "They went from never being on any American plate to being in every salad to the point of cliché."
But in the hands of the chef who weaves seamlessly between homey Italian American (Bar Primi), fancy French (Lafayette) and now greenmarket gems at the new Little Park and Evening Bar inside the Smyth, a Thompson Hotel in Tribeca, the banal beet gets new life.
At Little Park, it's roasted, finely chopped and assembled into a lovely tartare ($12), it's sweetness harnessed by horseradish cream, salty little globes of roe and caraway-dusted rye crumble. The sturdy root vegetable turns risotto ($15) a shade of bright magenta and helps the golden beet coins and fennel flowers atop pop. Dried and ground to a dust, it floats on the foamy head of the Old Alobar ($18), a gin- and walnut liqueur-spiked cocktail from bartender Anne Robinson, lending the creamy, wintery drink pleasant sour, li hing mui-like notes.
Chef de cuisine Min Kong with Andrew Carmellini | Raw scallops in yuzu-infused broth
Carmellini calls his cooking veg-forward and modern. We call it straight up delicious.
For the smallest restaurant in his downtown empire—where he's appointed former Locanda Verde sous-chef Min Kong to oversee as chef de cuisine—Carmellini focuses intently on ingredients he knows intimately. "I've been going to the greenmarket every Wednesday and Saturday since I've lived in the city," he says matter-of-factly. And the outcome is a slew of small, thoughtful, meticulous, nearly meatless dishes that gently remind you that he and his team can do much more than pasta and fried chicken brunch.
Pearly scallops ($18), caught just 2,000 feet away from Carmellini's summer house on Peconic Bay, come in their shells, swimming in a bright, yuzu-infused broth topped with grated radish. Sunchokes ($13) are roasted downstairs on the wood grill until soft and sweet, then tossed in a sauce thickened with hazelnut and laced with black trumpets and more crunchy nuts. Salad transcends boring iterations. Here, it's a delightful mound of crisp elements: bitter castelfranco and thin fennel strips ($13) slicked with an addictive orange-anchovy dressing and hiding a treasure beneath in the form of wobbly bits of boiled eggs.
As for the heartier mains, there's nothing to not like. Thin ravioli filled with black kale ($14) are all the better when napped with a velvety squash sauce. The few meaty offerings will keep carnivores happy: There's a dreamy dry-aged duck ($18) with super crisp skin and a drizzle of glossy concord grape sauce, as well as spatchcock chicken ($17) with speckles of mustard and freekeh.
And, clearly, the carnivores are. By 7 p.m., the warm, glowing restaurant bustles as young, carriage-pushing families leave and the locals trickle in for a drink and a bite at the bar or one of the long roomy banquettes. Designed by Gachot Studios, the look is diner-moonlighting-as-greenhouse, with linen-covered booths, hanging potted plants and succulents lining the windowsills. Waiters dressed in chambray rush to refill your water and change out cardboard-colored paper placemats between courses—a little fussy, but you can't hate on the earnestness of it all.
Dry-aged duck with concord grapes | Pastry sous-chef Jen Luk with her stellar cinnamon toast ice cream
Before you trounce across the lobby to hang by the very mod fireplace and drink more fantastic, vegetable-laden cocktails from Robinson at Evening Bar, you should try something sweet, meaning the downright awesome cinnamon toast ice cream ($8). Sure, there are great scoops in the city, but pastry sous-chef Jen Luk is making something magical here. She infuses the base with toasted brioche, crisps that same brioche in a pan with salted cultured butter, cinnamon and sugar, and dries it out into a salty, pleasantly burnt dusting for the ice cream. It's a clever recycling of ingredients, but also just so milky and sweet and delicious that you'll want to order another two scoops.
As far as desserts go, you just can't beet it.
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