At his new restaurant, The Gander, Jesse Schenker is stuffing pasta with deep purple beet purée, dusting the plump, perfectly formed tortelli with coconut, then slicing petals of raw beet on top ($20).
It's spring, so there are also quenelles of fava bean and ricotta on crostini ($8) and weird, lovely snap pea salads bolstered with fried calamari, grapes and cashews, dressed in a lot of house-made ranch ($14).
Yes, you can also get a cheeseburger and fries | Chef/owner Jesse Schenker
Schenker--who you may already know because he went from running a supper club to a small, idiosyncratic restaurant called Recette in the West Village--knows how to build beautiful, intricate plates. But let's talk about the homely side of grits you don't want to miss, right at the bottom of the menu.
They're white-speckled, extraordinarily creamy, cooked in a mixture of mushroom stock and cream and sprinkled with two kinds of crisps: thin, almost see-through slices of smoked shimeji mushrooms and delicate shards of fried pork skin ($9).
Tater tots with a twist--they're made with brisket | The Highland Sling with cherries on top
It's good, and some bites are devastatingly good because the dish has been drizzled with mosto cotto--wine grape juice reduced before it's had the chance to ferment--that's as thick, sweet and deeply colored as maple syrup. (At brunch, you'll find a heftier version of the grits for $15, jeweled with tiger shrimp and wisps of smoked black trumpet mushroom.)
Once the grits land, everything else just disappears and you forget that you're in a quiet, sprawling room where guys in suits lounge on grim green banquettes with cold beer like it's the luxe bar above some racetrack in California.
The Gander doesn't have the coziness of Recette, but it makes up for that with plenty of interesting, surprising, Schenker-style flavors. Even in a side of grits.
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