NYC: Atera (Aug. 2012)
Authors: Victor and Monty
Chef: Matt Lightner
Date: August 17, 2012
October 2, 2013, edit:
CONGRATS TO ATERA AND MATT LIGHTNER ON GETTING TWO MICHELIN STARS IN THE 2013 MICHELIN GUIDE!
-This is a chef’s-table-style restaurant.
-There’s a huge emphasis on foraging. They work with many foragers, and one of them is Evan Strusinski, who’s a foraging superstar.
-The chef worked at Noma and Mugaritz before!
-You can only get the tasting menu, which lasts around two-and-a-half to three hours. (Monte: I wonder if they’ll raise the cost after the 2 stars award)
This was our view once we were seated.
This is a picture of the menu. They gave it to us after the meal. Unfortunately, the amuse-bouches are not listed.
-with pine nut butter and mushrooms
Monte: Yum, flax seed! Taste profile not dissimilar to dirt, but that’s just the healthy earthy ingredient I s’pose.
-with strained yogurt
Monte: These are delicious. Strangely woody chips that had a pleasant crunch to them, and the strained yogurt is a welcome ingredient that adds moisture.
-with sweet meringue bun dusted with yeast
Monte: Holy crap this was delicious. The meringue bun really is sweet – and its hollowed out structure is a fun concept to ponder. The lobster filling was top notch – not sugary sweet, but with all the natural sweet of fresh lobster. This dish was the first inkling that not everything we’d eat would be a simulation of forest scavenging.
-topped with salted halibut and mustard
Monte: Cold, powdery, spicy, salty – just a bunch of abstract concepts masterfully put together. I haven’t really had anything quite like this, and for pushing the boundaries of my senses then I am grateful. (And we’re only at canape 4!)
Foie Gras Peanuts
Monte: This is one of those dishes that defy description. You really should eat here and just experience this for yourself. It’s awesome.
“Pickled Quail’s Egg”
-made using a milk gelée that was turned into pudding
Monte: I love this plating. It’s as rustic as rustic gets – and really makes you think you’re about to eat an egg (a mental slap to the head when I realized it wasn’t an actual egg). My eyes bugged out like o_O and then my lips curled up into a :) as I laughed to myself…this restaurant is super playful and challenges you, the eater, to really think.
Pig’s Blood Wafer
-with whipped lardo
Monte: Really really awesome. It has that salty, and almost-spicy quality of pig’s blood in a crisp cracker – with a smoky sweet lard topping to just add onto the sinful delight, as if it wasn’t insane enough as is.
-made by adding squid ink to an air baguette
Monte: Ok so I wasn’t exactly tricked into thinking these were razor clams, but I definitely did think they were reminiscent of razor clams. The baguette is crunchy and the filling is just a creamy goodness.
-made from rock tripe
-with herb emulsion and malt vinegar purée
Monte: I first thought this was going to be like banh phong tom (Vietnamese Shrimp Chips) due to its similar exterior. But instead of being sweet and seafoody, this cracker was quite earthy, and almost bitter. It’s not unpleasant, and at this point I was fully immersed in the “foraging” dining. It really made me feel more connected to nature and food, as if sitting there and eating these delightful eats was like a pilgrimage back to the forest in appreciation of all of nature’s wonders. Hippie-like? maybe…Go Bears.
-cured in gin botanicals
-pickled green tomatoes, sesame
Purslane (portulaca oleracea)
Monte: MMmm…fresh seafood with perfectly crispy fresh light vegetable company. I ain’t mad at that.
-cold herb infusion, strained buttermilk
Artichoke (cynara cardunculus)
Monte: The herb infusion gave a really minty/basily/herb-spice aroma to the dish that in reality had a much more subtle taste than the smell (perhaps the buttermilk mellowed it out?) The crab was really sweet and I gobbled up this dish as if it were a little bowl of porridge.
-black malt cracker
-tartare includes smoked tomato
Wood Sorrel (oxalis acetosella)
Monte: This tartar was crazy good. Eyes rolled to the back of my head as I blissfully sighed whilst chewing. It was ever so slightly gamey, but with a sweet meat profile and a tender texture rivaling any piece of toro.
Seared Duck Heart
-tender young vegetables and fish sauce!
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Monte: I love duck, it’s one of my favorite meats. This dish was pretty awesome because I don’t think I’ve had duck hearts before. The smell of fish sauce reminded me of vietnamese cooking and I became an instant fan of the dish. It was hearty, sweet, salty – a homerun dish in my humble opinion. In retrospect, it had a very similar flavor profile to com ga xiu xiu / com ga hai nam – but with amped up flavors.
Salted rye bread
Butter (salted and cheese-infused)
-made from squid
-dissolving spice packet, pork bouillon
Salad Burnet (sanguisorba minor)
Monte: So freaking cool – noodles made out of squid?? Aaah jeanyus. The broth was very fragrant from the bouillon – and the whole test tube presentation was pretty intriguing. I don’t know if you can tell, but the herbs on top of the noodle were packaged in a thin paper that dissolved upon contact with the broth that was poured over it. I think the package was made with obulato – a clear sheet of potato-starch-turned-paper (purely my own speculation, but the transparent paper package was exactly as how I pictured in my head as I read about obulato in the The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). The noodles were a bit chewier than the normal noodle but had all the additional taste and fun of squid meat. Happy noms indeedy.
Dried Beet “Ember”
-with trout roe
Bull’s Blood Beet Creen (beta vulgaris)
Victor: Here’s a story I found somewhat entertaining while we were eating this course:
So the couple to the right of us was talking with the server a lot, and he mentioned that he used to be the bartender at Eleven Madison Park. The wife mentions that she recognized him from EMP, and Monty and I were somewhat impressed. They must have been pretty big foodies who have eaten around a lot if they recognized the BARTENDER from EMP, right?
So when the server gives the couple this course, we hear the wife ask the server, “Is that the beet?” Without skipping a beat, the server responded with, “No, ma’am, that’s the trout roe.” I definitely would have laughed out loud haha, so I have to give props to that server for being really professional. We were somewhat confused as to how someone who recognized a previous bartender at EMP could mistaken trout roe for… beet.
Monte: What?? This is beet? The menu said this was “ember.” I ate the beet and was screaming bloody murder as my mouth started blistering from the burning embers of the beet. Just kidding. This dish is delicious!! The beet was tender and sweet while the roe added a delightful bursting texture.
-brushed with Mangalitsa pork fat
Victor: This bread was AMAZING. It tasted like it was fried, and I really would have loved to have more of it. (Though I guess my body is happy I only ate one… More carbs wouldn’t be good haha.)
Monte: All of Victor’s carbs are belong to me. Feed me more carbs. More carbs like this bread. This bread soaked in pork fat. Oh yes…*starts drooling as I redream the experience”
-wildflower honey, yogurt
Monte: Milkweed is a funny name. Hehe.
Barbequed Veal Sweetbreads
Carlic Scope (allium scapus)
Monte: Yumm sweetbreads. I love bread that is sweet. This was such as smokey, sweet, and tangy sweetbread – and yet I remember being more obsessed with comparing it to WD-50’s rootbeer bbq sweetbread. Both are delicious, but I just remember WD-50 being more innovative.
Seeded multigrain roll
Black Licorice (glycrrhiza)
Monte: This was porky and delicious. The meat was thick, and gooey. Hard for a loin to be gooey, but it was. The carrot was really sweet and the black licorice wasn’t too strong – real big plus in my book. I don’t know why red vines are called licorice – they don’t taste like “licorice.” I’d rather have carrots dusted with red vines (I think?).
100% goat cheese from Vermont
This is the apple-and-sourdough-bread that is supposed to accompany the cheese:
Monte: I normally don’t enjoy cheesecourses (picture ratatouille – when the brother rat (Emile) eats the cheese and Remy is just ranting about the nutty creamy firework taste and Emile just shakes his head “Nope, don’t get it”) but this one was pleasant! The cheese was really nutty and the accompanied the bread really well. I got it.
Sea Rose Mallow (hibiscus tiliaceus)
Monte: Oooohhhh…pretty…I was going to take the flower and give it to the next pretty girl I saw but the ice cream rose melted in my mouth before I saw a pretty girl whoops.
-sunflower toffee ice cream
Magenta Spreen (chenopodium gigantium)
Monte: Ooh peach seed for dessert. So hard! So dry! My teeth cracked from biting it in half. Psych!! (Let’s bring that phrase back from the 90s, and not in a hipster ironic way). Peach ice cream beautifully carved into an image of a peach seed. Again, wistful and playful. Wunderbar.
-wild strawberries, raw milk ice cream (with vanilla beans!)
Cinnamon Basil (ocimum basilicum)
Monte: This dessert actually did psych me out. I thought I was biting into a doughy airy cake – and it was all just facade for an ice-cream-like cloud. Beeteedubs, the flavor from fresh vanilla beans are irreplaceable. I wish I could grow a vanilla bean in my backyard. I’d name it beany. Not to be confused with my hats.
-salsify (root vegetable that makes up the churro), white cardamom, cinnamon
White Cardamom (elettaria cardamomum)
Monte: This was like chewing on a string of thick taffy. It was gummy and amazing – not the light airy churro that I grew up loving (Costco 99 cents baby) – but mindbending in the sense that it wasn’t the light airy churro I grew up loving.
Bourbon Cask Ice Cream Sandwich
Oak (quercus robur)
Monte: I love desserts that sound and taste like they’ll get you wasted. That unfortunately didn’t happen, but the ice cream sandwich was still yummy. You lose some you win some.
“Black walnuts” (salted caramel)
Victor: Unfortunately, it was super dark at this point, so the lighting sucked for taking pictures :(.
Monte: They were “black walnuts” but not actually black walnuts. When will this restaurant stop messing with me??
“Truffles” (hazelnut butter rolled in cocoa)
Some reflections by Victor:
-The service was great, and every dish was at least solid.
-I have to say, though, that only a few dishes were really outstanding; the others were just solid.
-A lot of the ingredients in the dishes tasted very… earthy. I’m guessing it has to do with the foraging aspect?
-The server was generally great.
-It was really nice to have the whole chef’s table format where you can easily talk to the staff and the chef.
-The whole meal experience was really intimate. You could strike up a conversation pretty easily with your neighbors if you wanted to.
-I have to note, however, that Chef Lightner took the time to talk to a lot of the older diners around us yet didn’t talk to us. I feel like the chef ought to talk to everyone instead of selectively talk to diners.
-Atera lets you take pictures and take notes!!! (This is pretty huge for me.)
Personally, I enjoyed Atera more than Brooklyn Fare. Atera felt much more casual and friendly than Brooklyn Fare. Honestly, the ability to take pictures and notes probably had to do with my feelings regarding that. At Atera, they were more open to discussing each ingredient, while, at Brooklyn Fare, I felt like they were trying to hide some of the ingredients and oversimplify course descriptions. I kind of wish Brooklyn Fare were more like Atera.
It’s nice to see another chef’s-table-style restaurant, though, and I’m interested in seeing what dishes Matt Lightner comes up with in the future! I also think this restaurant’s just going to become even more popular!
Reflections by Monte: This restaurant is amazing. <3