ABC Kitchen- New York

My last blog post left off with the question of where world renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten will open next.  This famous chef and restaurateur is on a roll, opening restaurants all over the world in big cities like London and Paris, and even remote locations like Bora Bora and Doha.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the answer in his current home turf, New York City.  Jean-Georges’ newest venture, called ABC Kitchen, brings him back to the Big Apple where he keeps a close watch over several successful and award winning restaurants, including his 3 Michelin starred namesake Jean-Georges in the Trump International Hotel and Tower.  As if he’s not busy enough, he opened ABC Kitchen in March of this year, just 2 weeks after opening The Mark Restaurant in the Mark Hotel on the Upper East Side. The theme at ABC Kitchen is farm-to-table with an emphasis on sustainability and conscious sourcing.

Jean Georges partnered with Paulette Cole, CEO of ABC Home, to open ABC Kitchen on the 1st floor of the ABC Carpet & Home Building near Union Square.  The beautiful restaurant and café space looks like an extension of the posh furniture and interior store, decorated in Boho chic with white wooden furniture, antique crystal chandeliers, distressed mirrors and salvaged entry doors that are so beautiful that they could easily sell as ‘as-is’ merchandise. Distressed wooden ceiling beams salvaged from a barn, exposed brick walls painted in pure white and artwork by local artists create a warm and inviting countryside atmosphere that transport you far away from the honking taxis and busy streets just outside.

ABC Kitchen salutes sustainability and local resourcing by constructing their menu around fresh organic and local ingredients that cultivate a harmonious relationship with our environment.  Every produce that is proudly displayed on a table by the semi-open kitchen comes from organic farms that don’t use pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or insecticides, and can be traced to a specific farm.  Meat, fish and dairy are also locally sourced from farms that promote cruelty-free humane animal treatment.  Herbs and microgreens are grown on a rooftop garden while teas, coffees and spices are organically cultivated on fair trade cooperatives.

The gorgeous interior is something to be proud of too.  Reclaimed wooden tables and porcelain dinnerware were handcrafted by local artists, bread baskets were handcrafted by indigenous Mapuche people of Patagonia, and many of their cups and flatware are antique.  Soy candles that come alive for dinner service are free of pesticides, GMO’s and additives.  The menus are printed on FSC certified 100% post-consumer fiber and coasters are made from cardboard shipping boxes.  Front-of-the-house staff uniforms were bought at local thrift stores.  The concept extends even to places that we cannot see- all cleaning products used in the restaurant are organic.  It’s no wonder that the space feels warm, clean and radiant.  From the moment that I stepped through the front door, I felt the refreshing and pure energy of the room.

It was the perfect place to catch up with my friend Steve Plotnicki of Opinionated About Dining over lunch.  Needless to say, as an out-of-towner choosing a restaurant for a New York based gourmand and blogger, I was a bit nervous.  What venue do I choose for a man who not only has dined at practically every restaurant in Manhattan, but has also appeared on No Reservations and can summon the voices of Jay Rayner and Eric Ripert for a food survey?  It was my luck that ABC Kitchen was one of the few restaurants in New York that Steve had not dined at yet.  We were both excited to try Chef Dan Kluger’s (who has previously worked at Gramercy Tavern and Tabla) market-driven cuisine.

We started with the sweet pea soup, a bright and almost fluorescent green broth with mint ribbons, carrot slices and big crunchy croutons.  Whole round green peas added snappy texture to the wonderful vegetable soup that was full of vibrant flavors.

Raw Maine diver scallops sliced into thin carpaccio slices were garnished with horseradish shavings, sea salt and olive oil in a beautiful pearly scallop shell.  The fresh scallops were incredibly tender and soft, melting in my mouth with the ease of warm butter.  What really made the dish was the olive oil, an intense fruity Californian oil with deep nutty aromas.

Pretzel dusted calamari served with marinara and mustard aioli could’ve been more crisp, as this dish is really all about texture.  Perhaps we would have had more success with their other appetizers, such as wood oven roasted asparagus, caprese salad, roasted carrot & avocado salad, or mackerel sashimi with ginger & mint.

Perfectly cooked steamed halibut with shiitake mushrooms, avocado and asparagus juice was a light dish with simple flavors but wonderfully orchestrated to enhance the innate delicious flavors of each vegetable.  I could really taste and appreciate the bounties of the earth in its purest and uncorrupted form.

The restaurant offered a variety of pastas and whole wheat pizzas, from housemade ricotta ravioli and veal meatballs to spinach & goat cheese pizza.  We tried the pizza with morels, parmesan, oregano and farm egg, a dish that has not quite found its perfect state yet and needs a lot of tweaking.  A better preparation of the various fungi to bring out its flavors better, coupled with more parmesan would have made it much more palatable. 

The best dish at ABC Kitchen was the Akaushi cheeseburger with herbed mayo, pickled jalapeños, wild arugula, herbed mayo and grated Cato Corner cheese.   I had never heard of Akaushi before my lunch at ABC Kitchen, and am now left wondering why this incredibly tender and flavorful meat hasn’t become mainstream yet.  Akaushi means ‘red cow’ in Japanese, and it’s a Japanese Wagyu brand of cattle that has the characteristic marbled meat and rich flavors of other Wagyu brands like Kobe beef.  Akaushi originally came from Kumamoto prefecture in Japan, and the small number of Akaushi cows that were imported to the US many years ago are now being raised at Heartbrand Beef in Harwood, Texas.  The perfect spiciness of the jalapeños, the creamy herb mayo, the sharp grated cheese that doesn’t overwhelm, the bitterness of the wild arugula and the soft Eli’s bun, all perfectly balanced the luscious fattiness and flavors of the medium rare Akaushi burger patty to make one of the best burgers that I have ever had in my life.

Salted Caramel-Peanut Ice Cream Sundae: The perfect balance in a sweet-salty dessert with a whipped creme fraiche topping, chocolate sauce, and caramel popcorn crisp.

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ABC Kitchen

35 east 18th street (between broadway & park avenue)
new york ny 10003
phone 212 475 5829

Random trivia:  Did you know that intact horseradish root has hardly any aroma or sharp flavors, but when cut or grated, the enzyme myrosinase released from the damaged cells degrades sinigrin to a mustard oil, giving it its characteristic pungent taste?

Market by Jean-Georges, Vancouver, BC Canada

What does an accomplished 3 Michelin star chef do after opening 9 successful restaurants in the US and just as many around the world?  Why, continue expanding of course.  Jean-Georges Vongerichten is unstoppable in every way, enlarging his empire beyond French fine dining and casual cafés, and boldly venturing into Asian restaurants and even Japanese soba.  For this internationally acclaimed chef and world renowned restaurateur, who began his training with Chef Paul Haeberlin in Alsace (Hubert Keller also trained with him) and subsequently Paul Bocuse and Louis Outhier, global domination comes easy.  His namesake restaurant, Jean-Georges, in the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan, remains one of New York’s 3 Michelin star restaurants while others nearby like Spice Market and Matsugen offer more casual ethnic fare.  Although half of his ventures involve partnerships with hotels, he is very much involved with the other half, taking a direct hands-on approach in the kitchen to prove that he’s not just a celebrity name.  Shanghai, London, Paris, Istanbul and even Bora Bora have been graced with the magical touch of Jean-Georges. His next stop?  Canada.

Market by Jean-Georges opened in the Shangri-La Hotel in downtown Vancouver in January 2009 as his first Canadian and West Coast outpost.  Similar to Market in Paris and in the W Hotel in Boston, the menu is a collection of his ‘best hits’ items from his other restaurants, using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.  Prices are kept reasonably low to match the casual and relaxed vibe, although it’s apparent that they didn’t skimp on the gorgeous interior.  Market in Vancouver has 4 dining areas to match your mood and purpose- a casual café with a fireplace, a heated outdoor terrace with breathtaking city views, a chic bar made of black marble, and a minimalist dining room with 2 private rooms.

The retro-chic dining room with geometric patterned carpets, white leather banquettes and large cylindrical ceiling lights evoked Eames architecture.  The private rooms, with floor to ceiling windows that beautifully framed the bustling streetcorner of Thurlow and Alberni, were breathtaking.  For a grand dining experience in an alluring restaurant housed in a world class hotel, prix fixe lunch for $29 seemed too good to be true.  For a bargain price, this lunch came with 1 first course, 1 entrée and 1 dessert.  Choices for the first course included raw items like beef carpaccio pizza with mushroom, parmesan & arugula, and hamachi sashimi with muscat grapes & buttermilk dressing.  Also available were soups like clam chowder, salads like roasted beets with goat cheese & crystallized wasabi and appetizer choices like asparagus risotto, smoked salmon pizza and seared scallops with caramelized cauliflower.  We enjoyed the most amazing glasses of cherry yuzu soda and jasmine lemonade while we narrowed down our choices.

The tuna tartare with avocado, spicy radish and ginger dressing was a great starter.  Tuna and avocado is always a great combination, each playing off of the other’s rich fatty buttery flavors.  The tender tartare was pleasantly contrasted by the distinct spiciness of the radishes and the prominent presence of grated ginger.  Spicy chile oil was used liberally in this dish, its piquant properties lingering on my tongue for a good stretch while the nuttiness of the underlying sesame oil flavors slowly infused into my taste buds.

Black truffle and fontina cheese pizza immediately caught my eye, but I was quick to initially dismiss it as an option as I couldn’t imagine it truly delivering truffle flavors in a reasonably priced prix fixe lunch menu.  Our server encouraged us to get it, in fact insisted, saying that it was the best selling and most popular item at Market.  Thank you to our wise server, for I may have missed one of the most incredible truffle pizzas to ever take plate on this earth.  The dough, so soft and pillowy, the cheese, a most fitting partner for the earthy flavors of black truffle, and the frisée greens, a delightful augmentation of texture.  They didn’t skimp on the truffles, its flavor and essence fully infused into every molecule of this pizza to where it was more powerful than an actual fresh truffle.  Its distinct seductive aromas wafted through the air, attracting envious stares from all directions.

‘Like attracts like’ when it comes to good food and discerning palates, and friendships can blossom from the most unexpected culinary moments.  The diner sitting at the table next to us presented her spring pea soup with parmesan foam to me for a photo opportunity, and with a click and an ‘Ahh’ an instant connection was formed.  This wonderful nurse from Oregon already had me at pea soup, and continued to wow me with her stories from Per Se.  She joined us for subsequent meals in Vancouver and we bonded over ostrich at Chambar and chicken feet at Kirin.  Such is the joy of eating and sharing- new encounters and lasting friendships.

For the second course, we had choices of fish and meat entrées.  Nut & seed crusted red snapper and slowly cooked Arctic char sounded appetizing, but my dining partner chose Pacific Halibut with sautéed spinach and sweet garlic lemon broth.  The herb crusted halibut was moist and cooked perfectly, going well with the Asian flavors infused in the chile oil and szechuan peppercorn like flavors within the spinach.  Jean-Georges’ long history of working and traveling through Asia can frequently be seen in hints of sauces and garnishes.

Soy glazed short ribs with apple-jalapeño purée, seared BC hanger steak with gingered mushrooms & soy caramel sauce, and the Market burger with Russian dressing & onion rings sounded mighty enticing for this hungry carnivore, but in an odd twist of events, I ordered the grilled tuna burger with miso mayonnaise and shiso instead, simply because I am a sucker for anything shiso.  The miso mayo was creamy and salty, adding a deep level of flavor to the juicy tuna patty.  The pickles were mild and its signature tartness was subdued so that the whole shiso leaves could play their part.  It was a delightful and satisfying burger, strong on sharp flavors but light on the stomach.  Their fried potatoes were pretty amazing too.

For dessert I was too full and content to stuff myself even more, and settled for a simple fruit plate that was refreshing and simple.  My dining companion got the rhubarb and strawberry crisp with honey ice cream, an adorable bowl of wholesome flavors and thick doughy textures that oozed with just the right sweetness.

The Shangri-La Hotel provides a gorgeous backdrop for this restaurant where the service and ambiance match its sophisticated world class level.  The menu honors seasonal and local ingredients by keeping concepts relatively simple, yet remaining solid in its execution, presentation and flavor.  With a Jean-Georges ‘best dishes’ amalgamation, the menu at Market is practically fool proof.  Another satisfying and delicious meal for me, another restaurant destination crossed off the list for Jean-Georges.  He recently opened Market and Spice Market in Doha, Qatar.  Where will this culinary tycoon set foot next?

Market by Jean-Georges

Shangri-La Hotel

1128 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, B.C. V6E 0A8
Canada
T: 1 (604) 689 1120

Random trivia:  Did you know that rhubarb was so immensely popular for its wide variety of medicinal uses that in the mid 1600’s it sold for twice the price of opium?