We may have gone to New York with a list of restaurants several pages long, but there were many we discovered by simply turning a corner whilst exploring the streets. It was when we were walking along Elizabeth Street in Nolita that we stumbled upon Mexican eatery Tacombi, a cool little place worthy of its tacos and cold cerveza. Right next door to it is another place that grabbed our attention, and more recently, the attention of the Michelin crew.
Stopping to look at the menu that first afternoon, we couldn’t help but pick up on a bit of a New Zealand theme. It was when a young woman invited us in to take a better look that we learned the chef and owner is in fact an Auckland native, and that she was his wife and business partner, opening the restaurant in August last year with a third partner. We said we’d have to come back sometime for dinner. And we did, a couple of weeks later.
Once we were seated I asked if I could take a look at the herb garden out the back. I’m told by Barbara Lambert, the lady that initially greeted us, that the herb garden was a work in progress and provides as many herbs and edible flowers as they can manage to keep alive. Chef Matt Lambert clearly loves the use of herbs in his dishes, bringing the flavours of New Zealand and New York together. As for the wine selection, much of it comes from New Zealand with a handful from Australia, as well as other wine growing regions.
Each dish is executed with artistic flair, which is evident in the first dishes we ordered. Quail, cherries, roasted onions and bread sauce (14). Then there’s the cold smoked scallops (15) with cucumber, pears, black garlic and sea beans (samphire). With the scallops oddly torn into pieces.
The ever-popular Chatham cod (28) gets a go at The Musket Room, all greened-up with peas and herbs as well as battered mussel and fragments of crab. Lusciously buttery and beautifully cooked with a barley miso. Just as good is the NZ red deer (33) cooked medium-rare with caramelised fennel and flavours of gin. The addition of celeriac purée brings an earthy creaminess and a dab of torched meringue, a clever touch of sweetness.
Pastry chef Rob Rohl works his magic with a beautiful chocolate torte (13) with black mint ice cream, mascarpone and chocolate crumbs. The bright purple flower petals are a great visual touch.
One of the house specials may have been geared towards being a starter, but I couldn’t resist ordering it for dessert. Foie gras (19). It features two types of foie, starting with torchon; a lightly cured and poached slice topped with half a poached apricot with seared foie in its cavity. Some herbs, apricot poaching liquid and freeze-dried mandarin completes the delicious story. Who needs only-sweet when you can have your sweet with foie gras?