Our first dinner as husband and wife deserved to be memorable, so after months of research, Butter, in the East Village, won our vote for a few reasons:
1. Executive chef/owner, Alex Gurnashelli - a laid back brunette that wasn’t afraid to use fat, but still balanced her indulgence with subtlety.
2. The Birch Room - the lower floor of the restaurant, Lincoln-logged with birch trees across ceiling and walls, brought the ultimate “Brear Rabbit rose-patch” vibe - secretive, dark and romantic.
3. The name said it all…my most favorite ingredient.
I had mentioned we were newlyweds when I made the reservation, so even though the Birch Room was closed that night (boo hiss) we were lavished with a spacious, corner booth beneath glowing branches of birch trees, whose movie-screen size pricked the same senses as a stained glass depiction in a cathedral.
Cocktails: My hubby (Bubba) went for a high-end Scotch (Macallan 15 yr), while I sipped a specialty, the Grape Crush (vodka, simple syrup, seltzer, muddled grapes.) But my crush soon turned to regret after the first super, sugary sip. The syrup overwhelmed every swallow and I think the grapes could have brought enough sweetness on their own.
Five course tasting menu ($90) - paired with wine ($130.)
How could we resist? We wanted to milk Butter for all it was worth and though most restaurants set a separate tasting menu for the evening or season, here they asked which items we didn’t want off the regular menu and went from there. Though it was billed as five courses, every interval presented each of us with a different dish, so we were actually able to nibble on 10 tastings.
Bread: Peppercorn scones – a course in themselves.
Crispy risotto balls with grated parmesan - petite bites of deep-fried, carb-loaded heaven.
Brown sugar glazed pork belly – tales of the underbelly were true…and delicious. This was tastiest tummy I’d ever eaten (most times extremely fatty), for this little piggy was thick with meat, its bottom layer of fat never interfering with the integrity of the pork’s tender morsels, except to flavor. Grilled zucchini was delicate and sautéed just long enough to form a captain-sized, caramelized crunch (favorite dish #1.)
Seared foie gras over watermelon – the seared indulgence of liver was only matched by the clean wash of melon. Balsamic reduction wrapped the two in a syrupy ribbon that tied it all together.
Pasta with lamb sausage – cavatappi (extra twisty elbow macaroni) was inspired with its potent, yellow tomato sauce- thin and garlicy. My only complaint was the lack of sausage and the pieces I did manage to dig out were overcooked. This sheepish star was muted enough for me to miss and there was an undeniable silence of the lamb (sausage.)
Pizza with heirloom and sundried tomatoes – what a concept…pizza made from pie crust! I don’t know if that’s exactly what Gurnashelli had done, but there was a flakiness and crumble that reminded me of dessert, in the best possible way. Heirloom and sundried tomatoes made for a superior “filling” and the oozing mozzarella acted as a snowy blanket to tuck it all in.
Halibut with bacon and diced Yukon potatoes - was topped with champagne grape vinaigrette, but even with the extra “juice” it was dry and a bit overdone. This didn’t excite me the same as the others and though I wouldn’t call this fish a flop, it didn’t hook me either.
Skate stuffed with fontina, spinach and mushrooms - this skate started on thin ice and was almost 86ed from our menu (Bubba not being a big fish fan), but its flawless success was no fluke. With texture mimicking a crab-cake, it shredded in thick clumps for balanced bites of fish and filling.
Lamb chop with eggplant puree - I don’t know what they put in that eggplant puree, but it was all I could do to not lick my plate. The meat formed a crisp crust of seasonings with savory depth that came in like a lamb and went out like a lion –ferociously flavorful. The garnish of fried squash blossom was the final accessory, propped as a playful feather in its cap (favorite #2.)
Sliced duck breast with cherry compote - over escarole was just ducky! The cherry compote added its tangy zing without overpowering the tender fowl and escarole added an earthy element that kept this bird grounded.
Baked blueberries - with cinnamon, pastry wedge and buttermilk ice cream was like a deconstructed pie. Each component blended into one bite of 4th of July.
Raspberry jelly beignets – these really should have been called doughnuts, because they would have dwarfed any other beignet, but we weren’t complaining. The dipping well of crème anglaise was like liquid crème brulee - who knew beignets liked to swim? Everyone in the pool!
Amuse bouche fin: Dark chocolate truffle – the best ending to any story