eater's digest: take root

 Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

There are many labels you could apply to the tasting menu at Brooklyn's Take Root: farm-to-table, sustainable, seasonal. But these increasingly popular, conscious-consumer terms still miss the mark. For while this intimate—verging on tiny—restaurant is all of those things, it is, most importantly, attentive. Attentive in the sense that Chef Elise Kornack has an uncanny awareness of her ingredients and, in turn, encourages diners to take note of her unusual culinary perspective.

Amuse bouche

If it sounds like I'm gearing up to make a bold claim, I am. My meal at Take Root was the most texturally perfect series of plates that I've ever tasted.

Starting with the amuse bouche. A play on carrots and circles, combining caviar-like spheres with crunchy disks and a delicate puree. It was a leitmotif of flavor in a tiny bowl, a question of what is a carrot, and yet, easy to enjoy without considering any of this. The lingering flavor of incredibly fresh mint made this dish doubly worth the while.

Egg

Then came a soft boiled egg with paprika mayonnaise, pickled onions and mustard seeds, rustic bread and home-whipped butter. I've never been a big fan of deviled eggs, but I appreciated the contrasting textures of this more challenging deconstruction, particularly the mustard seed. As for the aerated butter, that deserves its own rave review.

Squid

Next was an appetizer of tender rings of calamari, delicate peppery arugula and crisp lady apples with creamy cranberry beans. It was mild, but still dynamic—the type of dish that is best appreciated on a fresh palate.

French onion soup

Then came a surprise course, an evolved French onion soup. The deeply flavorful, strained broth and wafter-thin pain de mie toasts with a smear of midnight moon gouda was a revelation. Food this thought-out is typically outside of the realm of craving. But if you asked me what I'd like to eat every day for the next month, I'd choose this soup.

A pause to recognize one of the other truly impressive parts of dining at Take Root—their playlist. Curated by Elise's partner, Anna, the mix of Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux and Alexi Murdoch (to name a few) perfectly fit the mellow space and pace of the meal. In a city where so many restaurants prefer rock and hip-hop, it highlighted Take Root as the exception, a more subtle escape from New York's hectic pace.

Egg noodles

Back to the menu, hand-rolled egg noodles arrived in a delicate sauce of sweet corn milk. Dotted among the coils were briny salmon roe, adding a savory counter flavor to the sweetness of the dish. The following course was a striped bass with shatteringly crunchy skin, tender baby eggplants and meyer lemon hollandaise. Despite its mix of unexpected ingredients, the dish was perfectly balanced. Neither the aerated hollandaise or creamy eggplant overpowered the flavor of the wild bass.

Striped bass

As the evening slowly unfolded, we reached the chicken course, which featured multiple cuts from the same animal. Feather-light croquettes deflated beneath their remarkably crispy crust, while the surprisingly gamey breast proved surprisingly moist. The liver mousse was my favorite of all, creating a funky contrast with the essence-of-grape intensity of the halved concords scattered around the plate.

Fleisher's chicken

For dessert, Elise presented an almond semifreddo—a reminder of what almond should taste like, with a light, silky texture to boot. And I couldn't get over the beautiful hue of the elephant heart plums, dragging the ragged, ripped sponge cake through the intensely colored, sweet-tart plum coulis.

Almond semifreddo

Though some dishes were more experimental than others, the multi-course tasting fit together like a patchwork quilt. With no national or cultural cuisine to stitch them together, Elise's unique perspective on cooking tied together the disparate dishes. The experience is unusually personal, clearly revealing the chef's hyper-focused palate and culinary intentions.

In a day and age when "foodies" troll reality TV and read Food Network Magazine for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their favorite chef, it's refreshing to remember that much of what we want to know can be communicated on the plate. Like any great novelist or painter, true chefs need only provide the bearings inherent to their work. And while Elise and her partner Anna are happy to tell you more, the best part of the meal might be that they don't have to.

Take Root
187 Sackett St, Brooklyn
Thurs-Sat, 8pm seating

behind the knives: anthony ricco of spice market

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

It’s said that those who can’t, teach. But when it comes to cooking, Spice Market’s Executive Chef Anthony Ricco is a master at both.

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Before enrolling in a Culinary Arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education, Ricco was working as a prep cook at the China Grill. He says, “My brother forced me to go to ICE because I was holding on to the brochure for almost a year, and he knew I had talent in the kitchen, but I was wasting it. ICE helped me find my culinary voice by giving me access to quality product and excellent teachers who are very talented chefs.”

After graduation, Ricco worked at a restaurant in Long Island City, then found a position at Jean Georges, where he spent three years working every station in the kitchen. Then, he received an offer to work at one of Jean-George Vongerichten’s other New York restaurants, Spice Market.

Chili tapioca

Chili tapioca

When considering whether or not to take the position, Ricco recalls being motivated by one detail—or rather, one dish: tuna ribbons with chili tapioca, asian pear and lime in a chilled lime-coconut broth. Last month, fifteen lucky students had the chance to relive Ricco’s sense of culinary discovery, in a “Light Asian Flavors” class at his alma mater.

Plating tuna ribbons with chili tapioca and asian pear

Plating tuna ribbons with chili tapioca and asian pear

It wasn’t Chef Anthony’s first time teaching at ICE. This past winter, I was one of a handful of students who he taught to prepare the “Signature Dishes of Spice Market.” Despite the complexity of the restaurant’s recipes, it was clear that there were intensely flavorful components that I could recreate at home. From the restaurant’s signature chili oil to a spicy, tangy ginger vinaigrette or a crunchy garnish of garlic chips, each element was a clear and accessible entry into the processes by which professionals layer flavor to create a winning dish.

Seasoning chicken with an Indonesian spice rub

Seasoning chicken with an Indonesian spice rub

Needless to say, when I showed up for my second class with Chef Anthony, it was no surprise to see that I wasn’t his only repeat student. This time, I was charged with making white pepper ice cream and a spiced passion fruit simple syrup. Being more of a savory cook, it was a challenge outside my comfort zone, but involved techniques that I was eager to learn.

In fact, that’s where Chef Anthony’s strength lies. He understands that the flavors and culinary style he works with every day are foreign to most American home cooks, and makes sure that every student, no matter what recipe they are personally assigned, has the chance to learn the techniques behind the various elements of each dish. That’s how I ended up not only making ice cream and simple syrup, but also breaking down a chicken and a red snapper (both for the first time).

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And of course, given that he manages a staff of more than sixty at Spice Market, it was no surprise that Chef Anthony was able to supervise and motivate our motley crew of amateur cooks to churn out such advanced dishes. After four hours of cooking, that was the ultimate reward: to be transported by pungent, spicy, sweet flavors to the far reaches of Asia—or at least, Spice Market, which is a destination in itself.

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Tuna and Chili Tapioca with Asian Pear
*Adapted for home cooks by Chef Ricco

Tapioca (about 20 servings)

  • 7 oz. large pearl tapioca
  • 5 shallots peeled and sliced thin
  • 2 ancho chilies toasted and chopped
  • 9 chipotle peppers toasted & chopped
  • 6 dried thai chilies
  • 4 tbs. Annatto seeds
  • ¼ c. Grape seed oil
  • 1 tsp. Cloves toasted
  • 4 cinnamon sticks toasted and smashed
  • 1 tbs. Sichuan peppercorns crushed
  • 4 tbs. Salt
  • 3 tbs. Sugar
  • 7 c. Water
  • Chili oil
  • 1 tsp. Salt to finish

Sweat all but tapioca, sugar, salt and water in oil until golden. Add water, salt and sugar and bring to boil, simmer for 30 minutes then strain thru a chinois. Bring back to a boil then add tapioca and cook, stirring until clear. Drain under cold running water until cool. Put in a container and just cover with chili oil, then season with salt and reserve.

Lime-Coconut Broth

  • 5 stalks lemongrass
  • 40 kaffir leaves washed & chopped
  • 1 green finger chili washed & chopped
  • 3 c. coconut juice
  • ¾ c. coconut milk
  • ¾ c. lime juice + 3 oz to finish
  • ¾ c. sugar
  • 1½ tsp. Salt

Clean, crush and finely chop lemongrass. Combine coconut juice, milk, chili, lime juice, sugar and salt and bring to boil. Add lemongrass and kaffir, mix well and let cool, uncovered. Strain through chinois and finish with lime juice.

To Serve

  • Tuna
  • Tapioca
  • Asian pear, peeled, cut into ¼” diamonds
  • Jicama, peeled and cut into ¼” diamonds
  • Red bell pepper char grilled, peel, cut in ¼” diamonds
  • Scallion greens cut on bias
  • Lime coconut broth

Slice tuna into 1” long, ½” wide and ⅛” thick pieces. Serve 10 pieces per plate. Arrange in a chilled shallow medium size bowl and fold each piece in half. Season tuna with salt then scatter with chili tapioca, then with jicama and pear. Sprinkle with scallions and then scatter with red pepper. Cover halfway with coconut-lime infusion and serve.

eater's digest: buvette

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There are some restaurants that fit like a glove. Barely through the door, even without seeing the menu, you sense familiarity. It's not quite déjà vu, because you've rarely seen this before - your kind of restaurant, manifested in the flesh.

Now that doesn't mean this is the best restaurant you've ever eaten in. Of course, it has to be great. But a restaurant that feels like you imagined it yourself is not a constant succession of "wow!" moments. Like Alice in Wonderland, you've tried the bottles that made you bigger and smaller. That was good fun, but this is the bottle that will turn you back to "just right".

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Getting to the point, this restaurant - for me, in New York - is Buvette. The first time I went there, I had only a glass of wine and two small plates, but that was enough. From then on, I called it "my favorite restaurant in New York". Sure, I cock my head to think after saying it, knowing I've had more earth-shaking meals elsewhere, but that's not the point.

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The point is the charm, the desire to return, again and again. The waiters and bar staff that range from pleasantly gruff to more than accommodating, all dressed in dapper ties and half-aprons. The random assortment of ceiling mirrors that reflect the hustle and bustle of the small space. The conscious and obvious eaves-dropping of the conversations around you. The bathroom whose haphazard "je ne sais quoi" qualities make you wish you had brought your camera.

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But for all my affection, it was just this month that I ate a full, proper meal at Buvette. I brought along one of my favorite eaters - a friend whose wealth of cultural experiences has not dampened her enthusiasm for simpler pleasures (case in point: her favorite food is macaroni and cheese). I introduced her to brandade de morue, a long-time provencale favorite of mine. Buvette's was an appropriate balance of creamy and light, briny and balanced. We followed with more seafood, an octopus salad with celery that stunned with its simplicity. If there was a dish of food to eat every day it might be this. Tender, crunchy, refreshing, textural.

sides

As for sides, I insisted on poireaux. To get properly cooked leeks is always a pleasure, and these were cooked in the traditional French vinaigrette style, tender (but not mushy) with an ample dose of whole grain moutarde. As for the cauliflower gratin (chosen by Ms. Mac n' Cheese), it was a reminder of this overlooked vegetable's myriad magical qualities. I'll take mashed, steamed, pureed or roasted cauliflower over the omnipresent potato any day.

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And then, the pièce de résistance. I had heard rumors about this chocolate mousse - that it was whipped by hand in copper bowls to achieve a most wonderful texture. However, I could never have imagined what I was about to experience. Luxurious, dense, creamy, resistant and yet yielding - I'm not sure you can even legitimately call it mousse. It's too intense to eat alone, even with its dollop of exquisite whipped cream. The essence of dessert, hailing from a time before we decided to emulate the hyper-sweet, high fructose corn syrup universe in which we currently live. In short - and in summary - it's not to be missed.