Monday, February 28, 2011

Riverpark Restaurant Week Review

It takes effort to eat at Riverpark, the newest restaurant by Tom Colicchio, but there's much there that will make the effort seem worth it. The restaurant sits far away on 29th Street just east of First Avenue inside the lobby of the Alexandria Center, a medical center, not exactly the sexiest location. And it's perched above the FDR, peering out onto the East River. (There's a nice view if you can manage to ignore the traffic whizzing by below.) You might find it more comfortable to sit away from the windows in the spacious dining room where tables are positioned far enough away from each other that you aren't bumping elbows with your neighbors as you have to do at so many Manhattan nooks. But the decorative string of lights did leave me a bit dizzy.

There were many choices on the Restaurant Week menu, which turned out to be different than the one posted online. Though there were more options, I was a little disappointed that the fried chicken wasn't offered. But the kitchen, led by chef Sisha Ortúzar, produced a solid meal nonetheless.

The glazed pork belly with pickled vegetables and jalapeño was a wonderful starter, swirling in flavor.

I'm a sucker for dishes that sound different, so I was drawn to the goose tortelloni with black trumpet mushrooms, chestnuts and a huckleberry consomme. The pasta, beautifully formed, had a very gamey flavor, perhaps leaning a bit too dark and heavy. But the mushrooms in the spirited consomme helped to take some of that edge off.

The pork ravioli with red cabbage, turnips and sage might have been Riverpark's homage to the ravioli's Eastern Eurpean cousin, the pierogi. The pork was an interesting twist; I don't know that I've ever seen it in ravioli before.

The skirt steak frites came with watercress and horseradish and deliciously crispy thin french fries. The steak was nicely charred and thin, but pretty much a standard steak cooked well.

My dining companion chose the rice pudding with spiced pineapple, coconut shortbread and pineapple sorbet and loved the large glass full of alternating layers of pudding and pineapple.

I opted for the homemade ice cream & sorbet: beer, brown butter pecan and blood orange. That the scoops were served in individual dishes was the first sign of a conscientious chef; it allows you to order jarringly different flavors without worrying about how they will taste when they begin to melt together. Though I was initially somewhat skeptical, the beer ice cream turned out to be my favorite and most memorable by far. It had all the good flavors of beer, the hoppiness without the bitterness, smooth and deep. The brown butter pecan was roundly flavored and buttery — it was good, but so rich that even this small scoop was too much. The blood orange sorbet did a nice cleanup job, returning the palate to its natural state.

Perhaps because of its location, Riverpark drew a strange mix of people — maybe diehard foodies willing to trek all the way to the edge of the island for the promise of good food and people from the neighborhood glad to see a quality new restaurant nearby. But if the restaurant can manage to do that, then it should be able to thrive against all the odds against it.

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