Atera, the multi-course chef’s counter experience headed by Wonder-Chef Matthew Lightner in Tribeca, is in my opinion, the most exciting restaurant in NYC at the moment. Lightner’s creative vision, technical precision, and new naturalism perception make for a dining experience unmatched by any other in the city. So when I had a night off, and they had an open seat for me, I returned without hesitation(even though I’m supposed to be saving for my upcoming dining trip across the pond with Rocky).
I just posted a brief recap of my first meal at Atera to accompany this post. My second visit to the small Worth Street dining room started with a beer cocktail. Voisin Belgian Saison was the base, mixed with rhubarb, wildflower honey, lemon, and bitters. It was a great way to start off. If I don’t have bubbles, I’ll usually always have a bitter drink to begin. This had a slightly-more-than-subtle bitterness matched with fresh citrus and herb layers. It played nicely with the series of opening bites as well.
Flaxseed Cookie, Pine Nut Butter, Dried Mushroom. Served cold, the cookie was crisp and crunchy, with a little sweetness, and a light earthiness from the mushroom.
Lobster Roll. Lightner’s small-bite-play on the east coast classic. The claw meat in mayonnaise had a nice chew. The yeast meringue ‘bun’ had a nice puff to it.
Horseradish Parfait, Salted Halibut, Mustard Seed. Mild fresh fish taste, with a little horseradish heat on the finish. I was a little unsure how to eat this. I didn’t have utensils yet, and this was somewhat cumbersome for finger food.
Beer & Creme Fraiche Macaron with Caviar. I’m still not sure what was going on here, but it was damn delicious; I wish I had asked for an explanation. Light, crisp texture, a little something sweet, and caviar salinity to finish.
Foie Gras Peanut. Creamy, peanutty, with more foie flavor than I remember from last time. I liked it much more this time for some reason.
Pickled Quail Egg. Quail egg made into an aioli, reshaped into an egg, and pickled. Still more of a miss than a hit for me.
Pig’s Blood Wafer with Whipped Pork Fat. This was very interesting, if nothing else. I couldn’t decide if I liked it overall. I definitely like the crackle of the cracker, and there was some pleasant bitterness.
‘Whole Razor Clam’. Razor clam mousseline, poached razor clams, and seaweed in a baguette painted with squid ink. Between the clam and the ink, this had great ocean flavor. I love the texture of the crust too.
Rock Tripe, Herb Aioli, Malt Vinegar. As far as I know, I had never had rock tripe, a lichen, or algae, that grows on rocks. The taste was very mild until enhanced by the tang of the aioli.
Smoked Tomato Ice, Fresh Sea Urchin, Shallot Oil. I’m actually not sure if this was intended as part of the snacks or as the first course. Since it wasn’t printed on my menu, I’m putting it with the snacks. Either way, this was amazing. Nice, smoky aroma. Delicate, chilled urchin. Beautiful balance, spot-on umami.
1st Course: Diver Scallops. Purslane. Pickled Green Tomatoes, Sesame. Scallops cured in gin botanicals. Tomato juice ice. Not so much balance, as a fun imbalance. Dynamic, sharp flavor. The scallops had a much better taste and texture than in the scallop dish I had last time. The seeds had a fun snap.
2nd Course: Peeky-Toe Crab. Artichoke. Cold Herb Infusion, Strained Buttermilk. A Creative course. The artichoke petals were beautifully tender and a fun textural play with the crab meat. The sour of the buttermilk set everything off and made it sing.
3rd Course: Lamb Tartare. Wood Sorrel. Smoked Tomato. The smoked Beefsteak Tomato was a wonderful compliment to the tartare. The black malt cracker tasted like a space-age Triscuit, and made a great vessel.
4th Course: Seared Duck Hearts. Nasturtium. Tender Young Vegetables. Blanched roots and vegetables with herbs. Mushroom vinaigrette, with sunflower oil and fish sauce. Pastrami-cured duck hearts. Amazing. There was a couple dozen different veggies, leaves, petals, roots, and alliums, all individually treated or barely touched. Every bite was fresh and different. It was like eating Michel Bras’ famous Gargouillou, with the bonus of the superb duck hearts.
5th Course: “Ramen”. Salad Burnet. Noodles, shallots, dissolving spice packet, chicken bouillon. Though this wasn’t presented as a Mugaritz-style ‘Guess what it is?’ mystery, I was left on my own to figure out the noodles were made from squid, which wasn’t that tough to do. The squid was lightly blanched with a nice density. This bowl had lots of savory punch without being in-your-face salty.
6th Course: Dried Beet “Ember”. Bull’s Blood Beet Green. With smoked trout roe, toasted bread, and a sea urchin & crustacean emulsion. This dish is the only repeated course from my first meal. Since it was my favorite plate then, I was happy to see its return. The compilation on this slab of slate is an episode of brilliance that I hope never leaves the menu.
7th Course: Brined Hake. Milkweed. Wildflower Honey, Yogurt. A nicely treated, honey-brined piece of Hake. Nice flavors, good balance, and a little dance on the palate. While this had no faults, it wasn’t a huge wow.
8th Course: Barbequed Veal Sweetbreads. Garlic Scape. Hazelnut. The sweetbreads were in a spiced veal demiglace and hazelnut sauce that was lick-the-board good. The garlic scape was pickled and seared. This reminded me of a dish one might find at Mugaritz, with the two complementing/contrasting elements on the plate. A dynamic, almost transcendent back-and-forth. This is in a toss-up with the dried beet and the vegetables with duck hearts for my favorite of the night.
9th Course: Four Story Beef Strip. Lobster Mushroom. Marrow Ragu, Smoked Onion. A gorgeous piece of meat from Four Story Hill Farm. Amazing flavor, especially the fatty end. Pickled and frozen bone marrow was a very interesting item, and great when mixed with the sweet ragu. The dry mushrooms, simply just shaved, absorbed the other flavors on the plate and made for some very special bites.
10th Course: Square Cheese. 80-day raw goat’s milk cheese from Twig Farm in Vermont. With blueberries and apple bread. Semi-soft and rustic, a nice choice for a single cheese plate.
11th Course: White Rose. Sea Rose Mallow. Wildflower Sherbet. A beautifully presented flower made of rose water ice. The petals peeled off like a real rose, and had a pleasant floral flavor.
12th Course: Peach. Magenta Spreen. Sunflower Toffee. I love poached peaches, and this didn’t disappoint. The sunflower ice cream ‘pit’ had a perfect seed taste. The herbs made good refreshers between bites.
13th Course: Strawberry Shortcake. Cinnamon Basil. Wild Strawberries. Raw Milk Ice Cream. The shortcake batter was aerated and frozen and made for a fun take on the classic dessert. Some menthol-ish anise hyssop brightened and elevated the ice cream and fresh berries and left me feeling fresh and minty.
14th Course: Dried Tomato. Parsley Powder. Goat’s Milk Ice Cream. The dried tomato was almost candy-like with its chew and sweetness. This was a nice pairing of creaminess and acidity.
15th Course: Churro. White Cardamom. Salsify, Cinnamon. A salsify ‘churro’ rolled with cinnamon, sugar, and white cardamom. Served with salted hazelnut chocolate. A nice rendition of the Spanish classic. Nice nutty savoriness.
16th Course: Bourbon Cask Ice Cream Sandwich. Oak. Almond, Vanilla. Ice cream aged in bourbon cask. The chocolate cookie was made with flour flavored with toasted oak chips, in addition to cocoa and almond flour. Another fun play on a classic to finish the menu.
Petit Fours: Black Walnut. Nutty Sweetness.
Petit Fours: Hazelnut Truffle. A dense, chocolatey, rich bite. Perfect finisher for an amazing tasting.
I was served three breads throughout the meal: Salted Rye, Sourdough Roll basted with Pork Fat, and a Whole Grain Seeded Roll. The cream for the butter is aged in house with Jasper Hill Farms Harbison Cheese.
Some wines I was served:
I won’t belabor details about each of these wines and their placement in the meal because I’m running short on time and I want to finish this post. Though I’ll say that the pairings offered are eclectic, intelligent, and exciting. During each of my two visits, I was impressed and wowed a few times by the beverage team.
As I’m sitting here typing, I’m texting back-and-forth with my good friend BLT(The Beltless Tiger), trying to plan a visit to Atera on his next trip to NYC. At this point, I’m planning to take every opportunity I have to experience Lightner’s cuisine before the price doubles and reservations become even more difficult obtain.
Date of visit: August 23, 2012
***Update: A small disclosure: Since having these two meals and posting about them, I’ve joined the Atera team.***
Atera. 77 Worth Street. NYC. 212.226.1444 http://ateranyc.com/