A six-course meal and a concert

On Tuesday night, my Mom, Daniel and I met at Knife + Fork, a restaurant in the East Village, before heading to see Lenine, a Brazilian musician, perform at Joe's Pub. When trying to figure out where to meet before the show, we first made reservations at Hearth and The Mermaid Inn, two of our favorite spots, before remembering Knife + Fork, a restaurant that’s received a lot of attention for its $45, 6-course tasting menu since it opened in May.

When I arrived at the restaurant, I met my Mom at Daniel at the handsome wooden bar, a quite large one I might add for a place with only 12 tables. After being moved to a cozy, round wooden table, I began scribbling in the notebook I now bring everywhere, not wanting to forget how the white stucco walls and dangling amber lanterns reminded me of the riyads we’d visited during a trip to Marrakesh last year. I also was impressed by the restaurant's incredibly small kitchen, where the chef-owner, Damien Bressel spends most of the night slaving over each day’s selection of gourmet dishes.

All day, I’d been dreaming about the six-course tasting menu, only to find out that my Mom and Daniel both agreed it would take too long and be too filling. As they perused the menu, our conversation turned to some emails we’d all exchanged earlier regarding my upcoming 29th birthday and a possible visit to Per Se. Daniel, who had said yes to the suggestion over email, asked how much that particular outing would cost and almost dropped his menu when my Mom broke the news to him ($210 per person not counting tax, gratuity or beverages for those of you who are wondering). As I watched my chances of Per Se in this decade go down the drain, I noticed that it at least helped my Mom and Daniel to suddenly change their minds about Knife + Fork’s tasting menu. Compared to fancy Per Se, it really was quite a bargain.

After ordering a bottle of Knife + Fork, 2005 Chardonnay (the house wine, though the restaurant has no connection to the vineyard), we were presented with a rustic wooden cutting board on which rested thick slices of freshly baked Irish soda bread, pats of butter (that could have been softer for easier spreading) and crunchy rock salt. The bread, a perfect pre-dinner snack when slathered with butter and sprinkled with the coarse granules, was soft with a delicious sweet scent. I had a hard time not devouring every last slice. Thinking of how delicious it would be toasted and topped with jam, I was disappointed to find out that they do not sell it by the loaf.

After finishing an amuse of sundried tomato consommé in a small tea cup, our tasting began with an attractive display of house cured salmon on a bed of seaweed with cauliflower puree and a sprinkling of sea salt. I felt that the flavors worked much better together than those in our second course, an herb crusted tuna with squid ink, pink grapefruit and melon, served with a shot of tomato juice. Unfortunately, our waiter delivered that particular dish and failed to offer any instructions, so we weren’t quite sure of the proper way to approach it, though small bites intertwined with quick sips of juice seemed to work quite well.

The third course, and by far the most large and decadent, was a hearty slab of foie gras, served with plump pieces of escargot (that could easily be mistaken for mushrooms), pea puree and pickled rhubarb. This was my least favorite of all the courses, the foie gras too rich and buttery to be served with the pungent escargot which tasted tough and rubbery. The rhubarb’s tart flavor helped counter some of the richness of the other ingredients, though there wasn’t enough of it. I had just a few bites before feeling quite full.

The dish that we all seemed to enjoy the most, quail wrapped in bacon with green apple puree and sliced carrots, was the fourth to emerge from the tiny kitchen. Smaller in size than the other dishes, it was the perfect serving, the moist meat sweetened by the fruit puree and tender carrots. By the time our second to last course, duck with a coffee and cinammon rub and sweet red onions arrived, we only had about five minutes before the start of the show. My Mom, afraid we’d miss the concert, but aware that I would not allow us to miss dessert, asked if we could postpone the final course till after the show. Our waitress checked with Damien, who gave the ok, then off we went, running the few avenues and blocks up to Joe’s Pub.

Once we arrived, Lenine had already started, his music louder and a bit heavier than my Mom and I were anticipating. Daniel however, was in heaven. After making our way up to a bar area where crowds of Brazilians danced to the mix of reggae like rhythms and rock n roll, I struggled to understand his complicated Portuguese lyrics while trying to keep my mind off of what awaited me back at the restaurant.

About an hour later, I still couldn’t stop thinking about the dessert. I was hoping for something chocolatey with a scoop of an exotic ice cream, or maybe even a bubbling fruity cobbler topped with a dollop of crème fraiche. When Lenine finished his last song, right at about 11pm, we weaved our way through the crowd, stopping to say hello to some of Daniel’s co-workers, and then ran all the way back to the restaurant. Our server set us up at the bar and soon returned with another cutting board, this time topped with an assortment of cheese, before quickly cutting a few thick slices of that delicious Irish soda bread. I took a few bites of the cheese, but was still seriously craving something sweet. My Mom, aware of my disappointment, called our server back over and inquired about any sweeter treats that might be lying around in the kitchen.

I felt all of about five years old, but was still slightly hopeful. A few minutes later, a coffee panna cotta, served in a small shot glass and topped with two juicy blackberries landed in front of me. While I slowly nursed my caffeinated sweet, my Mom and Daniel split the cheese plate, pairing each slice with a piece of that sweet-smelling soda bread.

When it came time to call it a night, my Mom, from whom I inherited my love of leftovers, wrapped up the two remaining pieces of soda bread and stuck them in my purse. They'll be great in the morning, nice and toasty with lots of butter and jam, she explained as we went our separate ways on East 4th street, full and happy from a delicious dinner and a night of music. Per Se will have to wait. For now, I'm all about future visits to Knife + Fork.

Knife + Fork
108 E. 4th St., between First and Second Avenues

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