Meatpacking District, NYC — As a blogger, of some history and popularity, I have recently been enjoying a slate of invitations to food-related (mostly media) events. That in theory is of great benefit to the new KAC Food ideology that strives to not be a place to find pretty pictures of foods (as opposed to 10 years ago when I first started food blogging, everyone is now a food picture-poster), but to explore the greater arenas of interest that make all this food possible and available.
That means I look to concentrate as much, if not more so, on the people who make the food possible, and the love of food that keeps the culinary culture as thriving and excitingly vibrant as ever.
I last month was afforded the opportunity to pursue all three tenets of KAC Food ideology, being invited to a menu tasting at the popular Meatpacking District restaurant Bagatelle, and to be joined by a few other food bloggers / food Instagrammers.
I was joined by Weichen (Instagram@lucky__peach), Mirko (Instagram@onthechoppingboard), Hidy (Instagram@restaurantgroupie), and Erin (Instagram@foodbabynyc), and on the night of the menu tasting, as early as 6pm, we were already also joined by an almost full house of comfortable and happy diners and/or socializers.
Not having any full idea of what was in store for us tasting-wise, I was at most expecting small sampling plates to come by for us to pick at and pick up with our fingers. Instead we were brought full serving size plates of food from off the dinner menus, some dishes planned new dishes for the summer menu.
First we were treated to salad and appetizer starters, which included a baby kale salad with dried cranberries and ricotta salata, an heirloom tomato salad with goat cheese and kimchi, and a steak tartare croustillant of traditionally seasoned steak tartare on bite-sized rice cakes.
All the starters were winners, prepared and executed with modern flair and creativity without being overthought. The kale salad was a standout, being able to so many different parts of the palate (savory, floral, sweet, acid, salty, mellow, nutty from sunflowers, etc.) with accomplished simplicity. I'm not a salad person by any measure, but that salad would be my default go-to any time I came here.
Brought out as share plates, we bloggers deftly grazed our way through those offerings, unaware of the remaining substantial sustenance that still awaited us. Bigger plates were laid in front of us to accommodate the arrival of more commonly available yet elevated fare, including truffled gnocchi, a grilled steak with porcini mushroom and a Pommery mustard sauce, a grilled half Maine lobster with linguini with Bagatelle's secret sauce, and a black truffle flat bread pizza with créme fraîche, and scamoza (Italian cow's milk cheese)..
As, unlike the starters, these are more traditional high-end restaurant dishes, the key to standing out here, as a restaurant's kitchen, needs to of course be in the execution of the dishes, and again, Bagatelle performs exceedingly well.
A grilled steak or lobster over linguini dish merits nostalgic evocation, and these dishes succeed. Inherently salty and slightly sweet medium rare steak are grounded with the earthiness of mushrooms, and bolstered by the heady acidity of a slightly punchy mustard sauce.
Grilled lobster still finishes buttery sweet here, and bites just firm enough to chew amicably with al dente linguini, slick with a slightly spicy, slightly creamy sauce, cut with the aromatics of a pile of fresh chopped scallions.The truffle pizza, an almost overly common menu staple since the late 90s, might appeal to most, but my preference is still for a flatter crust, though this flat bread did have a good crisp. And the truffle was a bit overwhelming for me as well, so pronounced and forward just in aroma that it was, for me, difficult to taste anything else, such as the mellow saltiness of the cheese or the sweet, almost citrus-like brightness from the sauce's tomatoes.
I don't think any of us, after those dishes (which also saw an expertly roasted and chopped rustic chicken served with its own jus) expected dessert, but out came several more plates, each a pretty display of sweets, showcasing a return to the kitchen's adept creativity and imagination.
The pavlova saw a meringue topped with strawberry marmalade, vanilla chantilly, ans sauce, a "chouchou caramel" boasted a caramelized hazelnut mini choux puff with milk chocolate caramel, and apple tart was complimented with a fruit sauce and a flake of white chocolate, and a 72% dark chocolate mousse sat pretty in a tumbler with a chocolate biscuit toasted pecans.
I don't have much a sweet tooth, my aversion being to too much sugar mainly. It took much effort still though to not finish each of these desserts, as the chef respectfully lets the main ingredients' sweetness speak — sometimes sing — for themselves, cutting way back on the cloying grainy I'm averse to in most desserts.
And still true to the "rhythms" of the menu, the final item delivered to our table was another visual dedication to a common classic. An oversized ice cream sundae celebrated — near literally with sparklers adorning it as crossed the room to our table — so many classic flavors, being topped with chocolate chip cookies, brownies, marshmallows, and chocolate syrup.
Yes, over-the-top, as it obviously meant to be. And the food, service, decor, vibe, all feed into the near larger-than-life energy that Bagatelle seems to (want to?) represent. In an old New York City neighborhood with a modern crowd, Bagatelle seems to likewise be able to straddle both worlds, but seems to have them comfortably coexist, melding into a near one-of-kind experience, backing up style with skill, putting a respectful twist on tradition, and providing its customers with an memorable experience.
Or at the very least, an experience worth capturing (and sharing with others).
Bagatelle | 1 Little W 12th St, New York, NY 10014 | (212) 488-2110 | www.bagatellenyc.com