Riverpark: A Tom Colicchio Restaurant

Rating:

I was really sad that I missed this restaurant earlier this month when it was listed on the original restaurant week list.  Though New York did extend their restaurant week event through the beginning of September, Riverpark did not decide to participate in it further.  So I tried to put the restaurant out of my head, but I found that I just couldn’t.  Finally one day, we were walking through the east side of Manhattan and the opportunity to go arose.

It was not the easiest restaurant to find, located near the NYU Medical Center and along the edge of the river, separated only by the freeway.  Though hard to find, the location offered a wonderful view.  The noise from the FDR Drive was quite disruptive, but I was still content with the setting on a whole.  The weather was pleasant enough that we opted for outdoor seating with the traditional dinner menu.  Apparently we were among the first to dine in this section of the restaurant patio, and we were continuously reminded of it by one particular member of the wait staff.  The environment of restaurant was new and sleek, classy but not arrogant and the kind of place I liked.

I began the evening with a pint of Founder’s Centennial IPA while I decided on dishes from the restaurant’s ever-evolving menu which changes frequently with the season and the availability of produce from their garden out in front of the building.

Our meal for this evening was kicked off with the Squid Ink Chitarra.  I had no idea what this would be and what chitarra is.  Apparently it’s not food, it’s guitar in Italian.  A tool that looks like a chitarra is apparently used to prepare pasta, which came to us tonight in a blackish color covered with small ring-shaped chilies and pieces of octopus, squid, and shrimp.  I now know why it has the name ‘squid ink.’  It demonstrated a good combination of sour flavor and the seafood.  I always prefer western style seafood on the slightly sour side with a heavy portion of lemon/lime juice, and this dish did it.  I actually can’t imagine it as a great entree, but I think it made the perfect appetizer, exciting me for the rest of my meal.

I was told the Roasted Leg of Lamb incorporated many highly recommended ingredients from their garden.  But, the taste of this dish was not as impressive as the appetizer.  The ingredients were of the freshest quality, except for perhaps the eggplant which was quite bitter.  The flavors and feelings varied from bite to bite in a strange way; they were light, but it was as though different sauces were spread throughout different regions of the plate, creating an intriguing melody of sensations.

The Duck Breast impressed more than the lamb.  It was nothing like Peking Duck, but then again I didn’t expect it to be.  The meat was cooked medium-rare, a difficult task as it commonly happens.  Surrounding it was a very filling wheat product called freekeh, which reminded me a lot of buckwheat from the Russian restaurants.  Not particularly delicious, but everything else on the plate was.  One intriguing piece was the sweet sticky rice-like clump in the corner of the dish.  I don’t know what it was, but combinined with the duck, it reminded me of a highly evolved American dish with Chinese origins far deep in its roots.  It’s indeed not fusion food, but it reminds me of it in a good way, something that’s rarely achieved by any restaurant.

Eventually we got our Black Forest Sundae, which the waitress complimented us on ordering.  For me, it was a great ending to a delicious meal: moist brownie covered with ice cream, whipped cream, cherries, and pistachio.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, though on a whole, it was relatively unoriginal dish.  I don’t like pistachio flavored ice cream much, but I did savor the few pistachios that were scattered around this sundae.

On a whole, this meal was fantastic, but it really gets lots of bonus points for the seasonality of the menu.  The food prepared this evening was perfect for a cool summer day like today and added significantly to my overall experience.  I have always been a fan of restaurants with regularly changing menus.  I’m not against them keeping staple dishes, but I love to see chef’s branch out and continuously try working with new dishes and new ingredients.  It is important that the top chefs don’t just sit on their laurels and strive to achieve more.  Only then will advanced culinary evolution be possible.

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