ABC Kitchen: Easy as 1-2-3, Simple as Do-Re-Mi
I asked myself whether I could avoid the Jackson 5 references while writing up ABC Kitchen – clearly the answer there was a resounding no. Regardless of the Michael-reminiscent name, Jean-Georges’ new all-natural venture in ABC Home is down-right spectacular on all counts.
ABC Kitchen is not just any Jean-Georges’ restaurant; it is the master restauranteur’s first foray into farm-to-table dining with all organic and local ingredients and sustainable meats. And let’s just say, in an exercise of throwing restraint to the wind, he really didn’t hold back.
The discreet storefront in Flatiron betrays the expansive and breath-taking secret garden that awaits within. Mirrored doors open to a vibrant bar area with standing tables, seats at the bar, and window seats. Quirky antique lanterns and chandeliers hang from the ceiling, casting a soft glow over the youthful and attractive crowd through Edison bulbs. The back dining room is, quite frankly, magical with a serene farmhouse meets castle-in-the-woods vibe. Mod and low-profile white tables and chairs sit well-spaced in a cavernous room, decorated with soft black-and-white photos, gnarled tree trunks, and twinkling white lights hanging from wooden beams. From the soy-based and pesticide-free candles to the bread baskets made by the Mapuche people in Patagonia, every element is thought about and sourced from environmentally-friendly providers. (Even the homey uniforms of restaurant staff are sourced from thrift stores!)
The ‘market-driven’ cuisine, designed and prepared by chef Dan Kluger (formally of Tabla and Gramercy Tavern), features healthful whole-wheat pizzas (with a monthly special from Co. owner Jim Lahey), a veggie-friendly ‘market table’ section of small plates, housemade pastas, and modern American entrees featuring ‘in-season’ and market-available proteins. Think: pretzel-dusted calamari with basil aioli, chili-rubbed black sea bass with red bliss potatoes and spinach, whole-wheat bigoli with berkshire pork ragu, and shaved fluke with olive oil, black pepper and blood orange. The food is wonderful, ranging from very good to truly sublime. At no point do you feel over-laden by heavy and unclear flavors – everything is fresh, sprightly, and imbued with touch of someone inspired by what he’s making.
My friend Alex and I, charmed by the beautiful environment and overwhelmed by the well-curated menu, ultimately opted to try the fragrant steamed mushroom toast, the chicken liver toast, the mackerel sashimi, both the spinach/goat cheese/herbs and tomato/mozzarella/basil whole wheat pizzas, the doughnuts, and the salted caramel sundae. The two toasts, off the market table menu, were fresh and aromatic with lightly oiled toppings over crispy on the outside, soft on the inside toast. The mushroom toast smelled as beautiful as it tasted, with piled high marinated mushrooms; the chicken liver variety was creamy and packed with salty savory flavor, slathered thickly over olive oil.
The pizzas were good, but by no means the best options on the extensive menu. Both had delicious whole wheat neapolitan-style crusts that struck the perfect balance between fluffy and crispy. The spinach, goat cheese, and herbs variety was too burdened by heavy spinach leaves for my taste, yet once stripped of the top layer, revealed a creamy olive-oil goat cheese mess worthy of Manhattan pizza fame; the tomato, buffalo mozzarella, and basil option, a tamed margherita, focused more on the tomato than any other element. The tomato sauce was fresh, with the clean earthy flavors of a ripe tomato and little else; small luscious blobs of mozzarella turned the pizza into a red-and-white cheetah print, with infrequently scattered leaves of basil.
The desserts really stole the show though with comforting all-American options such as a dressed-up cookie plate, carrot cake with cream cheese buttercream, chocolate cake, doughnuts, and a three-scoop sundae. The doughnuts were delicate, homemade holes stuffed with vanilla and citrus cream, crusted in cinnamon sugar, and served with a tangy blood orange marmalade – is your mouth-watering yet? It should be. I don’t even like doughnuts and those were downright ridiculous. The sundae was three scoops of to-die-for salted caramel peanut ice cream, swimming in chocolate sauce, and topped with whipped creme fraiche and candied popcorn; it was the epitome of ice cream parlor decadence and truly worth the hours of yoga needed to compensate.
ABC Kitchen is a real treat – a restaurant you can feel virtuous dining at without any sacrificing of options, flavor, texture, or ambience. A perfect spot for ladies night out (don’t forget about the environmentally-friendly cocktails and organic beer), a relaxed later in the game date night, or after-work drinks at the front bar, ABC Kitchen offers something truly special, especially for those seeking a more responsible way to approach food and eating out.