Little Park – Reviewed
Flawless is how I would sum up my first dinner at Little Park. Everything was dreamy, especially the Black Kale Ravioli — utterly autumnal and perfectly al dente pillows of pasta tucked with kale and anointed with a Squash Sauce of sorts. It’s the kind of dish that forces you to admit that cold weather has its benefits. The finishing touch are cipollini onions and a crunchy hailstorm of toasted pine nuts for textural benefit.
Andrew Carmellini’s stunning, new Tribeca spot oozes the seasons, meditating particularly on vegetables. In fact, the menu features a sizeable section called “Autumn Vegetables,” like Roasted Sunchokes, mingled with Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Hazelnuts. Carmellini manages a creamy quality rarely achieved with Sunchokes. Then there’s the Crispy Brussels Sprouts, consorting with smoky turnips, slivered almonds, apple, and breadcrumbs — a smart combination that registers smoky, savory and sweet all at the same time. Beetroots seem to be all the rage right now and Carmellini is making good use of them in a uniquely vegetal Beetroot Risotto, spackled with poppy seeds, bound by a tangy cheese and crowned with feta and dill flowers. (He also turns out a Beetroot Tartare with Horseradish & Smoked Trout Roe.)
Alongside an entree of Roasted Duck comes an ingenious riff on Potato Salad made with one of fall’s favorite root vegetables; Turnips, which get tossed with Chives and Mayo, and served cold – a delicious compliment to the warm bird. Speaking of the Dry-Aged Duck, it’s one of my favorite dishes on the menu. It’s served two ways; a perfectly medium rare breast, sliced, and sided by a tasty homemade duck sausage as well as roasted grapes to tug out the sweetness of the bird. There’s also a first-rate Hanger Steak, drizzled with a zippy Green Sauce, and accompanied by charred Broccoli.
Not everything’s the kind of food you could eat before hibernating for the winter (if only there were such a thing for humans). Carmellini manages to whisk you to the east end with his Long Island Fluke, served sashimi-style with Amangansett Sea Salt and a deliciously crunchy relish made with celery, red, and green peppers and pink peppercorns as well as delicate Peconic Bay Scallops, served on the half shell, and crowned with radish microgreens and a gold rush apple juice. If you want to stay seaside, settle into an entrée of Spiced Shellfish Ragu – a melange of Mussels, Clams, Razor Clams, Potatoes, White Beans, and Shrimp – laced with sprigs of fresh fennel and bacon, which permeate every delicious bite of this briny stew. My husband poo pooed the notion of ordering the Steamed Black Bass, dubbing it “a boring choice,” so I had to negotiate a trade with one of my dining companions for a few bites. And let me tell you: That is no boring dish. It’s fragrant with oregano and plated over beluga lentils and eggplant; light, moist and supremely flavorful.
All of these wonderful dishes make the lone few that fell flat my second time around a little maddening. While the sweet mustard sauce was flavorful, the Roast Chicken plated over it lacked flavor and crisp skin. And a cold appetizer of Butternut Squash with Burrata, an uncooked ravioli of sorts, just didn’t gel.
But for the most part, the menu is studded with triumphs. The Dry-Aged Duck, Long Island Fluke, and Black Kale Ravioli (and I could go on) are well worth playing the reservation game. And so is the Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream, which I pray they package and sell by the quart someday soon. The striking resemblance to the real thing is haunting and the fact that it arrives showered in crumbled cinnamon toast is, well, icing on the cake. Desserts make a strong showing at Little Park, especially a Pear Tart tucked with Milk Chocolate Mousse, and sided by a white wine sorbet, as well as the Frozen Lemon Fluff, served with segments of citrus, candied citrus peel and a honey lemon sorbet for added zip – a decidedly uplifting and un-wintry treat.
What to drink with all of that? Just ask beverage director Josh Nadel, who is by far one of the most talented sommeliers in the city. At Little Park, he’s assembled an impressive and interesting list with some wonderful and hard to find Corsican bottles you’d be wise to sample.
The restaurant itself is stylish: There are potted plants, dangling in the windowsills, white oak beams along the ceiling, light wood tables, and brown leather banquettes with striped pillows. Upfront, there’s a white marble bar with some high top tables for drinking and casual bites. Compared to Carmellini’s recent projects, like Bar Primi and Lafayette, Little Park is much more intimate. And while I know almost every relevant, new restaurant is obliged to evolve around the seasons, this feels like a real passion play. I’m already looking forward to the spring menu.