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Spring Lamb dishes

BreslinLambBurger.jpgDo you ever wonder why spring is synonymous with lamb? (These are the kind of things we think about it.)  Like any other fruit or vegetable, lamb has its peak season.  As with artichokes and asparagus, lamb has its peak season in the spring because it feeds on the first grass of the season’s. And seeing as Easter falls in the spring, it’s the perfect meat to celebrate the holiday.  Thus, the tradition was born.

Well, spring is finally here (technically anyway) and some of the season’s newest menus feature some terrific lamb dishes.  This year, it seems like lamb is more popular than ever, popping up in tacos at the newly opened Empellon in the West Village, and decadently wrapped in foie gras at Michael White’s Ai Fiori.  But the new eateries aren’t the only ones embracing lamb — plenty of our favorites have been serving lamb for years.  There’s always Da Andrea’s braised lamb shank in Greenwich Village and The Breslin’s lamb burger. And lucky for us, these represent just a fraction of the city’s notable lamb dishes.

Empellon – Lamb Barbacoa Taco
Address: 230 W. Fourth St. at W. 10th Street
Phone: (212) 367-0999

With his wildly innovative pastry work at both wd-50 and Alinea, we expected Chef Alex Stupak to be do something sweet and molecularly altered.  But instead, he opened a Mexican joint in the West Village.  In true Stupak form, it’s not your average taqueria.  Order the steak taco and you’ll get French-inspired salsa bearnaise on top or the chicken taco and you’ll also find green chorizo in the mix.  The menu was inspired by regional dishes Stupak and his wife and Empellon’s pastry chef, Lauren Reis, sampled on a trip through Mexico. The menu features about a dozen different kinds, but one of the most intriguing is the lamb barbacoa taco, which comes on a house-made corn tortilla, topped with mezcal-spiked salsa.

Dressler – Braised Lamb Shank
Address: 149 Broadway at Bedford Avenue (Brooklyn)
Phone: (718) 384-6343

Dumont owner Colin Devlin brought cooking to Williamsburg long before it became the restaurant row it is today.  Then, he followed it up with the irresistible Dressler.  While Dressler’s a little more upscale than Dumont, the food’s not the slightest bit pretentious and just as satisfying.  One of our favorite dishes is the braised lamb shank, served with polenta and Swiss chard, which are two more reasons to clean your plate.

Prune – Lamb Blade Chop
Address: 54 East 1st St. # 1
Phone: (212) 677-6221

With the recent release of her best-selling memoir, chef Gabrielle Hamilton is getting plenty of media attention.  But it’s her inspired  home-cooking at Prune that intrigues us.  The food at her East Village eatery is creative, quirky and often personal as Hamilton based most of the menu on the food she grew up with. One of the most comforting options is an outstanding lamb blade chop with dandelion greens and skordalia (a Greek garlic and potato-based dip).

Locanda Verde – Lamb Sandwich
Address: 377 Greenwich St. at
N. Moore Street
Phone: (212) 925-3797

In this age of celebrity chefdom, it’s refreshing when a chef is known more for his iconic dishes than for his television appearances. That’s certainly the case with Locanda Verde’s chef, Andrew Carmellini, who made his name with signatures, like “grandma’s ravioli” and lamb meatball sliders. But Carmellini’s latest hit is the roasted lamb sandwich.  Essentially the lamb version of porchetta, the juicy, rosemary-scented meat comes on a crusty ciabatta roll.

Da Andrea – Lamb Shank
Address: 35 W. 13th St. between Sixth and Fifth avenues
Phone: (212) 367-1979

This West Village trattoria may just be one of the most underrated Italian spots in town. While newer restaurants from big-name chefs tend to get all the press, Da Andrea has been quietly serving freshly made pasta and rustic meat dishes for the past ten years. Not to mention you get a lot of bang for your buck, especially when you order the lamb shank, which is $17.50 and easily big enough to for two. The braised lamb is topped with a stew of mixed vegetables and cannellini beans. This is countryside Italian food at its best.

The Breslin, Lamb Burger
Address: 16 W. 29th St. at Broadway
Phone: (646) 214-5788

Chef April Bloomfield first emerged on the city’s burger radar at the Spotted Pig, where she produced one of the city’s best burgers.  So expectations were high when she debuted her lamb burger at The Breslin and Bloomfield  didn’t disappoint. Ironically, it’s one of the lighter alternatives to such pork-centric pub entrees as braised trotter.  It comes on a sourdough bun with feta and a dollop of cumin-infused mayonnaise, and even better thrice-cooked chips.

Colicchio and Sons – Braised Lamb Ribs
Address: 85 10th
Ave between 16th and 17th streets
Phone: (212) 400-6699

These days, Tom Colicchio is best known for his role on Top Chef. When we think of the chef and tv host, we think of his cooking at Colicchio & Sons, located in the Meatpacking District.  You could splurge on the $135 tasting menu in the formal dining room, but we actually prefer the front dining room, known as the Tap Room, because that’s where you can order more casual, a la carte dishes, specifically the braised lamb ribs.  They’re ridiculously tender (no knife needed) and accompanied by bitter greens and velvety grits.

Ai Fiori – Rack of Lamb

Address: 400 Fifth Ave. between 36th and 37th streets
Phone: (212) 613-8660

Michael White has been on a roll lately, earning accolades with three new restaurants, all of which have opened in the past two years. White’s most recent New York project is the 185-seat eatery, Ai Fiori with a distinctly Mediterranean menu, emphasis on the Italian coast, of course.  As with Marea, there’s a superb seafood selection, like scallops with marrow and black truffles, but don’t neglect the lamb this spring.  What arrives at the table is a rack of lamb wrapped in foie gras and caul fat. Talk about deliciously over-the-top.

The Meatball Shop – Lamb Meatballs
Address: 84 Stanton St near Allen Street
Phone: (212) 982-8895

There’s a good reason why the lines spill out the door at this Lower East Side shop.  This is one of the most fun restaurant concepts we’ve seen in awhile. Diners get to customize their meal by picking a sauce, side, bread and most importantly, a meatball.  The menu includes several tasty mainstays, like spicy pork or chicken, but we’re always on the lookout for the daily specials. One of the most creative we’ve sampled is the Mediterranean lamb meatball, made with ground shoulder, walnuts, raisins and mint. It’s only served a few times a week, so we’re thrilled that owners Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow are opening a second location in Williamsburg. (This doubles our chances of having their meatballs.)

The Lion, Lamb Porterhouse
Address: 62 West 9th St. near Sixth Avenue
Phone: (212) 353-8400

Like The Waverly Inn, John DeLucie’s latest clubhouse is a difficult reservation.  But if you manage to score a table, the lamb porterhouse is a must-order. This highly marbled piece of meat comes with roasted shallots, potatoes and jus.  If anything, the food’s gotten better since The Lion first opened.  Order the cauliflower panisse to start and people-watch until your lamb porterhouse arrives.

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