Telepan Local: First Bite
Ever been to Telepan on the Upper West Side? If you have, you remember those pea green walls. Now, I’m a food girl (not a looks girl), but it was hard to get pass those oddly colored, downright distracting walls and focus on the terrific Greenmarket cooking. While it’s practically obligatory now, Bill Telepan actually was one of New York’s first chefs to isolate and extol the virtues of ingredients and seasons. His upmarket menu uptown bragged of Farm Eggs, Hen-Of-The-Woods Mushrooms, and Heritage Pork when everyone else was serving plain old pork and tomatoes all year round.
Thankfully, Bill Telepan decided to repaint those walls a creamy white, and after nearly a decade, open a second restaurant, not upscale or uptown, but way down in Tribeca. As the name implies, Telepan Local is his effort at a local, neighborhood joint, and a very handsome one at that. The space is “urban farmhouse chic,” furbished with a mix of reclaimed wood and glossy white subway tiles along the walls, cream and brown paneled tables, and a long, white marble-topped bar upfront with plenty of stools for locals to roll up to for a cocktail and some bar bites. The servers even wear checkered shirts for full farmhouse effect.
While Telepan serves dishes, like Roast Quail and Veal Ravioli, its downtown sibling peddles more laidback nibbles, like fried Shrimp Poppers and Grilled Cheese. Of course, it’s never quite that simple when there’s a serious chef behind the kitchen doors. The Grilled Cheese is a cross between the childhood lunchtime classic and Barcelona’s tangy Pan Con Tomate. The Arancini (Italian rice balls) are decadently laced with Bone Marrow and poised on Parmesan Aioli. And the Pizzettes – made in the wood-burning oven – are topped with Brussels sprouts, Fried Calamari and Sage. There’s Quail on the menu at Telepan Local, too, but this one’s a riff on Buffalo Chicken Wings. Swap in quail for chicken, add celery root puree (in lieu of celery sticks) along with hot sauce and blue cheese.
What the chef dubs American tapas I think of as dressed up finger foods. I don’t care what kind of eater you are (or how snotty), you have to appreciate Pigs-In-A -Blanket. (They make weddings and high heels much more bearable.) Telepan’s rendition are made-in-house with a light, flaky dough, super juicy dog and a honey mustard dipping sauce that I would pretty much dip anything in. Foie Gras on a Biscuit? What an strange and entirely genius idea to marry something so humble, so down home as a savory Southern biscuit with an unctuous sliver of foie gras and a dap of apricot jam to tie it all together.
But it’s not all small plates and bar bites at Telepan Local. There’s a surprisingly delicate Fluke Crudo with Fermented Radishes and Celery, a not-so-delicate sliced Corned Tongue with Russian Dressing, and a great dish of barely seared Nantucket Bay Scallops, anchored by an earthy Black Trumpet Mushroom Puree. It’s not often you see Grilled Short Ribs on a menu and these get a unique, Korean-inspired topping of Spicy Fermented Cabbage. Whatever you do, order the Flash Fried Watercress, super crispy leaves, laced with Chili Oil and peppered with toasted Cashews. Really, my only complaint was a tough, overcooked tangle of Octopus, marinated in red wine and scattered with almonds.
For the most part, the food at Telepan Local isn’t overly ambitious or overly intellectual, which works especially well when it comes to dessert. Larissa Raphael (who is also the pastry chef at Telepan) has composed a menu of classics, including the best damn Coconut Layer Cake I’ve had to date, a Pecan Layer Cake, and a rich Peanut Butter Chocolate Pretzel Sundae. It’s refreshing to see Bill Telepan roll up his sleeves and play with his food. If only all Pigs In A Blanket were as good as these, I’d feel a lot differently about weddings…