191 Orchard St. (near Houston St.)
As the Lower East Side’s latest newcomer, Core 191 delivers seasonal american cooking by way of a talented chef, Stephan Boissel, whose cooking stints include Gilt and La Cote Basque. Previously occupied by Heirloom (Matthew Kinney’s ill-fated organic effort), the space has been transformed into a masculine dining lounge with an expansive outdoor garden oasis. Somewhere between a modern bar (stone floors, flat screen tvs & a DJ booth), and a traditional dining lounge (dark wood tables, chocolate leather chairs, & cloth napkins), this new spot is part bar, part restaurant, part lounge and part private party hall. With lofty ambitions, Core 191 doesn’t seem to know who it wants to be, or rather tries to do it all, but perhaps shouldn’t. In the same vein, the Tapas menu, a confusing mix of uncontestably inspired dishes and casual bar bites, might be better served if it were separated into two different menus: a casual bar menu and a formal dining menu.
After sifting through a lengthy and disorganized list of small plates, dubbed Tapas, I imposed my own categories, choosing to label the lavash crackers, tuna crudo and autumn salad as appetizers. The housemade lavash deserve praise beyond what even the most pleasant cracker might normally merit, not to mention a place on gourmet grocery shelves around the city. These paper-thin, honey-infused crackers were perfectly seasoned with sea salt and black & white sesame seeds, then served with an unworthy and overly bitter hummus and mediocre artichoke dip. Superior slices of tuna sashimi were sadly smothered by an overly sweet orange confit olive oil sorbet. The autumn salad, a splendid melange of stylishly seasonal vegetables – turnips, yellow & red beets, carrots and whole chestnuts – was perched atop a fig compote, and dressed in a zesty vinaigrette with a uniquely tart kick from whole verjus (unfermented, unripe wine grapes).
Let’s get down to the meat of things, where the chef’s talents most evidently shine through Core 191’s somewhat indecipherable menu. Though smallish in size, the hanger steak was a juicy and entirely satisfying dish; tender pan-seared meat was creatively accompanied by slivers of rich aged gouda and a lovely warm shitake vinaigrette. Ditto on the spicy duck, which was nicely offset by figs and a tasty sesame-pine nut dressing, but sorely mispaired with a dollop of tart yogurt.
Even the blaring music from the DJ booth that had suddenly set up shop between courses, couldn’t cast a shadow on Stephan Boissel’s dessert offerings. The desserts aren’t even awarded a proper place, never mind a simple category heading on the menu, but rather appear toward the bottom of the rambling Tapas list. The Irish coffee frozen parfait made a stellar showing – an uncharacteristically fluffy sponge cake served as the base for a chilly, but luscious espresso & whiskey-infused cream, uniquely topped off with a pleasing vanilla-laced creme brulee. Equally, a remarkably crunchy and addictive marshmallow crisp was a standout creation – a corn flake take on a rice krispie treat with semi-sweet chocolate, corn flakes & marshmallows – which overshadowed a sufficiently rich and dark chocolate pot de creme that the crisp was intended on merely accessorizing.
Until we eat again,
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