Galen Zamarra’s Mas (farmhouse) is basically everything you could want in a neighborhood restaurant — an elegant jewel of a room run by a talented chef, serving refined but blessedly simple, committedly seasonal, and French-inflected New American fare. But Zamarra’s sophomore effort, Mas (la grillade), proved a tougher sell for patrons, who never quite got the gimmick of every last menu item being charred, fire-roasted or grilled (literally every last one), not to mention nearby neighbors, who didn’t take kindly to the clouds of wood smoke that constantly emanated from the eatery. And so, three years later, Zamarra wisely elected to go back to the drawing board, transforming Mas (la grillade) into an elegant haunt called Almanac, serving his signature, sophisticated New American cooking.
But this time, he’s taken the “seasonal” part to the next level — a tall order in New York, now that every relevant restaurant dutifully hews to the farm-to-table philosophy. Inspired by the culinary journals he’s been keeping since his days at Bouley, recording lists of ingredients and ideas for recipes based on every tiny fluctuation of the greenmarket, Almanac operates in micro seasons; not just Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, but Full Moon, Last Quarter, New Moon and First Quarter — and that’s within the span of a single month!
While you can try Zamarra’s lunar calendar-motivated items a la carte, at $20 for small dishes and $40 for entrees (admittedly not cheap), Almanac has primarily adopted a tasting menu format, offering three-courses for $75, five-courses for $95, and eight-courses for $145. And each dish is denoted by the (highly seasonal) protein or produce that’s inspired it, from “Curcubita,” an ode to squash featuring butternut risotto-stuffed delicata, served with lamb, Brussels sprouts and chestnuts, to “Cauliflower;” delicate, cone-shaped florets of romanesco, paired with pickled purple cauliflower and silken Nantucket Bay scallop, to “Pine;” an earthy tumble of pine nuts, matsutake mushroom, celery root salad and pine shoot aioli, which for all intents and purposes, sounds as if its been gathered on a crisp autumn day from off the forest floor.
Add in desserts from pastry chef Jana Kern-Mireles, such as Sticky Toffee pudding with malty-sweet dates and crunchy walnut granola, and Almanac is essentially the distilled essence of (mid-to-late) fall. Close your eyes and breathe deep, and you can almost still smell that wood smoke.