ABC Kitchen – An Earth Shaking Meal

I have been around for some pretty earth-shaking experiences. The internet boom. The first cloned animal. The phenomenon that was Beverly Hills 90210.  And I am lucky to say that I dined at ABC Kitchen the night that it won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant. It was an incredible coincidence that I dined there that night, and one for which I am so grateful. The exuberance of the staff, the joy that resonated around the dining room, the applause that kept bursting forth from different tables…
Of course, the night didn’t start like that. It started like any old night out. 
 ABC Kitchen is Jean-Georges‘ ode to the locavore movement. Everything here is local, seasonal and/or organic, and the restaurant has been getting rave reviews since it opened in 2010. The space is deceptively large, and opens up from a bustling bar area in the front…
To a large, romantic, casual dining space. The decor is straight out of an Anthropologie catalogue – light wood, mix-and-match floral plates and low lighting. Romantic enough for her, not too girly for him…this is a great date spot. 
And this gorgeous display of vegetables is what I want for my wedding. Flowers be damned, how about a centerpiece you can eat? On that note, I might just do Krispy Kremes as my centerpieces for my wedding…
ANYWAY…
We started with the Warm Mozzarella with salt, pepper and olive oil. 
This was a standout for me. I have had mozzarella before – delicious mozz – but never so fresh that it was still warm. This added a whole new dimension to the cheese for me. It had the mild, creamy taste of  room temperature buffalo mozzarella with the stretchy, melty texture of mozzarella on a pizza – it was totally out of this world! The vegetal olive oil, spicy pepper and touch of salt brought out the sweeter notes of the mozzarella. Spreading this cheese over the charred bread was one of the greatest things to happen to my week. 
 Sugarsnap Pea Salad with Parmesan Dressing and Herbs. I was thinking it would be a slightly limp, sorta sweet plate of vegetables with a Creamy Caesar dressing. I was wrong…how does this happen to me so much? This salad was unexpected on every level. Crunchy, slightly bitter endive matched perfectly with the peas that were-true to their name-sugary sweet. Licorice-y chervil added another layer of the flavor with the light vinaigrette that was surprisingly pungent. Not salty, but with a punchy and almost meaty flavor. It added depth and rounded out this light and vibrant salad. I could have eaten the whole thing. But then I might not have had room for…
The Crab Toast with Lemon Aioli. What can I say about it other than…it was just what you want it to be. The world’s best crab salad on tangy sourdough bread with great hole structure and a sturdy (but not overly hard) crust. Crab that walked the line between sweet and briny, that was light but meaty, tasting of the ocean but not fishy. The herbs grounded the crab and added an earthy dimension to the toast. The aioli was creamy, luxuriously fatty but not greasy and the spritz of lemon on the side gave a bright and zingy note. This was just perfection. 
 Spinach and Quinoa Salad with Shitakes and Goat Cheese. Clearly, I did not order this. Quinoa doesn’t really tend to do it for me. Until now. This quinoa didn’t have the hard texture of raspberry seed or the taste of hay. It was soft, like couscous, and infused with a tart dressing that tasted of citrus and olives. The shitakes were tender but still toothsome, and complimented the irony taste of the spinach, slightly wilted under the gentle heat of the shrooms. The goat cheese was grassy, creamy and tasted even richer than usual next to the sparseness of the quinoa and the spinach. This salad really impressed – I even had seconds.
Scallop Crudo with Apples and Black Pepper. Surprisingly delicious! I say surprisingly because raw scallops are so delicate that I tend to like them with very little adornment, so I can enjoy the natural sweetness of the scallop. But the tart apples and mild heat of the black pepper really brought out the saltier, more oceanic notes of the scallop. It was perfectly sweet, meaty, tart and spicy. 
 Fresh Ricotta, Prosciutto and Date Whole Wheat Pizza. My favorite dish of the night. The toppings were so cohesive – milky ricotta, sweet and soft dates, salty, fatty prosciutto and cruncy, slightly bitter radicchio. It just hit all the spots on the tongue.
That’s what she said. 
 The crust was also excellent, with some nice char on the bottom. More a pillowy flatbread than a thin crust pizza, this was a shockingly good pizza for a non-pizzeria restaurant. I would ABSOLUTELY order another pizza here…or maybe just get this one again. It was that delish. 
 Asparagus wrapped in fontina and prosciutto. Fresh, melty, fatty, salty. If you don’t like any of those adjectives, please leave this blog immediately. We have no more to say to each other. This was a simple dish prepared perfectly. 
 Cavatelli with Pecorino, Guanciale, Ramps  and Spring Vegetables. This homemade pasta was chewy yet light, with a buttery sauce that was smokey front the guanciale and slightly pungent from the Pecorino. The vegetables included peas that were as sweet and earthy as could be. This was the only dish of the night that was perhaps a bit too salty – the combination of the guanciale and the Pecorino was too overpowering for the delicate vegetables, totally obscuring the taste of the ramps. But that misstep was quickly forgiven in light of the next dish…
 Suckling Pig with Apples, Pommes Puree and simply grilled ramps. Now THIS is how ramps should taste! Mild onion flavor crossed with caramelized sugars and delightfully charred ends. Like a chive mixed with roasted garlic – sweet, a little biting and a little smoky. Paired with suckling pig, it cut right through the fatty, tender meat and the crisp, crackling skin with its sweet smear of apples. The pommes puree had to have been mostly butter with a few potatoes thrown in, and was oddly light next to the earthy meat of the suckling pig. Pork is awesome. Ramps are awesome. Butter is AWESOME. This dish…awesome.
 This was that incredible moment when people realized that the restaurant had won the award. This picture cannot capture the unbridled thrill and palpable energy that rippled throughout the restaurant as the staff crowded around the computer screen to read about the award they had just collectively won. It was just this pure moment of “we did it!” that was infectious and made me so happy to be here. Everyone there really felt ownership in the restaurant. They all believed in the food, in the mission, in Jean-Georges himself. And, oh yeah, Jean-Georges himself walked in a little later. I almost peed my pants, but don’t worry, guys…I held it together.
We got a few delicious desserts, but the BEST one by FAR was the Sundae with Salted Caramel Ice Cream,  Candied Peanuts and Popcorn, Whipped Cream and Hot Fudge. This was…a freakin amazing dessert. The ice cream was as rich as gelato, but with that dense richness of ice cream. It tasted more of toffee than caramel – sweet and buttery, with just a HINT of salt at the end of the taste, making it taste even sweeter. The chocolate sauce added a bitter edge, and the peanuts were a crunchy, buttery-sweet delight. The popcorn was a surprising textural componant and the whipped cream was…well, whipped cream is just heaven. It always is, isn’t it?
 At this point, Sous-Chef Ross Mendoza came out (he knew a member of our party), and hearing him talk about winning the award, about fine tuning recipes for the restaurant, about the food itself was really inspiring and endearing. He clearly cares about cooking and giving diners a wonderful experience, and that is what this whole restaurant aims to do. And does. I can’t say that the mood will ever be as ebullient and joyful as it was the night that I was there, but if the prices were as reasonable (most entrees were around $25), the service as efficient and helpful and the food as UNBELIEVABLY delicious, then you will be in for a special dining experience.
And a meal as great as this is definitely earth-shaking.
ABC Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Comments

  1. Ada says:

    Ahhh I've been DYING to go to ABC Kitchen, but have had a hard time getting reservations. On Tuesday I ended up going to Perry Street instead which was also quite good.

  2. EatBigApple says:

    I'm loving the photo with the staff gathering to hear the news. Don't see that type of excitement every day.

  3. Erica says:

    ABC Kitchen is my absolute favorite restaurant in the city! Amazing.

  4. Hungry says:

    I like how the ingredients of the dishes look relatively simple but the complete meal was executed perfectly. This place has jumped a few spots on my Must Go list.

  5. JustinM says:

    On Sundays if the weather is nice we usually drive up to the foothills to look out over the San Gabriel Valley (if the sky is clear you can see all the way to the ocean 35 miles away). And every time we drive by the Walsh house from 90210. I'm a grown man and it still makes me happy.

  6. Fritos and Foie Gras says:

    @Ada-oh Perry Street is one of my faves!
    @EatBigApple-it was a very special moment :)
    @Erica-it is right up there with Tocqueville for me!!
    @Hungry-soi glad it has! It is just awesome!!
    @Justin-DONNA MARTIN GRADUATES! DONNA MARTIN GRATUATES!

  7. JustinM says:

    I used to play bar trivia several times a week when I was 21. My buddy and I were the Rushmore Beekepers. But another team whom we always saw at the same bars was called Donna Martin Graduates. Good name.

  8. the actor's diet says:

    wow, it looks epic!!!

  9. Tasty Trekker says:

    My Husband's Mom ordered the Pea Salad last night and I wasn't excited about it but was then I was BLOWN AWAY! That was so delicious and simple! My plan is to try and recreate it at home this week.

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