SD26 -The Only Gimmick is the Great Food

When you head to SD26, you are probably expecting some things. After all, it is a high-class restaurant in the hip and dining -savvy Flatiron neighborhood. It is run by legendary restaurateur Tony May, former of The Rainbow Room, and his glamorous, food-passionate daughter Marisa. It has to keep up with the Joneses of Duo and ABC Kitchen. It, quite frankly, better have some good gimmicks.
 Like a self-service wine machine where you pay with pre-loaded cards. This way, you can try a few ounces of a wine for a few dollars before deciding if you want to order a whole bottle at dinner. 
 Like luxurious private dining rooms with pop-art decorating the walls. 
 Like a happening bar scene with beautiful people sipping on wines…
that they chose from an ipad. That’s right, this restaurant has an ipad.
The restaurant is officially cooler than me. 
But, a table right in the kitchen where you can eat while watching the kitchen action? 
 Where you are so close to the chefs that you can almost touch them?
This is a dream for anyone who watches the Food Network or the Cooking Channel – it is like being in the middle of Iron Chef, without having to judge.
You can just stuff yourself silly.
 The bountiful bread basket is filled with foccacia, walnut bread, white bread and
This bread, which is made in a special machine imported from Italy. The inside is hollow and the taste is like a very mild sourdough, with a crusty exterior and a stretchy interior with large hole structure and a very mild tang.
Gimmick? Perhaps. But a damn tasty one.
 Toasts with Lardo and Anchovies.
Crisp but not hard soldiers of crustless bread topped with melting slices of porky, fatty lardo and filets of salty, barely fishy anchovy. These high quality filets tasted more like Worcestershire sauce than traditional anchovies. They were just vaguely fishy, in a way that elevated the meat and the bread. 
 It was a velvety, indulgent bite that instantly made me regret that I didn’t grab two before they all disappeared. 
Stupid manners…they screw me every time.
 Chilled Tomato Soup with Burrata and Celery Sprouts.
This soup was a game changer. It was the first time I realized that this might be a REALLY serious restaurant. The soup was sweet and lightly acidic, but also deeply earthy, the way that mushrooms or goat’s cheese is earthy. It tasted like…the outside. It smelled a bit like sun warmed grass. It tasted like tomatoes. It was almost shocking HOW tomatoey it tasted, since most tomato preparations focus on the brighter tastes of the tomato. The celery brought a light and herbal note to the soup, and the burrata enriched the soup with it’s milky, fatty, mild taste. This was a refreshing and deceptively complex soup. Highly recommended.
 ”Uovo” – Raviolo filled with soft egg yolk and served with truffled butter. This.Was. AMAZING! As rich and  over-the-top as you might imagine. Tender but not mushy pasta was egg enriched, and housed a soft egg yolk that spilled out as soon as the raviolo was cut open, mixing with the truffled butter. The combination of melty yolk, heady truffle and fatty butter was unbeatable. Not salty or spicy, this was all about texture and flavor of the raw ingredients. Soft, rich, deep and decadent. 
 But not too decadent for me to eat it entirely.
 Zeppola di Baccala – Salt Cod Fritters with Apples and Scallions Agrodolce. This was probably my least favorite dish of the night, though through no fault of it’s own. The cod was crispy outside and tender within, the agrodolce was a snappy, zesty counterpart to the sweet apple. It was a well made dish.

But after that raviolo…well, anything short of peace in the Middle East would have been a disappointment.
Carnaroli risotto with periwinkles. This really brought the meal back to life for me. This risotto was less creamy and more light than other risottos than I have had. The grains of rice stayed individual, with a tiny bit of bite. The periwinkles were somewhere between a cockle and escargot – toothsome with a tiny bit of snap and a deep seafood taste. A few went a long way to infuse the dish with that rather funky taste that great seafood sometimes has – it tastes deep but not muddy. Just substantial and incredibly ”of the sea.” The olive oil used was light and fruity, balancing the starchy and saline tastes well. An excellent dish. 
 Farro Spaghetti with Spring Vegetables Zucchini Flowers and Basil Sauce. These people and their vegetables…they do stuff that could make me be a vegetarian! This pasta was very hearty and wheaty. It was thick and worked so well with the sweet, juicy peas and delicate zucchini blossoms, more papery, spongy texture than taste. The flowers were especially good at sopping up the herbal basil sauce, sharp with salt but not pungent with garlic. It was thick and floral, but the flavor complimented the delicate vegetables and let them and the pasta be the star. It was a well thought out and thoroughly satisfying dish. 
 Olive Oil Poached Cod in Dry Martini Sauce with Heirloom Carrots and Spring Onions. This is Chef Matteo Bergamini’s favorite dish that he has created for the menu, and it says a lot about his food philosophy. Good ingredients make for good food, and simple can be best. The vermouth’s dryness combines with butter to make a smooth but slightly dry (in the way that wine can be dry) sauce that cut through the fish’s naturally velvety texture and buttery, rich taste. The carrots, sweet but hearty were cooked al dente, and the onions were almost sugary sweet. It was such a simple meal dish, but so…perfect. It was comforting but multi-layered, with different textures and flavors making it interesting and solely his. I could eat this again and again without getting bored. 
Pan Seared Squab with braised Castellucio Lentils, Grapes and Fried Sage. I have never had squab, and was expecting the delicate, juicy taste of quail. What I got was something that had the heartiness of beef, the texture of duck and the woodsy, primal, almost wild taste of boar. It was right up my alley. If you like these descriptions, you will just love squab. It is truly unlike any other protein I have ever had. Incredibly meaty, a little funky, totally hearty and satisfying. Seasoned simply and served with tiny lentils, redolent with onions and sweet grapes.
Perfectly acceptable to gnaw on the bones at the table.
Chocolate Hazelnut Dome with Candied Orange Zest and Orange Sorbet. This was a Nutella lover’s dream. Thick, dark chocolate ganache covered layers of sweet milk chocolate mousse studded with bits of crunchy hazelnuts. The sorbet added a tart, bright layer to the flavors, and it was a rich and decadent way to end the meal. 
It’s really difficult to put into words how fantastic this meal was. It wasn’t just the delicious, often unexpected food. It wasn’t just the fascinating experience of watching the chefs cook mere feet away from us. It wasn’t just that Tony and Marisa May made the rounds to each and every table in the restaurant -not just the press table, but each and every restaurant-to make sure that everyone was enjoying their evenings. It wasn’t even just that egg and truffle raviolo…though that would have done the job just fine. 
It was the sum of all of these things. It was feeling that you were in someone’s home even though you were in an elegant restaurant. It was certainly the delicious food.
And it was the fact that, even with all the gimmicks, this restaurant is the real deal.
*Note: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*

Comments

  1. Seeking Brad says:

    Maybe you don't like cod….you didn't like the cod at Agnati either….

  2. Fritos and Foie Gras says:

    @Seeking Brad – you know…I think you might be right! Oh no…there is a food I DON'T LIKE?!?!?!

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