The Tasting Room

08. March 2003 American, Lower East Side 0

72 East 1st Street on First Avenue
about $150 for two, with two drinks, without tip
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

When people ask me for my top five restaurants in New York City, I rank Sushiden on five, Tom Colicchio’s Gramercy Tavern on four, Snack on three and Mario Batali’s Babbo in second place. I usually get a reaction when I tell them that The Tasting Room ranks first because they have never heard of it or because the proprietors are more famous at the farmers’ market than they are on FoodTV.

The Tasting Room is where I was introduced to ramps a couple of years ago. Ramps belong in the leek family and have the taste and smell of garlic and onions combined. Ours were served with very tender Moulard duck breast. I have been ramp farming every spring in Vermont since then. I don’t know any other restaurant in New York City where I can eat carpaccio, squab and to-die-for pork belly all in one seating.

I visited for a second time a couple of weeks ago to see the difference in their autumn menu. Again, my expectations were superseded. A friend and I started with the uni velouté and then the fluke tartare with roasted eggplant. The soup was perfect for the almost-winter weather outside; it could have been butternut squash because of the color but the distinct taste of the ocean was obviously there. We also ordered the rabbit terrine and the pheasant in three ways: rillettes, roasted breast meat and chopped liver. My dining partner definitely knew she wanted fish to match with her choice of white wine, so she picked the striped bass with smoked eel, pappas amarillos and roasted garlic. Maitake mushrooms are still in season so I chose them with scallops, turnips and celery root purée–simply delicious. The turnips and the celery made the maitake subtle, which sometimes could be overwhelming in taste and in smell, but the saltiness of the scallops brought all of them together. We opted for the cheesecake with red wine-braised pear to finish, which carried the namesake of the co-owner’s mother.

The space is tiny with about ten tables but the dishes speak volumes. You have a choice of tasting portions for all of their dishes or a share at double the amount. The service is attentive whether it’s to answer your questions (What the hell is salsify? What is burdock?) or to recommend one of their numerous bottles of domestic wine.

Updated, 2007: The Tasting Room is now a café and the restaurant has moved to a bigger space on Elizabeth Street off Houston.