108 East 4th Street between First and Second Avenues
about $170 for two tasting menus with wine pairings, without tip
â™¥ â™¥ â™¥
It’s almost unheard of in New York City to pay $45 for a six-course tasting menu. At Knife + Fork, chef and owner Damien Brassel pulls it off without sacrificing taste and creativity. When I called two weeks before we planned to eat there, they couldn’t accommodate four people. So two of us went and insisted we sit at the bar. Apparently, they don’t allow diners to sit at the bar unless the chef says it’s okay. The waitress asked the chef, who was only three feet away from us, and relented. The space has a romantic feel to it: heavy wood and dim lighting. There are a couple of tables which can accommodate more than two diners, but most of the guests around us came in pairs. As our night wiled away, we realized why the bar is off-limits. Chef Brassel just doesn’t want people in the way, lest it turns into a loud restaurant like Mercat.
If I have to pick a word to describe the food at Knife + Fork, I would have to say “thoughtful.” Each dish served tasted like chef Brassel put a lot of work into testing to see if his inventive
combinations would work out. Most of them do. I can imagine him working in the kitchen like a mad scientist replacing ingredients with whatever’s in the market that day.
Our first course was the salmon sashimi with pickled radish and seaweed salad. Salmon sashimi is salmon sashimi especially if it’s fresh, but chef Brassel added a dollop of homemade wasabi creme fraiche to this dish. We all know how delightful and painful at the same time wasabi can be through your nostrils. Knife + Fork just happens to make it all delightful. This was paired with a Francois Crochet Sancerre, one of my favorite white wines, which was fresh and lightly fruity.
In between courses, we picked on the dense and creamy homemade bread with salt and butter. I knew the bread was extra special after a man came in to buy a loaf before leaving again. The waitress told us that a lot of the people in the neighborhood stop by just to buy their bread.
The second course was a small dish of frog’s legs covered in sauce. The watermelon chunks and micro-greens were a good addition to them because the sauce was a little undersalted. I actually liked the wine more than the dish itself: a more citrusy and toastier Paul Cluver Chardonnay.
The third course was barbequed eel with risotto and sun-dried tomato tapenade. It sounded better on print because I thought this dish needed a little bit more of a spike. Chardonnay’s main contender, an Aligote, made the dish more interesting. I loved the firm skate with apples in Thai green curry as our fourth course. An “Innocent” Viognier from Shinas Estate was the perfect match for this spicy dish. I liked this dish so much I could have eaten one more serving.
We were prepared for more seafood with our white wines, but then the lamb with the mashed black bean-licorice reduction was served as our fifth course with a glass of Burgundy. I thought the meat was a great way to end our meal. I didn’t quite understand the black bean and licorice combination, but I was more than happy to ignore it for the medium-rare lamb.
I’m not a big fan of port but it came with our last course of cheeses and honey. The port tasted a little bit like jam and was even more decadent with the spoonful of honey. Our experience so far was a gradual presentation of chef Brassel’s cooking skills–this was the perfect end to it.