Monday, July 27, 2015

Atera, NYC

Atera, NYC, 7/17/2015, $257 (incl. gratuity and taxes)

Atera, a Michelin 2-star restaurant, has a new chef Ronny Emborg, a Dane from Copenhagen. He was the executive chef in a Michelin starred restaurant Marchal before joining Atera with New Nordic flair and molecular gastronomy style. Some of the preparations are highly technical and with emphasize on visual appeal.

There is only one set of menu available, the Tasting Menu which is comprised of approximately 18-20 courses, including bread, amuse bouches, appetizers, entrées and desserts. There are two seatings available daily, at 6pm and at 9pm. The price includes gratuity, a European practice.

Atera has an open kitchen with U-shaped counter for customer to eat and watch how each dish was prepared.

1st Course, Green Tomato/Juniper

Dark green colored juniper oil in the middle of the bowl surrounded by white powdery iced green tomato juice. At the last minute, server poured tomato juice from the green tomato. It was very refreshing, served as the palette opener.

2nd Course, Herbs and Flowers/Shrimp

I was informed by my server to start with yellow flower then clockwise. The yellow flower was from Nasturtium plant which is a member of cabbage family with edible leaves and flowers. What made this flower unusual was the stuffing in the middle with Whelk Snails from Maine. Whelk Snails inhabit in the Atlantic Ocean, range from a couple inches to 9 inches long with spiral shell. They have slight briny-sweet taste and slight chewiness. Snails were chopped into small pieces and mixed with mayo into paste. It was very delicate and delicious.  Going clockwise, next was French Sorrell, pea flower, agretti, Fava leaf (with good green-taste flavor) and lime mint (with pungent minty and refreshing taste more than the ordinary mint leaves.) This was the 1st time that I have ever tasted agretti, it is a late springtime Mediterranean succulent with very short season. It looks like a cross between fennel fronds, rosemary and grass and it tastes with robust grassy flavor. What made this course unusual was some of these fresh produce are from Atera’s own greenhouse.

On the side in a bowl, emotion of shrimp was served as dip to accompany each flower or leaf. Shrimp was finely grounded and mixed with olive oil into a very thin paste-liquid. It had a distinctive but not overpowering shrimp flavor.

3rd Course, Baerii Caviar/Pistachio, Beer

Baerii Caviar is from Siberia, it is not too salty and balanced well with the sweet Pistachio ice cream and beer foam.

4th Course, Waffle/Cheddar, Truffle

Crispy waffle was made of unbleached flour and placed at the bottom of the stack. Then, a layer of aged Cheddar cheese was spread on the waffle. The next layer was a master piece of work, a layer of fermented mushroom. Since my taste bud could taste something besides cheddar cheese, I asked one of the chefs and found out that the fermented mushroom would take about two weeks of processes. On top of these spread, there were five slices of gorgeous summer truffles. Bravo, this was my favorite item of the meal.

5th Course, Crab/Tomato, Rose Hip, Pansy

Small pieces of fresh snow crab, from Canada, mixed with diced red tomatoes at the bottom of the bowl, covered by a white layer of dome-shaped jelly made of rose hip and milk. As I broke open the jelly, I noticed there was more layer underneath crab meat. It was the unset soft rose hip jelly. Chef Emborg emphasized the elegant presentation of each dish; this one was adorned with a cute piece of pansy flower. This course was my 4th favorite.

6th Course, Golden Whitefish Roe/Green Almond, Sunchoke

Whitefish roe is in beautiful orange-gold color, it looked very appetizing. This golden roe were small and tasted a bit chewy. Roes are fish eggs which are neither cured nor salted. It was served with almond milk, almond ice and crispy sunchoke (in light brown color). It was adorned by the cute green leaf named “ice flower”. The highlight of this course was the fused taste of almond ice and the roe.
7th Course, Scallop/Apple, Horseradish

Scallop credo was at the bottom of the plate, with horseradish snow (powdered iced horseradish), Dianthus dill and dill oil. Each ingredient complemented other ingredients and made a perfect overall taste. Credo dish always required some pungent spicy item to enhance the taste. Here, the powdered iced horseradish served the pivotal role of bringing all other ingredient together.

8th Course, Dumpling/Sepia, Uni

It was a cute bite-size dumpling wrapped with an ultra-thin slice of cuttlefish. What wrapped inside were uni, lark and almond butter. Uni was still half-raw, fresh and quite tasty. Lark is something often brings up the taste, but don’t tell that to your family physician.

I had a replacement dish because of the chewiness of cuttlefish slice. It was risotto made with North Caroline rice and egg yolk, with little cute nasturtium flower adorned on the top.

9thCourse, Oyster/Ponzu

Island Creek oyster was served with elderberry and ponzu sauce. It was adorned with Queen Ann flower. The special feature in this course was the warm ponzu sauce. When I visited Tokyo a year ago, I found out that Japanese restaurant in Tokyo purposely raised the dining room temperature and using the body temperature to warm up seafood in the whole process of serving customer. Their way was in contrary to what we practice in US; here we like to make everything cold.  The reason for keeping things a bit warmer was to enhance the flavor of seafood.

10th “Course, Whole Wheat Batard

I was eager to munch on bread by now and was glad the restaurant finally served a slice of house-made sour dough bread. There were two kinds of butter served, one was the regular butter and the other one was butter with brown onion.

11th Course, Razor Clam/Bitter Greens, Miso

Razor clams was poached and diced, served with baby green pea leaves. Sauce was made of foamy brown butter and miso, with beautiful little flower on top. Razor clams were thoroughly cleaned and sweet, they were less chewy than Whelk Clam served earlier in the evening.

12th Course, Sourdough Croissant

A whole wheat flaky mini croissant was served. It was slightly warm when you touched it.

13th Course, Monkfish/Snow Peas

Monk fish was excellently prepared; it was still half-raw in the center and tasted tender. It was with one of the best textures that I have ever had. At the bottom, there were some purple colored snow peas and white currants on the side. White currants were small and looked like little crystal balls. This was the 1st time that I tasted purple snow peas. Purple snow peas had lesser green taste than the green snow peas. Fish was served with orange blossom Sabayon sauce. Orange blossom was not too overwhelming; this course was another perfect inspiration.

14th Course, Onion/Mushroom

This course was comprised of varieties of mushroom, Maitake, milk cap and Chanterelle, and Nasturtium leaves, served with foamy French Oulett cheese sauce. On the side, there was one thinly sliced onion marinated in Champagne vinegar. This piece of onion greatly enhanced the balance of this course.

15th Course, Foie Gras/Black Currant

I dearly loved this course. Warm foie gras topped with chopped roasted peanuts, covered with a red color sheet made of black currant. This sheet was not made of jelly. It was made by dehydrated black currant juice. The flavor was full, not overwhelming but intensive, it was much better than the ordinary jelly often served with foie gras. This was my 2nd most favorite for the evening.

16th Course, Lamb En Croute/Huckleberry, Allium
This was a very sophisticated course with multiply layers of arrangements. Lamb was from a Pennsylvania farm, served medium-rare. It was served in a brioche crust, on casing of brioche. After I started slicing lamb, I realized there was another layer of something on the brioche. I found out, there was a thin layer of chicken mousse topped with burned onion powder. Lamb was placed on top of brioche crust, chicken mousse and burned onion powder and then topped with sliced black kale (in white color looked almost like sliced garlic), onion and red currant. This course was a true master piece. It was my 3rd favorite for the evening.

17th Course, Cucumber/Lemon Verbena

This course was the palette cleanser. Cucumber granite was served with lime meringue. Some lemon verbena leaves and St. Johns Worth were on the side for decoration as well.  Lemon verbena mousse was under the cucumber granite to offer a refreshing taste.

18th Course, Milk/Raspberry, Tarragon

This is the 2nd time that I had cooked potato in desert. The 1st time was at L’Astrance , Paris. At Atera, cooked potatoes were diced and served with raw milk sorbet, then topped with wild raspberry. Wild raspberry had a darker color then ordinary raspberry and had a fuller taste than raspberry. Some clover leaves were on the side of sorbet for decoration. Tarragon sauce played the important role of turning this raw milk sorbet desert into a more sophisticated taste.

19th Course, Chocolate Cake

I got a complimentary cake, with chocolate glazing and milk chocolate mousse inside.

20th Course, FlØdeboller

This is the traditional Danish sweet. Two of them with two different flavors, both shaped like chocolate covered spiraled cones. One was with black garlic flavored cream on a layer of pistachio cream and chocolate cookie at the bottom. The other was with beet cream and you can see the light red color in the middle once you bit on it.

After the dinner, I had an escorted tour of their back-kitchen operation in the basement. It has each dry ingredient labeled in a plastic container and placed on the shelf. Things were neat and organized. What surprised me most was their greenhouse. There are at least 80+ varieties of herbs growing in the green house. Nordic people are very adaptive at growing fresh produce in the green house to overcome the inconvenience from cold climate. Since chef Ronny is from Copenhagen, he migrated the Nordic practice to NYC. He even kept a few fans to ventilate the air in the greenhouse because Nordic people believe in the stimulus from the wind can make produces’ stems stronger. Customers may not know they have got the best quality of herbs and produce served in their plates when dining at Atera. I have visited quite a few Michelin starred restaurants back-kitchen facility and have not found any other restaurant have greenhouse facility. With the quality, technical expertise, elaborate presentation and creativity offered to customer, Atera is an under-appreciated charm in NYC.

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