My favorite dish at Recette was the one the kitchen messed up. While that sounds like I didn't like the meal or the restaurant, nothing could be further from the truth. Recette is a lovely, intimate little restaurant in the West Village that was really hopping this past Friday evening. The dining room, a refined colonial space consistent with the neighborhood, was packed from before we arrived for our 9PM reservation to the time we left around midnight with new tables still being seated.
There with my son, L.J. and our friends Joe and Donna Bavuso, we opted to go with the tasting menu. The Bavusos had been there several times before, each time enjoying it more than the last. It was on their recommendation and their reservation that we dined there that sweltering evening.While they had not previously had a tasting menu at Recette, they discovered during a conversation with Chef Jesse Schenker on an earlier visit that he was particularly excited about doing one for them. Who were we to rain on the young newlywed chef's excitement (his lovely bride and childhood friend is the restaurant's hostess)?
While it was steamy outside and by the bar adjacent to the open kitchen, once we were led a few feet to our dining room table, we were able to cool off. A chilled glass of Prosecco didn't hurt, either. The first course was hamachi, sea beans, uni and a curry foam with a little parsley strewn on top. We were off to a flying start with a variety of textures and a lovely blending of flavor and a little kick at the end from the curry.
With my taste buds tingling, the next dish was perfect – heirloom tomato salad with burrata and peekytoe crab. The burrata was perfectly creamy and the tomatoes showed an excellent balance of acidity, sweetness and full tomato flavor. The crab was outstanding with its fresh marine flavor standing up to its partners. With some fruity olive oil, basil leaves and seeds, the dish delivered on all fronts. It was not really a novel concept, but the quality and execution were spot on.
The next course, pea soup with foie gras, shellfish emulsion and caviar was lacking when the components were tried individually, but when mixed together, the blend created a subtle but pleasurable union. Pea soup speaks of spring. This one was a touch grainy, but it had a nice underlying layer of mint and with the salt from the caviar and the richness of the foie, it showed successful cooking.
It's the rare dish that can remain absolutely delicious while withstanding the botching of a significant component of that dish. At Recette the halibut with morels, artichoke and asparagus with a saffron beurre blanc did just that. The artichoke hearts were completely underdone – hard and tasteless. At first we wondered, could that have been intentional? Our conclusion was, no and it turned out that we were correct. We later brought it up with Chef Schenker, who emphatically apologized for the inadvertently underdone artichokes. The amazing thing is that with the artichokes removed, the rest of the dish was still outstanding. The beurre blanc was a wonderful accompaniment to the perfectly cooked fish, while the morels added a deep, earthy tone that gave great balance to the dish. Had the artichokes been right, I think they would have made a positive contribution, but they were by no means necessary. I was impressed by the dish and I was also impressed by Chef Schenker's honesty. This dish was significantly more delicious than the halibut I had recently had at Jean-Georges, which was insipid in comparison.
The next dish was sensational as well- lobster risotto with roasted scallop. It was rich, luxurious and delicious – nothing ground-breaking, but exquisitely satisfying nonetheless. Schenker's tiny kitchen was on a roll.
That roll didn't stop with the last savory course, which consisted of wagyu strip steak topped with thyme, crispy sweetbread with brown butter , lemon, caper sauce, raw porcini mushroom, roasted carrot and pomme mousseline. The wagyu, was perfectly cooked and seared – delicious, juicy and tender. The sweetbread was very good, though not quite as good as the ones at Jean-Georges, which provided a lot more verve with the Alsatian potato salad accompanying it. The pomme mousseline was simply delightful and the carrot tasty. The raw porcini, interestingly enough was slightly bitter and surprisingly the weakest link of the dish, though not nearly as perplexing or problematic as the undercooked artichoke was.
Our pre-dessert was a sort of deconstructed key lime pie, though it was not clear from our server's accented description. Regardless, it was tasty and refreshing, the way a pre-dessert should be.
The first dessert, a deconstructed carrot cake worked well amongst its individual parts as well as when it was put back together. It consisted of a cake with cream cheese icing, candied pistachios, cinnamon ice cream and raisin jam.
The final dessert, Recette's version of a S'more with graham cracker ice cream, toasted marshmallow and "hot" chocolate sauce. The sauce did, indeed have a little kick to it. It was an effective and fun version of an American childhood classic.
Recette is fun, elegant but chicly casual and cozy. The food is damn good. It makes an outstanding neighborhood restaurant, a place where one can easily become a regular. The food is tasty, creative yet fully accessible and reasonably priced. While it is not so good that I would make a special trip from outside the City just to dine there (remember I live 3+ hours north of the City, so there are very few restaurants that would qualify), I would happily include it in a dining itinerary in the future. Although the restaurant is less than a year old, Chef Schenker has designs on expanding beyond Recette, as he is considering opening a sandwich shop too. There is no question in my mind that Schenker has the talent and chops to be successful, I just hope that he does not become so impatient as to let Recette drift in the process of trying to do more. At the moment Recette is a wonderful little restaurant. So long as it stays the way it is and remains the focus of Chef Jesse Schenker's considerable talents, I recommend Recette highly.