For all the money that flows through the narrow streets of the Financial District, there are precious few good restaurants for the suits to squander their paychecks and expense accounts. Restaurateurs ventured as far south as Tribeca, but no further.
Then came SHO Shaun Hergatt, the Michelin starred fine dining destination. Apparently it takes an Australian chef to go further south than others before. SHO was great for lunch, but when we ventured into the financial district for a weekend dinner, the streets were drained of its weekday energy, and the scene felt slightly eerie. In this neighborhood with few residents, it seems that weekday revenue are used to cover weekends. So if you’re not a destination restaurant, your chance of success are stacked against you.
Looking across the West Side Highway, however, you see a sprawling neighborhood created (literally, through land reclamation) to house those working in the financial district. There’s plenty of money, plenty of mouths to feed, but once again no good restaurants. It seems no restaurateur wants to take that chance.
Then came a Shake Shack, and the familiar the lines. Perhaps Denny Meyer was testing the waters? Shake Shack showed that people of BPC needed to eat (shocking, I know). It was time to give a neighborhood a restaurant it can be proud of.
Coincidentally, it was also around this time that Denny Meyer announced the closing of Tabla, the first ever shuttered restaurant in his Union Square Hospitality Group. Then came word that his former chef David Humm was purchasing Eleven Madison Park, the then-flagship of USHG. As more and more Shake Shacks began popping up along the East Coast, people were starting to wonder if USHG has lost its focus on fine dining, and is content in operating a burger chain.
There’s no reason to worry, because North End Grill is absolutely fantastic.
Located around the corner of Shake Shack, North End Grill is on the northern side of BPC. An open kitchen and sprawling bar area greets the guest, putting the full culinary show of celebrity chef Floyd Cardoz (former chef of Tabla) on display. Go deeper into the restaurant and you’ll find the formal dining area.
On this lazy Saturday afternoon, the room was absolutely packed with diners. Many seemed to be regulars at this relatively new restaurant, comparing and contrasting their plates with food eaten on prior visits. The wait staff is very eager to please, with the managers roaming and making sure all was taken care of.
To start, a taste of spring can only be complete with ramps. Chili Rubbed Rock Cod with Meyer Lemon and Grilled Ramps did not look all too appetizing when it appeared on the table, but the dark colored spice rub flavored the fish beautifully. The small radish on the side gave a small hint of ramps, though the use was a bit too subtle.
Like ramps, another keyword always catches my attention on menus: Mangalitsa. The Mangalitsa are curly haired hogs native to Europe, the meat’s incredibly fatty, and they’re incredibly prized by gourmet chefs. The dish on the menu was Grilled Mangalitsa Pork Bacon with Crispy Fried Oyster and Apples, two items that came separate on opposite ends of a long plate. Although the oyster and the pork weren’t complimentary items, both were excellent in flavor and texture. I especially like the strips of crispy skin on the pork belly, absolutely delicious and decadent.
The menu also dedicates an entire section called Egg, with only 4 items. With such emphasis, I figured it had to be good. It was. The Coddled Egg with Peekytoe Crab, Bacon, Ramps, Spring Onion and Grits was tasty, hearty, and altogether a surprise. The ingredients may sound like a breakfast, it went perfectly well with our dinner.
For dinner entree, I was hoping to try the chicken for two. Apparently shared poultry is all the rage in Manhattan recently. Without the proper dining partners to share the bird, Berkshire Pork Chop with white beans and Chorizo seemed like a great alternate choice. The pork was nice and tender, topped with a few sprinkles of sea salt. Such a basic concept but executed wonderfully. I wiped the plate clean, thoroughly enjoying the iceberg lettuce and beans drenched in the sauce.
The meal was quite filling, but the waiter insisted on a dessert. Rhubarb and Mascarpone Napoleon with pistachio brittle was an excellent choice, pairing the sweet and tart flavors of rhubarb, rich mascarpone, and incredible textures from the baked pastry.
A meal with modest expectations turn out to be one of the best I’ve had this year.
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