Recently The Purple Fig received a terrible review from the NYPost. Now there’re rumors that the real majority owner behind the operation is delinquent with staff wages and supplier salaries. When I visited the Purple Fig, Chef Conrad was present and the meal was truly spectacular. It seems that shortly after the entire operation started to fall apart, and in late August the restaurant has closed. Yet in early September it re-opened. Conrad’s now only a consulting chef, the restaurant’s serving simpler fare, and on day one it popped onto Groupon. Never a good sign. This review is the first iteration, which in my opinion is closed for good until proven otherwise.
Some chefs achieve success by faithfully working slowly up the food chain, others display tremendous business acumen and risk taking. Then there are the “cheftestants”, which are manufactured by television shows by the season. They become household names either by good looks, or by being entertaining television. Their every move is closely followed by online media, as if the chef is granted a seal of approval by Padma and Tom. Some turn out to be successful, but most fall back to mediocrity.
With all of this distraction, one Irish chef managed to slip into Manhattan under the radar. While others are touting their “2nd place finish on the 2nd season of Top Chef”, Conrad Gallagher comes with a simple accolade: he was the youngest chef to ever receive a Michelin Star, accomplishing that task at 25.
So how did Chef Gallagher manage to sneak into New York undetected? Somehow this story reminded me a bit of how Laurent Manrique opened Millesime under the radar. Interestingly enough, a bit of research showed that this isn’t chef Gallagher’s first tour of New York. In the 90s, he worked at Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley with…. you guessed it, Laurent Manrique.
Two years ago I also wrote that Millesime was my “surprise restaurant of the year”, 2 years later, I say the same about The Purple Fig.
The Purple Fig is pretty hard to find. A lonely looking outdoor seat gives a hint that a restaurant is in the proximity. The restaurant itself is situated in one of those slightly-subterranean first floors you see quite often in the Upper West Side. Combined with the namesake purple paint job, it’s dark, or shall I say romantic.
The menu is primarily French but with considerable foreign influences. Starting with the foamy pea soup, paired with a gorgeously seared scallop. I’ve had some wonderful scallops in the city recently, this was right up there with the best of them.
Following that came the signature appetizer, a piece of salmon served pastrami style, coated with herbs. These western flavors are matched with wasabi creme fraiche, a great combination.
The other appetizer was decidedly French. The goose liver parfait served with figs, and a piece of what I can only describe as French Toast. You can upgrade this dish to Seared Foie Gras (my sincere condolences to Californians reading this), though the parfait was plenty decadent for my taste.
I’ve been known to order duck, though usually the Long Island variety. Purple Fig served Muscovy Duck, which is natural to the southern end of North America. Muscovy Ducks are larger than our “average” mental image of a duck, thus allowing the chef to cook it a beautiful medium rare. Yet another brilliant duck dish. On the side we ordered some duck fat fries. The Muscovy was definitely on the lean side, I’m guessing the fat came from another bird.
As for the seafood, I decided to take a risk with Sword Fish, which in my experience has been disappointing(a quick search of my blog showed 4 sword fish dishes, only one received praise). Despite the simple plating of a decorative asparagus, this sword fish was a surefire winner. The texture wasn’t too dry, didn’t flake all over my dish, yet retained that wonderful texture of sword fish that I love.
For dessert, cilantro mango cheesecake caught my attention. I wished that the chili syrup had a bit more heat. Other than that, I was surprised by how well the herb worked with creamy cheese cake.
Upper West Side residents can rejoice in having a neighborhood bistro that is above and beyond the other nearby options. I would even venture to say that this is a destination restaurant. A hidden gem, that in due time will hopefully get the buzz it deserves. As for a Michelin Star, I think there’s a good chance.
From the notebook: There are photographs of the dishes on the wall, gutsy move. I don’t expect my McD burgers to look like the pictures, but at a fine restaurant I demand such quality. Take Yelp reviews with a grain of salt (if you don’t already), I found no problems with service. Chef Gallagher was roaming the restaurant, greeting guests warmly. This meal was complimentary, though it did not affect my opinion, nor was I required to write about it.
What does this rating mean?