June 10, 2015
Walking down the Bowery I'm always surprised by what's happened to my old neighborhood. When I lived on Rivington Street, in the early 70s, the neighborhood was so dangerous, depressed and dilapidated the police didn't bother with it, and if you had a car you could park it for weeks without worrying about tickets. Nobody, of course, had a car. And if they did, the Bowery bums – who were still very much in residence – were always trying to "clean" the windows with their rags.
So I have to admit that I was slightly heartened to see a little bit of the old neighborhood spirit in the form of a man sleeping on the sidewalk, possessions piled around him like a hopeful fortress, right in front of Pearl and Ash. I miss my gritty old city, a place that made room for outcasts and artists.
On the other hand, I do admire Pearl and Ash. And I'm even more enamored of their newest outpost, Rebelle, right next door. The room is lovely in its simplicity, stripped down to the bare bricks. The back room, with its open kitchen, is one of the city's pleasantest places to eat.
Pearl and Ash has a wonderful wine list; Rebelle has an even more impressive one. Co-owner and wine director Patrick Cappiello has assembled an amazing collection of bottles at a wide range of prices. This is one place where you really want to ask for guidance; he knows his list, knows the food, and will happily help you select something at your price point.
The chef, Daniel Eddy, is doing the wine justice. He is a master at coaxing new flavors out of shy ingredients. He slices scallops and interlaces them with turnips – a surprise – and green apple, then crowns them with herbs and surrounds them with a bright tasting green jus. The result is scallop in an entirely new mood, scallops as I have never quite imagined them before.
Fluke is not the most forward of fish, but in his hands, bathed in brown butter and sherry, topped with capers and sparked with lemon, the fish is coaxed out of the corner to become suddenly assertive. Few chefs have mastered the delicate balance between acid and richness: here it is perfect.
His sweetbreads are also eloquent, paired with artichoke hearts so you encounter two completely different versions of softness. It's all punctuated with fava beans and then swathed in a lobster foam that brings out the richness of the main players.
He works wonders with duck breast as well. I was so entranced by the dance of flavors, that I'd eaten it all before I remembered to take a picture. There was the usual orange, but behind that was endive, offering a slightly bitter edge which was underlined by smoked almond. The effect was to bring forward the slight gaminess of the bird, giving the dish a kind electricity.
Dessert? An entire cherry clafoutis for the table to share. Nice bow to the season.
Outside the man was still asleep on the sidewalk. Chic revelers looked down as they passed, and then moved on, headed for one of the many bars or restaurants that have turned this into one of the city's hippest neighborhoods. I thought, suddenly, of my Aunt Birdie, who grew up here hundred years before I moved in. "Why would you want to live here?" she asked me in 1970. "We couldn't wait to get out."
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