November 21, 2015
“I wanted the inhabitants of gut-rehabbed Georgian houses to hear the cries of murdered prostitutes when they settled in for an evening of plasma screen television. I wanted Sunday afternoon strollers to see the bones of the dead beneath their feet as they circled the blocks below Houston Street admiring the architecture.”
Luc Sante, Lowlife
Is irony intended in the name of this brand new restaurant? Walking into the cool, modern space on the Lower East Side, with its bare wood walls and its beguiling scent of freshly hewn wood, I couldn’t help thinking about Sante, whose book is one long wail against the gentrification of New York.
Prosperity gleams at you from every corner of Lowlife, from its quirkily wonderful wine list to the fastidiously composed plates of local, seasonal ingredients. No bones here.
The restaurant, which opened this week, has an impeccable pedigree; it is the brainchild of Hugh Crickmore, who was a partner in Mas Farmhouse and Alex Leonard, formerly chef de cuisine at Blanca. There’s nothing remotely casual about the service, and the food is almost formal in its conception.
Consider, for instance, the opener above: beet puree, trout roe, local cream laid out like a small edible Rothko. It’s an unusual composition, as bright in the mouth as it is on the plate, the salty roe rubbing up against the sweetness of the beets in the most appealing way.
Or this: sardines and herring in a medley of herbs that does nothing to impede the sheer strength of the fish which comes powering through.
Or this little tangle of perfectly cooked garganelli tossed in a lamb ragu and laid out so precisely you imagine a food stylist, tweezers in hand, contemplating where to place each tiny leaf.
A pristine square of halibut, Rauschenberg now, from his white period, with a little squiggle of mussels and sorrel on the side.
Chicken “yakitori” (grilled over fancy Japanese charcoal), with smoked cabbage and green onions. It comes in whole or half versions; the whole one’s $54 but it’s a lot of food. This is the one truly robust dish I tried.
Fat bay scallops on crunchy vegetables in a light lemongrass sauce.
I loved everything we ate at Lowlife – and I particularly loved the wine, an Aligote from Milkuski. (There are unusual bargains on this list.) And yet…
Walking out the door my mind was on Sante again, remembering this neighborhood before it was, in his words, colonized by prosperity, a time when it belonged to poets and painters squatting in old tenement buildings, dreaming art. Of a time when this part of the city still welcomed people for whom hundred dollar dinners were not a way of life.
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