Cookshop,156 Tenth Ave, 212-924-4440
Rating: 5L's (the first ever)
Price Range: $30-40
I walked into Cookshop, slightly buzzed and completely drained by one of those parties you go to on a Tuesday night just for an open bar, dreading another meal ruined by over-ambition. My fears were allayed upon stepping into the lofty, exacting, budget Zaha Hadid space, enclosed by expansive glass windows, with an open kitchen greeting guests visiting the bathroom.
A delightful craft beer list, obscure organic wines, and a large board identifying the local produce make the mission clear — emulate the private restaurants of old, created for friends, with a menu at the chef’s (and market’s) whim. As the first course began, I almost regretted I was there to review Cookshop. I don’t want to share.
As I savored a Rogue Shakespeare Stout ($8), our refreshingly informal server dropped off a plate of what appeared to be homemade KFC Crispy Strips. Instead of chicken, these were Chicken-Fried Duck Livers ($8), golden, brazenly encrusted with buttermilk batter, emitting a heady aroma. Each bite, luscious strips of the liver melt into their crunchy casing, rich enough to stand up against the chocolaty beer but not asininely so like foie gras would be. Best nuggets ever. Addictive. And then they were gone. To stave off the shakes, I tried my companion’s Caviar Deviled Eggs ($5), traditional except for the salty explosions. This New York in December/Southern backyard picnic fare wasn’t forced, or pointless, merely delicious.
An entrée of Vermont Pasture Raised Lamb Three Ways ($24) took the opposite approach to home-style/contemporary fusion by taking an overwrought Ducassian concept and preparing it as a legendary home cook would. A flame-licked chop, a roughly ground sausage patty, and a simply braised joint showcased the array of flavors in one adorable grass-fed lamb. Rich sauce, mashed potato and greens were lovingly and artisinally concocted, a triumph elsewhere, yet somehow unnecessary at Cookshop. Likewise, Diver Sea Scallops ($25) tasted of fire and the sea, the simple and profound truth of a cook.
My dining companion and I loved Cookshop. Loved it to the extent that we didn’t analyze each dish, or probe the artist vs. artisan question the restaurant begs, or dwell on the “scene,” or, honestly, do our job as critics. We experienced. Bliss is like that.