A Modern Turn For Dim Sum @ RedFarm

You voted and I listened. Well, kind of. Last week’s poll results were a toss up between the West Village’s RedFarm and Williamsburg’s Pies N’ Thighs. I decided to break the tie myself and checked out RedFarm last night for some dim sum and modern Chinese fare. This small West Village restaurant has surely made a name for itself since opening in 2011. It’s always on someone I know’s “list” or my friends go and say: “Wow, you haven’t been yet?!? YOU need to check it out.” So, I finally did. In addition to the West Village location, RedFarm has now expanded to the Upper West Side and also added a Peking Duck mini restaurant, Decoy, located just below the original restaurant.

You can usually count on a wait time at RedFarm since the restaurant only take reservations for large parties and the dining room is constantly buzzing with customers conversing at the large communal table that takes up the majority of the seating space. Off times are the way to go, unless you are not in a rush or it’s a nice night to wait outside. Even with a wait and the cramped quarters it’s probably still worth it as you’re sure to be moved by the flavors that come out of RedFarm’s inventive menu.

In an attempt to avoid a long wait time my sister and I decided to venture down to RedFarm for an early Sunday night dinner. … early bird special style at 6 p.m. The strategy worked. We walked right in and were even able to snag one of the booth tables that encircle the large communal table. I can never decide how I really feel about communal seating, but it seems to fit at RedFarm. There were groups minding their own business chatting with one another, while others commingled and shared pleasantries (and obviously advice on which dishes the other should order). For me, the real irony of the place is how the menu is structured for sharing plates yet the restaurant really is not all that big to accommodate many larger parties. I guess that gives smaller groups incentive to try what they can and come back for more once they’ve gotten the initial RedFarm tasted.  Speaking from this experience, there will definitely be a re-visit as I did not nearly have the stomach or the wallet last night to consume everything I wanted.

Before diving into the dumplings and fried rice let’s briefly discuss the ambiance. I already mentioned the small dining area with a large communal table and several booths on the perimeter. There’s nothing particularly special about the decor but it does give off a rustic country house vibe with potted plants hanging from the ceiling and a long wooden table meant for a family-style, freshly prepared meal. Like mom used to make on a summer weekend. The booth banquets are upholstered in red-and-white checkered fabric giving them a relaxed touch, and another, somewhat subtle, detail is the copper holders hanging from the ceiling filled with RedFarm labeled chopsticks. Most of the wait staff is dressed in plaid giving off the laid back, farm-to-table vibe and nothing about the restaurant gives off the vibe of a Chinese restaurant. That is, of course, until you see the plates being carried around the room or even take a glimpse at the menu. Even then, however, is RedFarm anything even remotely close to what New Yorkers are so accustomed to calling Chinese food. And for that I am very thankful.

Maybe the reason it has taken me some time to get to RedFarm has to do with the fact that I am truly not a huge fan of Chinese food. It gets too greasy and never leaves me feeling quite right afterwards. I know coming from someone born and raised in this city that comes as a shock and could be perceived as blasphemy, but at least I eat pizza and bagels. … right? But as already mentioned, RedFarm is far from what I know to be traditional Chinese food. The restaurant prides itself on Greenmarket sustainability which kind of goes along with what’s all the rage in the farm-to-table genre these days. Each menu item puts an innovative twist on what people may be used to as dim sum and Chinese cuisine. I mean, it’s got to be hard to come by Pac Man Shrimp Dumplings anywhere else.

Maneuvering the menu is difficult at a table for two because there are many intriguing options and, in my case at least, it can be hard to create a meal that adheres to each person’s food preferences. For example, I missed out on those Pac Man Shrimp Dumplings because my sister does not eat seafood and I could not stomach eating them all by myself. There’s always next time. We agreed on plenty, though, and settled on the following four dishes: Crunchy Vegetable and Peanut Dumplings, Pan-Fried Pork Buns, Bentons Bacon and Egg Fried Rice and Diced Lamb with Chinese Broccoli and White Asparagus. And they came out in that order. The first dumplings were light and not over-greased, with tastes of fresh vegetables and a welcoming crunch in each bite from the peanuts. The mini pork buns brought out a completely different palate of flavors. Each was pleasantly doughy and every bite surprised me with a nice hoisin barbecue type of kick to it. After the dumplings came a very generous portion of fried rice.  I know it’s just rice, but this was awesome. Full of flavor and the chef did not skimp out on the bacon or fried egg, which is always appreciated. We finished with the lamb which had a great sauce and was paired well with the white asparagus. None of these dishes was remotely bland and each could probably use a palate cleanser as the flavors changed drastically as we moved from course-to-course.

By the end of all that we were too full to think about eating another thing and asked for the bill instead. It was pretty reasonable for the quality and judging by how full my belly felt. Always nice when you feel like you haven’t broken the bank dining out in New York. And by the time we left at 7:15 the wait list was underway and guests were patiently waiting outside for their chance at Sunday supper. If you like Chinese, and even if you’re like me and don’t, RedFarm should be added to your list. The ingredients are fresh, seemingly local and the eclectic menu will grab and keep your attention throughout the entire meal. You can even check it out for weekend brunch if you’re looking for something other than classic Eggs Benedict on a Sunday afternoon.

RedFarm, 529 Hudson Street,  NY, NY 10014. Phone: (212) 792-9700

When To Book:  RedFarm does not accept reservations unless you are a party of eight or more and groups of this size are on a prix-fixe menu. I recommend being prepared for some sort wait time – unless you go at an off-peak time – and being flexible about a communal dining experience. 

Downtown “Cool” at Margaux

Checked out a relatively new spot in Greenwich Village Thursday night that will surely continue to get “hot” as the word spreads  about the hip, cool hangout hidden in the Marlton Hotel. Margaux boasts a seasonal Mediterranean menu and draws in the trendy downtown crowd looking to see and be seen. The hotel is the work of hotelier/restauranteur Sean MacPherson, who also brought this city The Jane and The Bowery Hotel (among others), so it’s really no wonder why the “cool kids” are flocking here. The Marlton hotel itself has a sleek, refined design that is also charming  and inviting.  The bar/lounge area is reminiscent of a Parisian brasserie with its dark wood and red leather, while the restaurant itself  is brightened by ivory walls, white marble tops and an assortment of green booths.

By 8 p.m. on Thursday the restaurant came to life and nearly every table both inside and out on the covered garden was humming. The bar scene began to heat up as well with small groups enjoying a light bite  in a banquet while others scattered the lounge area to enjoy one of the many inventive cocktail offerings.  I went with a couple of friends and we had a good booth location in the corner of the restaurant nearly looking into the covered veranda. It would have been nice to sit in the “outside” area, but I will leave that for another visit. The menu, which invariably changes by the season, contains an array of small-plate options, house-made pastas and hearty mains that should please many crowds. Our table went the sharing route in an attempt to sample as much as we could without killing each of our wallets and our stomachs. My one regret was not ordering Margaux’s signature Farmer’s Board, but otherwise I think we ordered well and tried a little bit of everything.

 

The initial amuse bouche of raw vegetable crudite was a nice touch and very “farm-to-table” of the restaurant. The burrata melted in my mouth and was everything you could want from that creamy delicacy. The artichoke salad was simple, but good and the winner was definitely the squid ink pasta with lobster. It was portioned correctly with the pasta cooked just right and served with chunky lobster bites and breadcrumbs. It also had a nice spicy kick to it at the end. … but not overpoweringly so.  We also sampled the Artic Char which was generously portioned  and served with sweet green peas and greens. Simple, healthy and no frills but very tasty. After the first two courses, we decided to prolong the meal and not head straight to dessert. We sampled the cheese plate which was displayed nicely on a long wooden board with four cheese offerings coupled with each’s own honey, nut or jam garnish. Finally, it was time for dessert. We were all torn about which way to go here as there were several appealing options. We all agreed on the Rhubard Crostata served with Feta ice cream. Sounded like a summer dessert – which is a season everyone in this city is yearning for at this point – and the Feta ice cream was strikingly unique. There was, however, one problem. The menu was mis-printed that night and the restaurant was still serving a Blueberry Crostata with Buttermilk ice cream. It remains a mystery whether that was the truth or we were really  just served an extra Blueberry Crostata that was a couple days old and mistaken for Rhubarb. If that were the case though I think we still would have received a dollop of Feta ice cream. Ours definitely tasted more of buttermilk. We still ate the entire thing, but were disappointed not to get the flavors of rhubard and feta.

Overall, the food was enjoyable and the atmosphere lively but I do need to make a quick comment on the service because I think it’s an area where Margaux could improve. While our waitress was friendly she was also frustratingly aloof and seemed to have little knowledge of what was going on with the menu, the restaurant or the kitchen. We would ask about the menu and she had difficulty describing each of the dishes and once we ordered she was pretty absent from the table. Additionally, when we approached her about the dessert slip up she openly admitted to seeing the wrong one placed on our table and rather than addressing the issue she just let us sit there and eat it without explanation. Um. … if you see something, say something. Or, at least make up a good lie. Maybe Margaux wants to be too cool for top service, but if the goal is to be a fun, lively and quality neighborhood spot I would suggest making sure that’s conveyed, in part, through a quality wait staff.

All in all, I enjoyed my meal and had a very pleasant Thursday evening with close friends. We ate, drank and were merry at Margaux. Had we all not been exhausted we would probably have lingered at the bar and enjoyed a few more cocktails. It is a tempting scene as you recess from the restaurant. As I do plan on going back at some point  – particularly to sample another season’s menu- I will leave that experience for a later date. Check it out, enjoy the central location, have a good time and good food, and be sure report back on your experience with the service.

Margaux, 5 W. 8th Street, NY, NY 10011. Phone: (212) 321-0111

When To Book: Our waitress claimed the restaurant does not take reservations, but that is false. We made a dinner reservation via e-mail @ margaux@marltonhotel.com. Margaux also accepts phone reservations and walk-ins. If you plan on going during peak weekend hours I would suggest reserving a table in advance. 

Mid-Week Lunching @ Jeffrey’s Grocery

I went to Jeffrey’s Grocery for the first time last week for lunch and my guess is that it’s quite a different experience lunching there in the middle of the week versus its Sunday brunch scene. Whenever I have heard people talk about the restaurant in the past it has been in reference to a great brunch. They don’t take reservations for lunch or brunch, so there’s always the wait anxiety but it was still always on my list of places to try. Plus, I am also a fan of sister restaurants Perla and Fedora. … with the need to check out some of the others as well. I still have yet to taste Jeffrey’s Grocery’s brunch, but I did have the opportunity to sample the lunch menu with a friend of mine mid-last week. It’s pretty quiet in the restaurant around noon on a Wednesday, but my guess is most West Village spots are sparsely attended at that time. Most people are in the office and it’s not really a neighborhood known for the “power lunch.” Quiet can be refreshing in the hustle-and-bustle of New York City, so I welcomed the emptiness and space with open arms and had an enjoyable lunch.

The corner spot where Jeffrey’s Grocery resides is the perfect locale for this rustic, charming and under-stated eatery that serves quite quite tasty food. The moment you walk in (at least when I was there) you immediately get hit with a strong bakery aroma as the chef whips up a coffee cake or croissants. The smells alone will make you tummy grumble and turn your gaze immediately to the pastry portion of the menu. I have been cutting back on the sweets (or trying to at least) so I did not sample any of those items, but let me tell you it took every ounce of self-restraint to not order that sour-cream coffee cake or almond croissant. With that being said, the menu has more depth to it than baked goods alone.

Since Jeffrey’s Grocery is known for its oysters and seafood I would probably be remiss without mentioning the plentiful raw bar menu offered there. I am not, however, the gal to rely on for oyster recommendations and I also do not tend to be the one diving into a seafood tower at lunch time. I will have to go there for dinner to do a follow up review on that! We kept our order pretty simple. My friend ordered the omelette and I the ham baguette. We also split a side of avocado toast because it sounded intriguing and we both dig that green power food. I would liken it to a guacamole spread over toast so do not expect sliced avocado to come out on bread. Simple but fresh, and if you like avocado I definitely recommend getting an order for the table. The ham baguette was a well-portioned sandwich that was a little more creative than your typical French jambon beurre.The country ham was places atop a buttered, split-open french baguette topped with a soft boiled egg from which the yolk slowly seeped out from the sides. I thought it would be a messier eating adventure given the egg, but the sandwich was quite manageable and satiating. The omelette was one of spinach and gruyere, and was also served with potatoes and toast. My friend enjoyed it and I only had a small taste of the crispy potatoes which were not too shabby either.

The menu has a little bit of everything for lunch and the portions, price points and tastes will not leave you disappointed. Also, anywhere that serves breakfast items on their lunch menu gets extra points in my book. I could always go for a hearty egg dish in the middle of the day to get me through to dinner. So, if you happen to have a day off and are wandering the streets of the West Village you might want to stop in to Jeffrey’s Grocery for a casual, quality lunch I would pop into Jeffrey’s Grocery. It may be easier than snagging a brunch or dinner table during coveted weekend times. And most importantly, let me know what you think!

Jeffrey’s Grocery, 172 Waverly Place, NY, NY 10014. Phone: (646) 398-7630.  

When To Book: Jeffrey’s Grocery does not accept reservations for brunch or lunch. The restaurant will take reservations by phone for tables up to six people two weeks prior to the date you wish to dine there. I recommend making the reservation sooner rather than later.