Our recent dinner at Tribeca‘s North End Grill was a revelation. To this day, when faced with going to a fine restaurant, I never know what to expect. Will the server get a frozen look on his face when I mention my allergy, and all the selections I make prove to be impossible to produce dairy free? Or will he simply take it in stride, and offer me lots of awesome options, and thus validate my feeling that, in this day and age, it is possible to eat dairy free without having to lose out on any of the finest aspects of dining?
North End Grill fell decidedly into the latter category. My first choices for appetizer and entree were both safe, and it didn’t seem to me like they had to dumb them down to make them so. You’ve all had the experience, I’m sure, where you order something at a restaurant and the server says, “yeah, we can do that without dairy” and then they bring you a plain piece of meat and some french fries or the equivalent. Well, in this case, I didn’t feel like anything essential to making these dishes incredibly satisfying was left out. There was sauce and vegetables and it was all very very good indeed.
So what did I order? For appetizer, I had a squid ink pasta with calamari, while for entree, I had cannon of lamb loin with green lentils, sunchokes puree and date-mint jus, with a side order of roasted corn.
I love squid ink pasta, while my wife is not so much a fan, so whenever I find it I will tend to order it. This one had all the silkiness and toothiness that makes that pasta worthwhile.
With the entree, I will confess that I had to consult the dinner menu just now to remember its entire title. But trust me, every element made its presence felt in a significant way on the way to making this a transcendent dish. I am a big fan of lamb, but had never had cannon of lamb before – it is basically medallions of loin deboned with most or all of the fat removed. The sunchoke puree and the lentils were in effect one side dish, the creamy fruity sunchoke balancing nicely with the woodsy lentils. The date-mint jus made its presence known near the end, when I got to the third lamb cannon.
You see, while two of the pieces of lamb were simply wood grilled (quite delicious, you understand, in their own right), the third was prepared as a bit of lamb confit. I didn’t know that anything other than duck legs were done as confit, but this was wonderful – the server had warned me that it was a special surprise, and he was absolutely correct. It was crunchy, and its flavor brought out the mint in the jus. To say that it was the icing on the cake seems wrong in a culinary sense – we need to come up with a new cliche about something being the “confit on the entree” in honor of the climactic joy this brought to the dish – it was the finishing touch that left my stomach giving the chef a standing ovation.
Indeed, North End Grill’s chef was what brought me to the restaurant. I had seen Floyd Cardoz as a contestant on Season 3 of the show Top Chef Masters, and then just a week before our dinner at North End Grill, I tasted his poached egg (and saw him making them) at the Greenmarket Brunch we attended during the Wine & Food Festival. Seeing him at the brunch, tasting his lovely poached egg, and remembering what an interesting culinary mind Chef Cardoz is, inspired me to have us visit his restaurant. And how glad I am that we did. Not only was the food great, but the decor of the restaurant is carefully chosen and quite intriguing – it shares the monochromatic color palette of the food.
The only drawback about North End Grill for me is the price. Well, it is, after all, fine dining in New York City, which is always going to be a kick in the old wallet. Were it not for that, I would be going to North End Grill on a regular basis. As it is, it will sadly have to be saved for special occasions. But if there is still squid ink pasta and cannon of lamb on the menu next time we visit – or something equally splendid – there will be no sadness – only pure culinary joy.