Fired up

Just in time for the cold snap, chefs are igniting autumn's hottest kitchen accessory: wood-burning ovens and grills.

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  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Tertulia's wood-burning grill

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Grilled clams at Tertulia

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Grilled chorizo at Tertulia

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Rib eye steak at Isa

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Grilled shrimp at Isa

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Isa

  • Photograph: Lizz Kuehl

    Mac and cheese at Spritzenhaus

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Grilled whole fish at Mas la grillade

Photograph: Jolie Ruben

Tertulia's wood-burning grill

Twelve years after Waldy Malouf opened his ode to bonfire cuisine Beacon, a new wave of eateries are spotlighting wood-fired cooking. Flickering hearths are anchoring kitchens, subtly flavoring dishes with smoke and casting dining rooms in their hypnotic glow at brand-new spots like Isa in Williamsburg and Spritzenhaus in Greenpoint. "All chefs love cooking with fire. It's basic, it's primordial, it's protein on fire," says chef-owner Seamus Mullen of new Spanish spot Tertulia. "But it's so complex," he adds. "Unlike cooking on a stove, the grill is only hot as long as you stoke it, and you can create different amounts of heat in different surface areas." Although wood-burning ovens have long been in use at New York pizzerias, Mullen debuted what he says is the city's first all-wood-fired grill when he opened his restaurant in August. He favors the method for the nuanced smoke and flavors he can develop when using different timber. And the ancient cooking technique is catching on with other chefs too. Here, we take a look at some of the recently opened and soon-to-debut restaurants that embrace the log-fueled hearth.

Recently opened

Tertulia

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

The gear: Mullen's blue-teal-tiled pice de resistance—inspired by the traditional crank grills of Basque country—was crafted by Grillworks, a Michigan artisanal outfit that has built ovens for top kitchens like Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The statuesque model at Tertulia, which peaks at a scorching 750 degrees, has a crank-wheel grate that lowers and raises so that Mullen can moderate the distance between the heat source and the food. For his kindling, the toque uses a combination of oak for its acidity and orchard-tree branches for their fruitiness.
The goods: Mullen gives this grill a good workout, searing, smoking and roasting both mains and small plates. For the hearty chorizo criollo ($19), he smokes a fat link of the spiced sausage and nestles it on a bed of garbanzos, sweet roasted red pepper strands and earthy carrot chunks. Pungent melted Cabrales cheese punches up the whole dish. For the almejas a la Brasa, Mullen grills succulent clams in a perforated pan (traditionally used for roasting Christmastime chestnuts) until they open. The briny shellfish, imbued with the wood's fragrance, are tossed with tender white beans ($11) and dressed in a bright salsa verde of olive oil, lemon, garlic and parsley.

  1. 359 Sixth Ave, (between Washington Pl and W 4th St)
More info

Isa

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

The gear: Partners Taavo Somer (Freemans) and Ignacio Mattos call their brand of cooking here "modern primitive," and the orange-gold inferno radiating warmth at the edge of the kitchen is a cornerstone of that back-to-basics ethos. The pair encased the two-door oven, made by the Australian company Beech, with bricks by hand to give it an extra layer of insulation. Chef Mattos feeds the furnace—which can hit 900 degrees—a mix of mellow hickory and chicory woods, along with fruity apple-tree branches, to lightly scent his plates.
The goods: A range of dishes on Mattos's always-rotating menu are dispatched from the oven's blazing hollow. He bakes house-made sourdough bread in the wood smoke, flavoring the loaves with an extra tang. He sears juicy rib-eye steaks ($32) with their own fat in cast-iron skillets until a perfectly caramelized crust forms, and then pairs the tender cuts with onion petals blackened in the oven, palate-refreshing pickled horseradish shavings and the root vegetable's spicy leaves. The toque also flash-sears head-on shrimp ($13) and dusts the delicately crisp crustaceans with the briny Japanese seasoning tarako (salted cod roe, seaweed and sesame seeds, among other ingredients).

  1. 348 Wythe Ave, (at South 2nd St)
Book online

Spritzenhaus

  • Price band: 2/4

The gear: At this 6,000-square-foot Greenpoint gastropub, flames dance in both the open kitchen's brick oven and in the tall steel fireplace at the center of the space. (The joint's name fittingly translates to "fire-engine house" in German.) The imported Italian Mugnaini reaches 800 degrees during service and maintains a sweltering 400 degrees the morning after the last hardwood logs burn out, thanks to triple-layered insulation of heat-trapping minerals and clays.
The goods: Thin-crust pizzas mostly dominate the oven here, but the chef recently begun experimenting with its potential. One recent success: a bubbling wood-scented mac and cheese ($11). The ultrarich dish—elbow macaroni in a creamy blend of marscarpone, nutty Gruyre, salty pecorino, white cheddar and fontina—gets a double dose of smokiness from Piccinini Brothers applewood-smoked lardons and a quick ride in the smoldering furnace.

  1. 33 Nassau Ave, (between Dobbin and Guernsey Sts), 11222
More info

Coming soon

Mas (la grillade)

  • Rated as: 2/5
  • Price band: 2/4

The gear: Chef Galen Zamarra turned to the regional purveyors he built relationships with at his first restaurant—locavore temple Mas (farmhouse)—to source the fuel for his forthcoming refined grillery, launching in October. His tinder: oak barrels and grape vines from wineries, plus cherry, apple and pear branches from fruit orchards. His set-up: a serious steel-and-brick-insulated apparatus encompassing three grills (to blaze meats, fish and produce separately) and a pit for spit-roasting quails and squabs.
The goods: Simple, elegant flame-grazed dishes—like langoustines over a smoked tomato salad, or yellowfin tuna pan bagnat with olive tapenade—will make up the bill of fare.

  1. 28 Seventh Ave South, (between Bedford and Leroy Sts), 10014
More info

Royere

The gear: Greg Brier's French-inflected American bistro will feature a cutting-edge Remco rotisserie from Fort Lauderdale when it opens in November. He discovered the brand at a Seattle flea market after badgering the cook of some exceptionally moist chickens for the specs on his equipment. Faster than traditional French rotisseries, this geeked-out gadget uses a combination of wood-fired and high-powered infrared heat to, respectively, flavor and cook food on rotating spits.
The goods: Rotisserie-grilled whole chickens will be the specialty of the house, but lamb, pork loin, whole red snapper and seasonal vegetables (that revolve in mesh baskets like Ferris wheel cars) will all go for a spin over the flames. Homebodies can pick up whole birds, along with a growler of beer or tap-filled bottle of wine, from the takeout window.

  1. 481 Court St, (between Huntington and Nelson Sts)
More info

Speedy Romeo

  • Price band: 2/4

The gear: Chef Justin Bazdarich's all-wood-powered open kitchen will be the centerpiece of his seasonal steakhouse and pizzeria which debuts in November. The 60-seat Italian-influenced joint will be tricked out with a stone-and-stainless-steel Mugnaini oven (similar to the one at Spritzenhaus), and a custom-built grill with a crank-lowered grate.
The goods: Bazdarich will sear veggies and different cuts of meat—like bone-in rib eye, Kansas City strip and pork chops—on the grill, while market-driven pizzas and small plates, like aioli-drizzled mussels, will take their turn in the oven.

  1. 376 Classon Ave, (at Greene Ave)
More info

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