“What the fuck?” It’s not the sort of language you’d think you’d hear over an exceptionally beautiful carrot crepe, but the expletive is not one of anger or aggression; it’s of sheer exasperation. How does Greg Baxtrom, coiled over the kitchen pass like a fiddlehead fern, possibly render a root crepe as soft and supple as fresh ravioli? Hidden beneath that tender pancake ($15) lie littleneck clams, plump with brine and butter, their own pliability offset with the earthy crunch of scattered sunflower seeds. Sure, with its ribboned carrot and sunflower petals, it initially smacks of veg-forward fussiness, but plumb its expertly balanced depths and—surprise! You’ll find one of the best dishes of 2016.
That’s the case with much of Olmsted, the Prospect Heights blow-in from Baxtrom (Per Se, Blue Hill at Stone Barns) and farmer Ian Rothman, who met while working together at haute-forage dining room, Atera. (Baxtrom was a chef; Rothman was the restaurant’s horticulturist.) On paper, Olmsted’s partiality for hyperfresh produce isn’t exactly a distinctive quality, but its sheer dedication to freshness sets it apart. Rothman oversees an urban minifarm behind the modestly dressed restaurant: garden beds provide Baxtrom’s kitchen with radishes and lovage; a bird coop coos with quails laying eggs; and a repurposed claw-foot bathtub sloshes with crayfish. Servers ask if you want to wait for a table on a cushioned bench in the backyard, with a cocktail and crayfish crackers, say, beneath strung lights—answer yes when they do.
Only snacks are available outside; the real good stuff is within, like a gorgeous bowl of charred-fennel chawanmushi ($16). Baxtrom levels the dreamy, delicate egg custard with a crush of crispy artichokes and the umami punch of Burgundy truffle. Torn scallops ($22)—often discounted, usually discarded—are dry-rubbed, skewered and grilled until tender, the charcoal singe and pop of pasilla chile in the rub acting as a smoky foil to the summery pool of creamed corn and stewed blueberry that accompanies the mollusks, the pool itself a balancing act between savory and sweet. Sometimes that balance can register as uniformity—rounds of English-pea falafel are a touch one-note, served with minted peas and pea-flour pitas ($20)—but elsewhere, it yields a duo of duck ($24), the breast juicy and crispy-skinned over a husky medley of Fairy Tale eggplant, olive and apricot, and the leg serving as a thin-sliced ballotine with a light, refreshing frisée salad.
These are fine-dining ambitions wrapped in neighborhood-spot environs, where the most expensive entrée doesn’t exceed $25, impromptu happy birthday sing-alongs occur between strangers, and you can openly curse over just how fucking good a dish is. And it is.
659 Vanderbilt Ave
|Cross street:||at Park Pl|
|Opening hours:||Tue–Thu 5:30–11pm; Fri, Sat 5:30pm–midnight; Sun 5:30–10pm|
|Price:||Average main course: $22|
|Do you own this business?|