Bespoke is a sexy word. Don't lie, you know it is. Something about it, maybe just the word spoke, which when thinking of food and drink is often attached to speakeasies and despite the violence that surrounded the time period in which alcohol was forbidden, we've romanticized it because it was also a time of liberation for (mostly white) women and their libidos and appetite for booze. Because of this, a word like bespoke immediately conjures up images of golden hues, jazz music and cocktails in glasses modeled after the breasts of old queens. The word itself has a very different, but still sexy, definition.
Bespoke: adj, made to fit a particular person.
This is the concept of this new restaurant on Hudson St, still in soft-opening as of this write-up, and should be open officially in the coming weeks. If you were to walk into Bespoke Kitchen for a meal this evening, you would be presented with a lovely menu that's both straightforward and innovative. You can simply select from the laid out options that highlight local ingredients and a global sensibility. Or you can go the more customary or bespoke route, answering the following questions for your chefs to create the ideal dish for you: 1. Which Protein? 2. Would you prefer light or rich? 3. Have you any dietary restrictions? Lastly, you could just opt for the chef to create whatever they'd like, which is likely what I would do, since that was pretty much what I was able to experience at the tasting I enjoyed just last week.
With a dress long enough to cover the stitches that were still scaling the left side of my left leg, I dragged my old cane out with me for a fine dining experience in this beautiful little space just a block from Abingdon Square Park, which I frequently begin my West Side Wanderer tour from. In fact, I'd noticed the new sign in the window on my last visit and was excited to see the transformation of the space, and even more so to try the food and drink that was to come. I was the first to arrive, which is pretty typical for me and was greeted very warmly by all of our hosts, including the the teams from Boucher + Co & JMPR and Marketing. And being the first one there I had the pleasure of chatting with the attractive GM, Michael Rabasco, who set the stage for a dinner with creativity, polish and not a hint of pretension.
As more of the guests arrived we were finally treated to our first tastes, which came in cocktail form. Staying true to the theme, our first beverage was the Bespoke Cocktail, made by combining ingredients provided by Chef Franco Barrio with Michael's understanding of what makes a well-balanced libation. This evening in particular featured a locally distilled Bootlegger Vodka, fresh cantaloupe & lime juice, ginger syrup and muddled mint. The temps were quite hot still, so this drink was the perfect refreshment, waking up the palate and cooling you down, but certainly not overwhelming you with sweetness. Once the whole group was there our first course came out, which was a beautiful Scallop & Fluke Ceviche with Leche de Tigre & Heirloom Tomatoes. If you're unfamiliar, Leche de Tigre is the term for the Peruvian marinade often used to 'cook' the fresh fish with citrus, onions, chiles, salt, pepper & fish juice. Here, our Lima-born chef was clearly showing off his roots while highlighting local ingredients, with not only the protein, but by incorporating the lovely fresh tomatoes that added an element of savoriness, which is often over-powered in a ceviche. Again, the word balance is top of my mind to describe this dish as it really had just the right amount of acid, salt, sweet, and spicy to start our end-of-summer meal.
I can't remember when exactly we transitioned our cocktails, but I assume it was blurry, not just because of the alcohol, but because the next dish was a first for me: House Cured Bacon Dumplings, served in a crispy wonton-like wrapper & filled with house-cured bacon and gala apples over a sake aioli. As a former cater-waiter I immediately pictured serving these as a perfect bite to guests as an hors d'ouevres at some fancy event to raise money for starving children or something equally ironic. They were picture-perfect little purses of savory goodness with just enough of a bite and sweetness from the apple that I easily could have had 5-10 of them, you know, if no one else were looking. So keep that in mind kiddies, if I should ever find myself getting married or having any sort of similar event, please find Chef Barrio and make him prepare these little dim sum of joy for me and see if he can do some non-pork options for my kosher sister. Thanks in advance.
By this point, I know for sure that we had our bourbon. And if you know me at all, you know that I'm a fan. As soon as Michael told us we'd be treated to a cocktail featuring Hudson Baby Bourbon, I was sold. When he said that it was their spin on a Manhattan, I was thrilled, and when he said the name of the drink was Tender is the Night, I was over the moon. This drink included the aforementioned bourbon, Carpano Antica, and Fernet Branca. Again, they've achieved such a successful cocktail by mastering the balance of flavors that the usually off-putting (for me) Fernet Branca was not too much for me that I was actually very much enjoying the drink, that was garnished with an orange peel and cut through the dumplings while still proving to be a good match for our final savory dish.
If I thought the dumplings were the star of the show, it was only because I had yet to experience the next dish. Rounding our our meal was the Grilled Octopus over Purple & Gold Potatoes, with a Squid Ink Vinaigrette. The glistening purple tentacle was not only beautiful to look at, but absolutely delicious to eat. The cook on this very difficult protein was rather perfect with a bite on the outside, but a soft center, and that bite was made even better with the creamy squid ink vinaigrette and unctuous potatoes. Just looking at this photo again is making me hungry for this dish and I've just eaten! I will say, that while they do add an element of beauty to the dish and they certainly don't contrast the flavors presented, the Cape Goosberries did seem a little out of place. I was happy to pop them in my mouth on their own, but they didn't really work on the plate, in my opinion. However, as they didn't take away from anything else I wouldn't care if there were several more on the plate--just bring me that octopus with it and I'm happy to get my vitamin c in!
What we didn't know until we were all seated there was that we would be the first to received a dessert at Bespoke Kitchen. Chef Barrio's brother put together a special creation of a Panna Cotta topped with candied lime peel, meringue, and a sort of brownie bottom, topped with a chocolate sauce. Clearly the dish didn't come out quite as visually perfect as one might hope for in such an iconic item, but I'm more interested in the flavor of the dish anyway. While I'm not much of a panna cotta person, the flavors were all delicious and I could certainly appreciate the added elements of texture from top to bottom, and some of the forthcoming desserts look very appealing, like something called "Not You're Typical" S'Mores!
Overall, it was a really lovely evening with great company and a really wonderful menu. I loved the ambiance of the restaurant with its unique light fixtures, decor, and artwork it really does achieve its goal of Modern Chic NY Style. I think it's in the perfect location too--just on the edge of the village, that meets the perennially cool (or perhaps it's just revived) meatpacking. You feel like you're in a modern setting, but not out of place. The staff was all very hospitable, and the Chef's dishes certainly deliver on the promise of his outstanding resume. For a local & seasonal-obsessed such as myself, I will definitely be headed back here to let Chef Barrio & his team deliver another bespoke creation, time and again!