Thursday, October 14, 2010

Riverpark: If you can make it there, you'll be rewarded

Last week, I received a kind invitation to the friends and family period at Tom Coliccio's newest masterpiece, Riverpark. I'd read a number of early reviews that commented on the middle-of-nowhere location, and boy are they correct-- it's all the way at the river (um, obviously) in Murray Hill, accessible by some sort of pseudo-pedestrian-promenade, and located deep in an office building. To get to the restaurant you walk through a deserted highrise lobby, growing ever more certain that you're in the wrong place until finally you spot Riverpark's entrance.

Inside, the space is clean, sleek, and modern, with a few funky touches (check the pattern of the glass on the wall, for instance). But the main dining area doesn't make use of the river view, which is a bit too bad. Regardless, once you get rolling with the food, you'll forget about any view (or lack thereof).

That's because the food is pretty darn good. Start off with some wine-- in this case, we went for a bottle of Aglianico del Taburno. It was spicy and complex and very red. Wine Century Club? Check.

And then dig into the bread. Small, warm ovular baguettes with a thin crust, brought to a new level by a sprinkling of pretzel-style coarse salt. Rip off a piece. Slather in butter. Chew. Repeat. And then just try to stop. (Hint: You can't.)

Gone in 60 seconds

AS chose the braised octopus to start. He raved both about the flavor and the texture, which avoided the usual octopus chewiness. There was broth; there were cockles; there was baby bok choy. All the food groups were represented.


And then came the entrees. AS chose the duck breast, which came with celery, pomegranate, and black trumpet mushrooms. The plate, shown below, looked remarkably like a certain forest floor tableau that graced our table at Del Posto many moons ago. Unlike the miscellaneous vegetable shavings of Del Posto, however, this dish was delicious, beautiful, creative, and tasty. The small cubes of celeriac were an especially nice touch.

There's duck in there somewhere

My choice was the baby lettuces, with marinated vegetables, herbs, and champagne vinaigrette. It was also quite good; there was a solid mix of small lettuces, clearly very fresh, that were enlivened by tiny bite-sized vegetables (many of which seemed to be baby multi-colored beets). It was a decent-sized portion and a bit more creative take on the usual mesclun salad.


That did it for the savory courses; of course, we moved on to dessert. But first, an interlude with a tiny, tiny little cup of espresso.

That spoon is about two inches long

And now the sweets. AS ordered the chocolate tart with salted caramel and chocolate sorbet. Overall, I'd say that it was okay; the tart's cookie crust was a bit too thick in proportion to the chocolate filling, which made the dessert slightly clumsy. The chocolate sorbet, however, was tasty and smooth.

All forms of chocolate

My choice was the molasses pound cake with maple-roasted pears, creme fraiche, and pear sorbet. This dessert was also, on balance, middling; the cake was sweet and bouncy-textured but rather average; the pears needed to be roasted a minute or two longer to achieve that meltingly tender texture that pears can achieve with time. I really liked the creme fraiche, but there wasn't all that much of it. And I really didn't care for the sorbet, which tasted strongly of cinnamon or star anise in a way that I don't particularly enjoy. It definitely quelled my craving for a dessert, but I wouldn't go out of my way to order it again.

Lots going on here

So on balance, the savory food at Riverpark was unquestionably top-notch; the wine, service, and dining room were all lovely; but the desserts could use a bit more refining. No matter; if you can make it out to the far reaches of Manhattan, Riverpark will certainly provide you with a four-Offset Spatula meal. Just don't get lost on the way back.

450 E. 29th Street

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