Hidden behind the NYU Hospital in nameless Manhattan is a culinary gem and dining experience that should be discovered by all. Riverpark by Tom Colicchio (owner of Craft and Colicchio & Sons Restaurants and more importantly, head judge of Top Chef) combines the farm to table experience in a way that makes all others fall short. The reason, I assume, for the off the beaten path location is the vast amount of land available. Riverpark grows its produce in an adjacent farm, allowing for fresh seasonal ingredients, picked daily, to shine throughout all of their dishes.
After looking a bit confused, a security guard directed me into a lovely all glass looking office building, located across from the farm. I followed the signs and finally arrived at the restaurant. Elegant lights hung from the ceiling making the room sparkle. The light wooden tables and blue accents created an almost magical dining room.
I was the first to arrive and the hostess asked if we would like a table inside or out. The beautiful night seemed to scream outdoor dining, so she escorted me to the back patio. However, the loud noise of the FDR Parkway and view of cars whizzing by caused me to immediately change my mind. I was seated against the window, looking out at the water, with the noise from the bustling highway below muted by the glass.
Finally, my friend arrived and we were handed our menus. The wonderful, knowledgeable waiter Nathaniel, explained that for Restaurant Week they used their same menu with certain items having a supplemental cost. We “oohed” and “ahhed” over the complex and fresh ingredients, which he said were the determining factor in constructing the menu. If it was in the garden, it would be on our plates.
We knew we were going to share everything, so we started the meal with two of the pasta dishes, rather then a simple salad. I ordered the Cavatelli and Amber selected the Cappelletti.
Freshly made cavatelli and ingredients from the garden created the ultimate dish. The flavors of the bright, just picked basil and creamy ricotta added to the al dente pasta. The basil especially, added that perfect layer of spice without adding any heat to the dish. The subtly of the squash and the squash blossoms were my favorite elements of the dish. It took all my will power to save half of the dish for Amber, since I couldn’t stop devouring its fresh flavors. It lacked the heavy elements you would normally expect from a pasta dish. This was special. I loved the dish, especially the squash so much that I ended up leaning across the table to pick the bowl clean from my friends leftovers once it was her turn to dive in.
We switched, and I dug into the cappelletti. This dish was just okay. The pasta was clearly freshly made, acting as the star of the dish. The ox tail, while delicious on its own, when combined with the spicy tomato sauce gave off this almost canned flavor. I don’t know what it was about it, but it almost reminded me of a fancy Chef Boyardee, which I would only have on play dates (growing up my house was free of soda and canned foods).
I ended up being grateful for not finishing the entire bowl of pasta, because the entrees were about to blow my mind. I ordered the Duck, medium, and Amber selected the Blackened Sea Bass.
I picked up my knife and cut into the duck. I could hear the crackle of the crispy skin as I created a bite size piece. The duck was moist and bursting with flavor. The fat reduced down, creating the crust while retaining all of the flavor in the bird without that gummy, overly rich taste. The other components, mainly the Rhubarb relish and Spaetzle, acted as the essential additions, giving a fresh flavor and rich carb aspect. The sweet mushroom soaked up all of the juices from the duck and other ingredients. It all came together to create a gorgeous, fresh dish.
The presentation of the blackened sea bass was elegant, with the bus boy pouring the warm broth around the fish and onto the barley, giving it the essential extra element of umami. The fish’s crispy skin gave the necessary crunch. Since the broth was poured on afterwards, the elements did not become soggy as a result of sitting in liquid for too long. The barley was one of my favorite elements of the dish. So simple, but full of flavor, adding to the tomatoes and sea bass. It was divine.
The decadent, rich, enormous portion of duck was too much for my little stomach to handle. The waiter wrapped up my dish to go and gave a coat check ticket to pick up my delicious dish for a next day feast. (I throughly enjoyed this in PJs before work this morning while watching The Daily Show from last night, added bonus!)
Then it was time for dessert. We both immediately knew what we would have to order, the Chocolate Tart. We decided to also get the Beignets, as well. We both giggled and asked Nathaniel (our waiter) to just place the dishes in the middle of the table when they were ready. Classy eating was immediately off the table.
All of your favorite childhood treats made for grown ups. That epitomized the dessert of chocolate tart sprinkled with sea salt, creating the ultimate favorite combination of sweet and salty. Cracker Jacks found their elegant place with the carmel corn, salted caramel ice cream and peanuts. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go to a ball game the same way again. I could not stop digging in to this dessert. It will be the sole reason I will drag my sister, Amanda here as soon as she gets back from camp. It was that delicious and decadent. The ultimate dessert.
The beignets were delicious and light as well. The berry sauce stole the show when it came to this dessert, clearly having been freshly made with all of the seeds. But we did wish we had just ordered two of the chocolate tarts, it was that good.
One of the best meals I have had in a long time. The atmosphere, the service, the food, everything screamed high end, elegant and unique. The best part of all of it was that Restaurant Week prices made it affordable for even young 23-year-olds on limited budgets.
On our way out, the host offered to call cabs for us, since the location was definitely off the beaten path and not necessarily safe around 11:30pm. In addition, they handed us little Rosemary seeds to plant in our own garden and continue the tradition of home cooking, even in the city.
Riverpark – 450 East 29th Street – New York, NY
Location: Gramercy/Kips Bay, NY
Type: New American
Perfect For: Special Occasions, Date Night, Farm to Table
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Cavatelli with Basil, Duck Breast, Chocolate Tart with Sea Salt