Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Everything Old Is New Again: Savoy
It isn’t easy being a New York City restaurant. As soon as you’ve been opened for a year, you are instantly “so last year.” But a lucky few are able to make it past passé to permanent. In another lesson in my gayducation of local and sustainable foods, my papa bears took me to Savoy, and I don’t know why they held out on me for so long. Opened in 1990, Savoy is where it all started. Owner and executive chef, Peter Hoffman, was at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, when the Union Square Farmer’s Market wasn’t cool. Making every attempt to keep as many ingredients as local as possible, the menu is in a constant state of flux, with a laundry list of changes because this ingredient didn’t look right today or that ingredient isn’t ripe yet. This is how all restaurants should work, and luckily for Savoy (and all of us New Yorkers), it’s once again the hot trend in dining. The sexy allure of California cuisine and sushi in the 90’s threatened to snuff out local eating, but luckily it seems that we’ve all come to our senses.
The menu is small, but focused. I had a much harder time deciding here than at a restaurant with Pad Thai, Veal Milanese, and Chicken Pot Pie all on the menu. I was disappointed when I heard that they were out of the duck gizzard I was going to order, but in order to keep things so fresh, Savoy doesn’t keep a backlog of ingredients to use for the next day. Instead I went with a wild dandelion salad that had a black olive bagna cauda (a Piedmontese sauce made of garlic, anchovies, olive oil, and butter), heirloom tomatoes and basil. The salad looked simple, as if the greens were picked, brushed off, tossed in some dressing and brought in directly from a garden. However, the flavors were surprisingly sophisticated and complex. The sweet tomatoes and basil tempered the bitter greens, while the tangy bagna cauda gave the dish enough kick to make it exciting. Don’t let the anchovies scare you, they worked into the dish seamlessly and there was nothing fishy about it.
Word on the street is that Savoy is a master of pork, much like many of my friends, so when I saw pork on the menu, my pious Jewish eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. I had a confit of pork shoulder with braised collard greens roasted apricots and brandy. This pork was unlike anything I have ever had. The meat was succulent and falling apart with a skin so crisp that it snapped when you took a bite. The layer of fat behind the skin had transformed into a velvety layer of flavor. The collard greens and apricots were another play on bitter and sweet that worked just as well as the salad. The pork was one small cube about two to three inches around, but it was so rich, the last bite was a struggle.
As a side, we ordered potatoes roasted in beef fat for the table. It makes me cringe to type things like “beef fat,” but I don’t know if I’ll ever cook potatoes another way. They were salty, crisp, and flavorful without being greasy. If beef fat is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
For dessert I was a bit stumped because nothing really made my mouth water. I ordered a plum upside down cake for lack of a better choice. The cake came with plum kernel ice cream and plum syrup. Plum kernels live inside a plum’s pit and are related to the almond (as I learned that night). I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. The cake was a sweet cornbread with a warm layer of tart plum slices across the top. The cake wasn’t too sweet and seemed to get more enjoyable as I ate. The ice cream was nutty and cleansing alongside the dense cake. Unlike most rich desserts, I was able to (and did) clean my plate – I’m still not sure this is a good quality in a dessert, but for now I’ll consider this a positive.
The staff is knowledgeable and friendly and the décor is simple and homey. Both the upstairs and downstairs have working fireplaces that I would imagine make Savoy that much more cozy on a cold winter’s night. It seems that Savoy was a restaurant before it’s time and is now finally at the forefront of a trend it started almost 20 years ago.
Savoy – 4 Sparkles ****
70 Prince Street
New York, NY 10012