Farm-fresh food in good fashion

Photographs by Danielle Brody

 

ABC Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant in Manhattan, has good taste — in every sense of that expression.

The ABC brand makes its socially and environmentally conscious mission beautiful, experiential and diverse with a carpet store and six-story home goods warehouse on Broadway and two restaurants, ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina, on 18th and 19th streets, respectively.
Once you step though ABC Carpet & Home’s large, recessed doors, you’re transported from the bustling urban neighborhood into a bright, ethereal space as expansive as it is detail-oriented. While the store is known for its furniture, the first floor, named “inspiration,” has artful displays ranging from modern tableware to eco-friendly yoga apparel to Tibetan crafts.

In the back, a wide wooden staircase leads up to a showroom with a selection of high-end clothing and a view of ABC Kitchen patrons below.

The eatery, located on the ground floor of ABC Carpet & Home, is the epitome of a retail store’s model kitchen, decorated with an elegant touch and stocked with Michelin-awarded chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s recipes. With a mix of vintage, contemporary and rustic elements, it’s a like a cross between a Lower East Side loft and a barn straight out of a Pinterest wedding board.

Under the soft lighting is a mix of high-top, round and communal tables — some modern and white, others wooden with stainless steel chairs. Tables are topped with delicate mismatched ceramic plates and a mini-carafe filled with fresh flowers.

A bright bounty of vegetables in the corner of the restaurant below the window to the kitchen looks somewhat out of place in the soft color scheme, but it does its job of ensuring us that ABC is farm-to-table and locally focused.

Although ABC Kitchen’s menu doesn’t offer farm prices, it provides an experience that is refreshingly down-to-earth.

After hearing and reading that ABC Kitchen is a popular spot, I admit I was hesitant to be so bold as to ask for a table for two on a Saturday night without a reservation. To my relief, the staff was accommodating, guiding us to the bar for our 20- to 30-minute wait, only to send someone five minutes later to seat us.

Our server was equally helpful, giving swift, definitive recommendations that didn’t disappoint. I took him up on his suggestion of the seasonal special, a cocktail made with cherries from the nearby Union Square market, Earl Grey tea, honeycomb and vodka. Shaken and poured at the table, it was sweet, sour and refreshing. A testament to our waiter’s attentiveness and to the drink, I had to stop him (politely) from taking it away until I had the last drop and ate the small cherry at the bottom.

We ordered grilled bread with a house-made ricotta, strawberry compote from the “market table”  selection of seasonal appetizers. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine eating the warm, creamy, salty and sweet delight on a porch in the country after a morning trip to the farmers market.

The roast carrot and avocado salad, which was conveniently divided onto two plates before reaching our table, was one of the best showcases of farm to table. The arrangement of simple ingredients, topped with seeds, sour cream and citrus, was both “farm food” and comfort food. Somehow the chefs turned a sweet roasted carrot savory, and I loved it.

While we waited for entrées at our high-top table near the bar in front of the restaurant, we had close-up seats to a quasi-fashion show. Trendy diners mingling and waiting to be seated walked by, giving us food for thought about the merits of a boxy plastic shirt, red pants and a checked jumpsuit.

I turned my attention back to food with the delivery of my main course — a surprisingly generous serving of chicken fried in a tempura-like batter on a bed of sautéed spinach, with basil and a hot butter sauce. In some bites, the heat of the sauce overwhelmed the purity of the organic meat, in others I salivated for another taste of that buttery heat on soft, crispy chicken. I have to say the dish wasn’t particularly pretty (note the lack of photos), but taste always trumps a photo op.

The house-made ricotta ravioli in a tangy tomato sauce met the claims, indeed tasting like it was made that day. It went well with the side of Swiss chard in a balsamic glaze.

For dessert, we enjoyed a sundae with three scoops of caramel ice cream sprinkled with candied popcorn. The pool of chocolate sauce on the bottom hid a few tasty smothered peanuts.

Next time I’d like to try the Latin fare at ABC Cocina or see what ABC Kitchen will do with fall’s harvest.

For more, visit abchome.com.

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