Zoë, A Room of Her Own
Last September New York City native chef Zoë Feigenbaum opened her first solo endeavor: Zoë, on Eldridge Street just south of Houston. Known for the gutsy eclecticism of her fare at the National (as well as her time on the Bravo show Chef Academy), at her eponymous restaurant Feigenbaum’s mettle is evident once again. At Zoë, the menu ricochets between geographical references with everything from tongue tacos to grits; house made burrata to a classic Irish fry up. Thankfully, the food is so carefully prepared that the motley menu is intriguing rather than irksome, and thanks to a brand new liquor license, you can enjoy an Old Fashioned while you ponder it. Here are some hints….
Feigenbaum’s Octopus with green olives, harissa and labne is sensational. Braised, and braised (and braised some more) in red wine with garlic, thyme and a bay leaf, by the time Feigenbaum plates it, the octopus is tender enough to be sliced with a butter knife; pleasantly firm but not springy. Complemented by the kick of harissa and the yogurty tang of Labne, this dish is a stand out and one of the best octopus preparations I’ve tasted.
The beef tongue tacos, cleverly embellished with threads of pickled onion, salsa verde and cilantro, are ridiculously flavorful and tender. The whole grilled Dorade with thyme and pickled grapes was cooked just right: crisp rich skin on the outside with moist, flaky, flavorful meat within, and pleasantly punctuated by those lovely shriveled pickled grapes. I ate the Dorade one night with Feigenbaum’s deliciously anchovy-laden radicchio salad with capers and parmesan, and was reminded that this chef has chutzpa. Her flavors really pack a punch.
As a general rule, if I see something with uni on a menu, I order it. Not surprisingly, while my dinner partner savored the pan roasted Cornish game hen with tomato and shiso panzanella, I tucked into the Bucatini with cracked black pepper and uni. It was unforgettable. The uni becomes a rich creamy sauce—heavily laced with garlic and cracked pepper—that clings seductively to the hollow pasta threads. This is my crack, literally liquid gold, and delicious with a side of her fried Brussels sprouts with a cider gastrique, which bear no resemblance to the sprouts your mother used to force you to eat as a kid.
Last winter, the lamb ribs and breasts with soubise and roast pickled cherry tomatoes was another winner. Feigenbaum prepared the lamb two ways: the rib braised with onions then charred, and the lamb breast pressed, seasoned, breaded and deep-fried. She serves both garnished with the tomatoes over a thick smear of the soubise (sauce of béchamel and puréed cooked onions). Both the breast and the rib are tender and immensely flavorful, but the contrast between the crispiness of the breast and the gently charred surface of the rib is surprising and enticing.
With its smooth wood surfaces and a mid century church pew banquette covered in pea green velvet, Zoë is what Hemingway might have been referring to in his story A Clean Well Lighted Place—a sanctuary from the bodegas and bars that line the seedy street outside. (Actually, one of my only gripes with Zoë is that I think it’s a little too bright.) That the interior is separated from the street only by a wall of glass ought to give the impression of accessibility, yet it sharpens the contrast between Zoë’s muted colors, clean, organized planes and sweet smells, versus the dark chaos of Eldridge Street just beyond. Photographer Sarah Ball‘s southern gothic images punctuate the white walls, like windows into a world where nature is winning the fight over man’s ordered structure, and hint at the menu’s subtle southern references.
Feigenbaum’s describes her fare as “New American,” the only term all encompassing enough to describe cuisine so ripe with references yet thoroughly modern. What astounds is the ease with which Feigenbaum adopts a flavor and winds it into her own culinary lexicon, redefining it as her own. The menu steadfastly refuses to conform, and that rebellion tastes great.
245 Eldridge Street, New York, NY 10002
(between Houston and Stanton streets)
Phone: (646) 559-5962
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