Sunday, August 9, 2009
No. 7 is one of those places that seems to keep getting recommended over and over. Not just by blog readers, either. At Brooklyn Blogfest, for instance, a number of different people asked if I'd ever been to No. 7, and when told I hadn't, it was eagerly suggested. Now, it's not that I haven't tried to go before, either. A few months back I finally succumbed to pressure and wanted to give it a shot, but was stymied when I discovered they were closed on Mondays. We hit up Pequena instead, if you remember.
On Friday I finally put my foot down and tried No. 7 with my father in tow. We got there just as they were about to open for dinner, so we waited at the bar for a few minutes before our table was ready. The front area of the restaurant is open and inviting, and we had no qualms with having a quick pint of Six Points Bengali Tiger before sitting down to eat. Before I really get started I should apologize for the poor quality of the pictures. I stupidly forgot my real camera at home and was forced to use the iPhone to produce documentary evidence of the meal.
The first thing that strikes you about No. 7 when you sit down to eat isn't the airy open space of the dining area or the many racks of wines around the room. Rather, it's the sparseness of the menu. This isn't a restaurant which gives you a small novel of a menu to peruse. On the contrary, you have a choice of five appetizers and fiver entrees, and a healthy but not expansive list of wines and beers. Now, this isn't a bad thing by any means, and I'm told they change up the menu on a regular basis in addition to having daily specials. Still, the menu we got on Friday consisted of two fish dishes, one tofu, one beef, and one chicken. There's not a lot of variety there, which only becomes an issue if any of the dishes really aren't that good.
To start, we decided to share an appetizer, the Pimenton Smoked Mozzarella, which is served with fried artichokes, lemon and parsley. What we expected what a decent piece of cheese to nosh on before our entrees. What we received was so surprisingly good that it blew us both away. I'm going to bet they're making this mozzarella themselves, because if not, I'd like to know where I can buy this stuff. The smoked flavor wasn't overpowering at all like it can be with store-bought smoked mozzarella, and the cheese was creamier than I expected. The real star of the dish, however, were the fried artichokes which were almost bursting with flavor. I'm not a huge fan of artichokes in general, but these were so good that I think my mind was changed in one moment. This wasn't some quickly deep-fried plate of veggies - the flavors were both subtle and intense, and meshes perfectly with the lemon and cheese. For something this simple, it was impressive how all of the flavors came together in such an interesting and delicious way. This would become a theme of our dinner, as we found out when our entrees arrived.
Neither of us were really ever in danger of ordering the tofu, so it came down to fish, fish, chicken, or beef. The Roast Chicken sounded good, if unadventurous, so we weren't really tempted. The Grilled Waygu Bavette Steak temped us both, but in the end we each decided on a different fish. My father ordered the Grilled Arctic Char, and I went with the Wild Striped Bass.
First up, the Grilled Arctic Char. We immediately noticed that this must have been prepared on an exceptionally hot grill, as the outside of the fish was almost blackened, while the inside was basically raw. If you've never had it, arctic char is closely related to salmon, so it takes well to both being grilled and being eaten very rare. No. 7 served the fish hot atop cold summer squash and topped with an orange-habanero gastrique. There are a number of interesting things about the dish. First, the fish itself is incredibly good, with a subtle contrast between the seasoned, grilled crust and the very fresh and delicious rare center. The orange-habanero gastrique adds a nice citrus-and-spice texture so you're not left with only a piece of fish, and while the squash may have been the most unremarkable part of anything we ordered, it was still very good. Let's call the arctic char highly recommended.
If the artic char was great, the Wild Striped Bass was greater. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when I ordered it, but what I got was almost a striped-down fish stew. According to the menu, the dish comes with fumet, cockles, hearts of palm, and pea shoots. What you get is a healthy steaming pot of fish and cockles soaking in fumet, with a side of white rice and two lime wedges. After spritzing a bit of lime juice into the pot and loading up a spoon with a little rice, I dipped in and tried the bass with some of the fumet. I was immediately struck by a variety of different flavors complementing each other to create something almost breathtaking. I was expecting well-prepared food, but this was almost transcendent. The fumet is the real star here, bursting with flavor and pulling everything together. The pieces of bass are huge as well - they're not tiny bits of fish hiding in a pot. You really get your money's-worth here. The rice is critical, too, since it acts to hold the fumet in place on your spoon. There are subtle flavors all over the place in this dish, and I really couldn't stop raving about it after that first bite. Since No. 7 changes up their menu pretty often, I don't know how long this will remain, so get in there and try this if nothing else.
Normally we probably souldn't have stayed for dessert, instead going over to Cake Man Rave. Everything had been so great, however, that we felt it was probably a good idea to stay and see what No. 7 could dream up in the dessert department. The dessert menu, like everything else, isn't particularly expansive by any means. In fact, with only three items to choose from, I think they have more varieties of grappa than they have dessert choices. Our waitress recommended the Cherry Shortcake with cocoa biscuits and cannoli cream, but we ended up with the Peach Crumble and Buttermilk pudding.
The peach crumble was decent, if unspectacular. Served with a moscato sabayon, raspberries, and a peach-hibiscus gelŽe, it's a tasty and not-too-sweet way to end a meal. While I liked it, I think next time I'll try one of the other desserts.
We also ordered the Buttermilk Pudding, which is made with strawberries, mint, pie crust, and cumin of all things. Here again, No. 7 surprises and delights with unexpected flavors. The cumin is immediately apparent but not overpowering, and gives the pudding an exotic and unexpected flavor that almost shocks your palate into paying attention to what you're tasting.
By the end of the meal, I had already decided that No. 7 was my new favorite neighborhood restaurant, and I'm already thinking about when I'll be back. I've been talking non-stop about it since we left, and I imagine I'll be raving about it for months to come. If you haven't gone yet, make sure No. 7 is right at the top of your list of restaurants to try. You won't be disappointed.
7 Greene Avenue