Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Dinner at Back 40
This Friday night I went to the recently opened restaurant Back 40 for a group dinner with friends. The alphabet city newcomer is brought to us by Peter Hoffman of Savoy, a man who has had a long standing love affair with the (now trendy) 'seasonal menu' and slow food movement. From the wine list to the menu, Back 40 is like a love letter to local produce and products. The menu screams autumn, and the flavors in most dishes echo much of the same. A few people ordered main courses like the whole trout (very good, super moist) and homemade sausage (full of autumnal herbs and spices), and a few of us ordered a variety of small dishes to share.
From the second I read of the restaurant's opening I began to look forward to the shrimp and bacon beignets. They were actually the most disappointing thing on the menu, not quite achieving the right texture for a beignet, tasting a bit bland, and topped with an odd sweet chili sauce. Fortunately, everything else was absolutely delicious. A side of oyster mushrooms with shallots (not pictured) was good, and probably the only thing that really deserves to be just a side dish. The other dishes we ordered were more whimsical, including the squash rings, which looked a lot like a tempura, and came with a tiny squeeze bottle of a wonderful paprika mayonnaise. They were so good, in fact, that we immediately asked for two more orders before even finishing the first few. The baked cauliflower with Parmesan and brown butter breadcrumbs came in an adorable and devilishly hot baking dish, and really lived up to the part of the menu it came from ("From the Garden").
Another dish I was looking forward to was the fork smashed potatoes with lardo. It was good, but let's face it, if you order a dish with lardo, you probably really like bacon, and lots of it. So a tiny note to the chef: it needs more lardo! The lardo was obviously expected to provide a great deal of the flavor and seasoning to the dish, but once all the lardo disappears with the first bite, all you're left with is bland fork smashed potatoes. This could have been an outstanding treat of a dish (especially for pork lovers like myself), but instead fell a bit flat. It's nothing that can't be corrected with a little more bacon fat though. We wrapped up the night with three orders of cider doughnuts. They're not on the menu, but if you ask for them, you'll get a piping hot trio, covered in a slightly tart, not too sweet glaze. We got three orders just so we could each get one to ourselves.
Overall it was a good meal, and the atmosphere and menu really encourage you to eat with friends and share your food (the prices are encouraging too, hopefully that won't change with time and popularity). The decor is quaint, just plain white walls adorned with antique gardening tools and candlelit recycled wood tables, including one large communal one that seems to be up for grabs (great for a date or a pair of friends). The local beers and wines were good, the latter of which is served in small carafes and short glasses. Surely the restaurant will work out some of the kinks in the menu with practice, and I hope so, because the foundation for a good restaurant is there. After all, aren't we always looking for an affordable place that will seat a large party but has better food than a diner without a 2 hour wait? Hopefully they can be that place.
Here's what's in the photo:
1. Homemade Cotechino sausage with cabbage slaw
2. Squash rings
3. Cider doughnuts
4. Cauliflower with Parmesan and brown butter breadcrumbs
5.Whole grilled Catskill trout with cilantro salsa verde
6. Shrimp and bacon beignets