WINE DINE & FOOTLIGHTS
|Market-driven General Assembly opened its doors in early March.|
A relatively new find on the culinary map in the Flatiron District, General Assembly’s somewhat unassuming exterior didn’t prepare us for the restaurant’s majestic Art Nouveau-influenced interior space.
Large by New York City standards, the market-driven bistro was designed by award-winning architects AvroKO and occupies the home of the former Hurricane Club. Aside from attracting the downtown dinner crowd, the 170-seat eatery easily accommodates raucous cocktail drinkers in the generous bar room, as well as large groups for private, more intimate events.
I jumped at my chance to dine here, the hot new venture from the Fourth Wall Restaurant Group, a leader on the New York dining scene. Father-son restaurateurs Alan and Michael Stillman are behind other upscale spots like the flagship Smith & Wollensky, Quality Meats, Quality Italian, Maloney & Porcelli, and the former uptown Park Avenue restaurant.
Arriving early for a Saturday, the host seated us in a spacious booth with plenty of table space to sprawl. We started our feast with warm, fluffy rolls and the Crudite Sampler with seasonal vegetables and grilled flatbread. This starter could’ve easily been a meal: smoked tomato-white bean, red quinoa, fava and avocado, and finally the house-made ricotta with local honey chili oil. The flatbread had a nice char, vegetables, a good crunch, and each dip was tasty on its own, but the flavor combination of all four was a treat. Of the four dips, my favorite by far was the ricotta. I imagine eating this sweet creamy cheese on thick, crunchy Tuscan bread every morning for breakfast. I can dream…
Wine Director Justin Randolph paired the first course with the lovely, crisp Feudi di San Gregoria, ‘DUBL GRECO’, Campania, Italy, 2006, which was a terrific way to start things off and prepare us for the variety of food offerings to follow.
General Assembly offers an array of appetizers, but most are seafood, with a few vegetarian options mixed in. So carnivores may feel slighted, but not to worry, the chef more than makes up for this in the “Mains” section of the menu. (More on this in a bit.)
We dove into the Soft Shell Crab Louie, Green Goddess and Spring Asparagus. The crab had the perfect crispy outside with the melt-in-your-mouth center, and the Green Goddess added even more creaminess to the plate.
Next up was the Gnocchi & Viking Village Scallops, with Bacon Beurre Blanc. That was the only appetizer with a meat component, and it was decadent. We had a tough time tasting the difference between the gnocchi and the scallops, but no matter, we loved this dish.
And now, my favorite appetizer –– which was a last-minute recommendation from our server, Xanthus, who was spectacular on every level, by the way –– was the Point Judith Grilled Squid, Cured Citrons & Herb Aioli. I’ve eaten squid prepared many different ways, and this delicate fish tends to get overcooked and rubbery in minutes, but this wasn’t even the slightest bit chewy. I barely needed to chew it at all, and the bold citrus brought out the flavor, while the aioli added a satisfying velvety aspect to the recipe.
Justin chose the Tatomer Meeresboden Grüner Veltliner, Santa Barbara, 2012, which was an agreeable choice considering the variety of dishes we sampled for appetizers, and this wine worked well with each.
Now, let’s get to the main courses.
Mike ordered the Hudson Valley Duck Confit, Gingered Kumquats & Apricots. This dish was a winner. The fruit was a lovely accompaniment to a flawlessly cooked duck leg (as I am pretty picky when it comes to duck, I loved this dish and could’ve easily cleaned the plate at another sitting), and like all of the food, the duck was beautifully plated and styled.
Xanthus suggested my entrée, and I was thrilled with the choice: Black Sea Bass, Avocado, Snow Peas, Shitake. The kitchen brought life to the steamed seafood dish. (I will never consider steamed seafood to be bland or boring after this!) The flavor profiles in this dish were complex with a touch of heat, and the textures worked well with each other.
Carnivorous diners will appreciate other options like the Steak Frites, Rabbit Wellington, and the Spiced Lamb Ribs.
The chef also sent the Baked Potato Gratin and the Corn Crème Brulee, (not for the low-fat eater), and both were scrumptious.
|Baked Potato Gratin|
|Corn Crème Brulee|
Justin arrived momentarily with a fantastic bottle of Cybele, Rhone Blend from Pasa Robles, 2010, which complemented both the duck and the fish. I’ll remember this wine as not only splendid to drink, but one with a provocative label.
Dessert? Yes. Somewhere in our packed stomachs, we needed to make space for something sweet. And albeit torturous, somehow, we managed.
We selected the Fresh Berries with Rhubarb and Almond Pound Cake because we thought this would be the lightest of the sugary lot. And, it was light, airy and toothsome. I could eat this dessert following the squid appetizer on an almost daily basis, and never complain.
But one confection was not enough! Soon, Xanthus arrived at the table with a sampling of the restaurant’s famed eclairs: Peanut Butter Chocolate, Coffee Praline, Coconut Almond Joy, and Key Lime Meringue. These miniature works of art are rich and I recommend ordering only one, unless of course you skip the main course and head full speed ahead to dessert. Then by all means, aim for the four.
General Assembly is not a restaurant with “pretty food” that appears better than it tastes, I promise you. Although each plate is colorful with high quality ingredients and well thought out –– the opposite is true –– you’ll quickly forget how great looking your plate of food is as you satiate your palate with every single bite in front of you. I almost felt guilty leaving a crumb, because every dish was that delicious.
With large dining spaces and tall ceilings, the restaurant has a more energetic noise level. The portion sizes are average, so an appetizer and an entree are probably best, even for those with smaller appetites. I feel the prices are appropriate for the quality of ingredients, and the wide range of dishes available on the menu.
We were treated like royalty from the moment we entered until we left. Although our meals were complimentary, without a doubt, Mike and I would return!
|Photo op with Wine Director, Justin Randolph, and Chef de Cuisine, Zene Flinn.|
|Mike and I loved our night out!|
As of September 23, 2014, General Assembly has rebranded as the seasonally changing “Park Avenue,” serving lunch, dinner, and hosting private events.
360 Park Ave S at 26th St
New York, NY 10010