A significant portion of the restaurants that have opened recently seem to be huge conceptual spaces driven by the hope that a buzz will start about their particular version of fusion cuisine allowing them to recoup an enormous investment and cash some profit before this wave of trendiness crashes on the shore and we all paddle out for the next one.
The next wave, forming in the second half of this year, seems comprised of humble little rooms providing a more decidedly American cuisine. I am sure this is just the pendulum swinging completely the other way, and as long as we have ten Japonaises we will welcome and embrace many Little Owls. To see our surfing simile to its end, being a boy raised on this coast these smaller, less uniform, varying places are as authentically of this place as the similar waves of our shores, while the mega-restaurants are as foreign as the huge mythical waves that always grace magazine pages in glossy pictures (awesome to visit and quite fun while there but overexposure ends up to their feeling, in the long run, like cookie cutter stuff, seeming ultimately shallow and unrewardingly easy). Inevitably my favor always turns to intimacy and variety.
Goblin Market opened in SoHo this week, adding its twenty-eight chairs in a small, warmly lit, square, chestnut-brown wooden room to the current swell forming below fourteenth street, with a simple wine list of fifteen or so whites and as many reds (about four of each offered by the glass) and an equally concise menu.
The menu is divided into: SOUPS/SALADS, SANDWICHES, ENTREES and SIDES. As written, the menu touches on another, albeit longer-lived, trend in NYC dining, that of branding food by mentioning the sources it is drawn from. Here, the ever-popular Niman Ranch provides the pork belly and the mussels are from Prince Edward Island. Staying safely on the fairer side of price, the intention seems to be to become a neighborhood place to drop by on a night when delivery will not suit but neither will two and a half hours sitting in a restaurant; Goblin Market is not an “amuse guelle” type of place.
Looking for a nice meal prepared by someone else I could eat in track pants on the early part of a Saturday night, Wife and I dropped in for a quick in-and-out in the interest of reconnaissance and it went a little something like this:
Grass-Fed Angus Burger sesame seed bun, French fries, farmhouse cheddar: As we were sat I mentioned that I was interested in the burger, the gentleman seating us explained that it was a work in progress and that for day two of both the restaurant and the burger’s run they had upped the recipe’s fat content. Experimentation may explain its arriving on toasted golden brioche and not a sesame seed bun, but being as I really liked the bun I am letting that overweigh my care for an accurate menu. I love that grass-fed beef is better for you, and better for the environment, as well as being far more humane, but in general I order grass-fed beef because I enjoy its more complex mineraly flavor. In this version of Goblin’s burger it was not abundantly apparent. The chef definitely likes salt, a little too much for Wife and pushing right up against my limits; although I like a salty burger, in this case it overshadowed any other nuance. So in the long run, I had a nice, average-sized, well-prepared, pretty juicy (good move with the additional fat) restaurant burger with good cheese and a great bun. If the next experiment is to add pickle and onion to the greens and tomato that come on the bun, as well as to back the salt off a little and add an ounce or two of beef, this may be a very good burger.
Slow Roasted Yard Bird free range Amish chicken breast, potato puree, wild mushrooms, farmer’s market vegetables, brown chicken sauce: Starting with the name, I think “yard bird” is a very cool name, if for no other reason then it harkens back to great rock and roll. It is, however, a bit of a misnomer here because only one section of the bird makes it to the party: the breast. The good news is it is prepared quite well. Very moist, with nicely browned skin, it is sliced and set on top of the mushrooms and potatoes. Here, again, the chef’s touch with salt was decidedly noticeable to me and too much for Wife. The greenmarket vegetables were roasted carrots in a couple of colors, braised greens bitter enough as an ingredient to stand well next to the saltier components of the dish, and roasted pearl onions. Somewhere beyond the salt in the sauce and potatoes, it was clear that the chicken had deep flavor and that its accoutrement would play well with it. This is the kind of dish I want this type of place to have and I will order it again (if, however, it has been salted with such zest again, I may fake a blood pressure issue on my third visit).
We ended our meal here, saving dessert for the future. I was happy to see an artisanal cheese plate amongst the offerings and Wife came close to grabbing something called a warm cookie plate, but it wasn’t that kind of night. With our check came a comment card explaining the newness of the place and looking for feedback. This, more than anything else, spoke to the feature that makes me look forward to returning: they care what you think. I wrote on my card that the room was charming, the service was very good, the prices seemed fair, the wine list seemed appropriate, that the burger may want pickle and onion, and to be wary of the salt. All these thoughts, as well as my being encouraged to share them, seem to point to a promising little spot for a good dinner and a glass of wine.