About Last Night: Dinner At Serpico

First, the good news: Serpico–the long-awaited South Street restaurant being opened by Stephen Starr and Momofuku’s Peter Serpico (heretofore known as Starrpico)–is opening for regular dinner service on Friday night.

Now, the bad news: According to Open Table, Friday night is completely booked up. As is Saturday night. First available table is 5pm on Sunday the 23rd. (Though, weirdly, if you want a 4-top rather than a table for two, you can sneak in on Saturday, either early or late)

But the big question is, is it worth it? After all the waiting, all the speculating, all the anticipation, does Serpico pay off?

I was there last night for an early test dinner, and I can confidently say yes–although “pay” is an important word to remember because dinner here comes dear and dropping a hundred dollars per person would take almost no effort at all.

But on the upside, it is an undeniably cool space–dimly-lit (bordering on dark), with intimate booths, a strange, small bar that kind of feels like sitting around some very hip person’s coffee table (in a good way), and chalkboards lining all the walls filled with menus, specials, drink lists and doodles. The menu is interesting without being stuffy, innovative without being gimmicky and borderless in a way that feels natural rather than forced. For those who look close, there are several well-veiled call-outs to Serpico’s days with David Chang at Momofuku (though, admittedly, the kitchen uses that as a crutch less than I thought it would), but there are more than a couple plates on the lineup that are just plain remarkable all on their own. That picture that leads off this post? That’s of a half-eaten bowl of Serpico’s foie gras–frozen, powdered, and served with elderflower jelly, frozen green grapes and candied peanuts which add a perfect textural note. Desserts aside, this is probably as clever and tricky as the kitchen gets, and while it tap dances on the line between cool and smart-ass, it is also wickedly rich, delicious and delicately balanced in a way that speaks to a beautiful sense of control in the kitchen.

Still, considering the source, powdered liver was not surprising. What was surprising were lamb ribs, marinated and rubbed with cumin, cooked until crunchy and barked like good barbecue on the outside and almost magically soft close to the bone. Served with a yogurt-mint-spring garlic-Japanese eggplant sauce/dressing on the side, this was a stunningly good dish that appeared blissfully simple by burying all its complexity and deep prep beneath a kind of punch-in-the-face deliciousness. You don’t think about how much work went into creating the ribs because they’re just, well, ribs. Perfect ribs. And ribs (unlike, say, powdered foie gras and elderflower jelly) are an immediately recognizable commodity. No one ever gets confused by ribs.

The honey-glazed duck breast somehow came off tasting like a top-of-the-market dry-aged filet mignon. The chilled dashi came with cubes of creme fraiche made to behave like tofu. The egg custard came (brilliantly) topped with potatoes fried so perfectly they almost tasted candied and, as such, outshined the caviar piled atop them. The deep-fried duck leg was a nod to Momofuku’s steamed buns, but here done (ostensibly) low rent, mounted on potato rolls that looked like grocery store hot dog buns and served simply, without fanfare and with a side of excellent pickled vegetables. And if, for some reason, things go south for Starrpico here, they could make a mint if they were to just knock a hole in one of the walls and start selling the little deep-fried potato croquette/dumpling things that came on the side of the wagyu chuck flap.

Seriously, everyone I talked to just wanted to take home a greasy paper bag of these and eat them on the couch while watching reruns of Mad Men. I would cab it down to South Street almost daily just for another fix.

Anyway, here are some more pictures from last night–just to give you an idea of what you’re in for when you finally do get your reservations.

The menu–or anyway, most of it

Corn ravioli with chorizo, white cheese, sour cream, lime and pickled and roasted onions

The kitchen, from one of the many counter seats


The dashi

The dining room (told ya it was dark)

Oh, and one last piece of advice? Save room for the Rocky Road off the dessert menu. With chocolate ice cream, crushed peanuts, blowtorched marshmallow and more marshmallow turned into shards of something with the texture of Astronaut Ice Cream, it’s another pure guilty pleasure that was so good and so cool that I never got a chance to snap a picture before the party I was with just wrecked it.

All Serpico coverage [Foobooz]