Credit proprietor Jodi Richard for hand-picking Chef Matt Lightner for Atera, the former the Compose space at 77 Worth St in TriBeCa. Even more props for convincing him to come to NYC from Portland. This guy is the real deal, having worked at the highly revered Mugaritz, and it shows. When it comes to textures, temperature, and technique, the execution is practically flawless. None of the food is coerced or phony. Even their butter is intentional. The flavors? Well, read on…
When you step inside, you instantly notice the welcoming bar seating layout, one that is conducive to interaction with the staff. The ‘communal’ U-shaped dining table is one huge concrete slab. The kitchen is open and vulnerable, with all the action within your view from any angle. You are asked if you want a drink or wine pairing with your meal. Refills are not mandatory but they seemed a bit pushy, eager to sell us on it. Then the meal begins…
We’re really digging the multi-course format, a la Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. Who really tastes anything surreal after the 3rd bite anyway right? The meal is $150 with an optional $90 wine pairing. Your meal commences with 6 canapes, followed by 14 courses and 2 breads. Sheer gluttony would be the apt phrase to describe a meal of such size, but who cares when you are there to treat yourself. Plus, you’ve earned it because.. (insert justification here).
As for the service, it is unpretentious and engaging. Friendly even. There is staff in front and in back of you at all times. The staff in front describe and dishes and honor requests. The staff in back clears your dishes, refills your water, and processes payment. The more junior BOH staff aka sous chefs are overlooked with a watchful eye by their seniors. We noticed that there seems to be a genuine interest for feedback, a good thing.
Not all the ingredients are told to you when served, but intentionally so to let you decipher and decode. Don’t worry, you’re handed a menu with brief descriptions at meal end. Heck, you are even given a ‘mystery dish’ to debunk. Pacewise, your courses are served to you as fast as you can eat it. We were done with our 15 courses in 2:15hrs, an impressive breakneck pace for preparing and plating food of this caliber.
We felt the ‘forage-centric’ theme was a bit exaggerated online. Yes, there are elements of wild edibles and the ‘playfully deceptive’ look of foraged ingredients as well as apparent Nordic influences, but nothing over the top like mealworms or the like. If anything, this meal is extremely ‘texture-centric’, one which Chef Lightner prides himself on when we pointed it out to him.
Our favorites? The Beet, Parsley Split, and Lamb Collar. Why? The sheer euphoric feeling we got when consuming these dishes. Our misses? The gummy texture of the overcaramelization of the proteins, as well as the first 6 ‘canape’ dishes. They seemed predictable. Not in presentation or presentation, but in flavor profile. The Nordic ‘sweet and sour’ contrast got mundane after awhile, thus our taketh of one star from this review. Else, the mains got stronger as the meal progressed. Our comments will be self-evident when you taste everything for yourself.
Tasting Menu ($150)
1. Fried Jerusalem artichokes, strained buttermilk, herbs
2. Savory granola, black sesame
3. Foie gras penauds, pickled quail eggs, malt cracker
4. Razor clam ‘air’ baguette
6. Fried ramps w/ pine nut butter, wild rice
7. Yogurt (goat’s milk) – nuts, freeze-dried fruit, beet ice, EVOO & chamomile oil
8. Diver scallops – citrus, gin botanicals (juniper, etc)
9. Fluke – bbq onion, toasted coriander & fennel, chives
10. Sourdough rye, goat’s milk butter
12. Dried beet – trout roe, squid ink croutons, crustacean emulsion (uni, lobster)
13. (Off Menu) Fried softshell crab, brown butter sediment, amaranth
14. Skate – beef tendon, pea shoots, tat soi, chicken bouillon
15. Squab – pickled wild onion, pear skin
16. (Off Menu) Sourdough roll basted in pork fat
17. Lamb collar, root beer foam, hickory nuts
18. Rock – Earl grey sorbet w/ cookie dough crust, crumbled rye, parsley dust, OJ
19. Parsley root split – banana ice cream, marshmallow, meringue, candied parsley
20. (Off Menu) Liquid nitrogen chocolate, goat milk ice cream
21. Oak – wintergreen snow, bourbon cake, coke maple leaf, fried noodle
22. (Off Menu) Hazelnut truffles, walnut truffles
(+) Layout is conducive to interaction
(+) unique Combinations of ingredients
(+) Transformation of textures, masterful cooking technique
(+) Multi-course Format
(+) Temperature control
(+) Unpretentious Service
(+) In and out in 2:15
(-) Too much sweet + sour on canapés
(-) OVER caramelized proteins – gummy
(-) Gently pushy on drink refills
(-) Earl Grey played second fiddle to the tartness in the ‘rock’ dish
Total came out to $200/pp after everything (1 sake)
Definitely not a fly-by-night menu, it was well conceived. Ingredients that you would never think syngergize do. Plating is meticulous and calculated. Flavors on the mains live up to the hype of their presentation, something that is difficult to achieve. Staying the course, a Michelin Star is definitely not out of the question for this current low-key establishment. Once the word gets out and Atera is decorated with positive accolades from press, the masses will flock. Hopefully by then, the quality will not suffer and the integrity of the food will keep. We are eager to return once the menu changes with the seasons.