Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nothing Crooked About This Knife

I'm kind of a freak. I actually have an Excel spreadsheet of restaurants I want to try in New York City. It has three tabs. On the first, they are organized alphabetically by name, on the second by cuisine, and on the third by neighborhood. Yeah, like I said, I'm a freak. I generally have a good idea of all the restaurants I intend to try, although I'm always open to new suggestions, like this one...

The Crooked Knife
232 W 14th St
(between 6th Ave & 7th Ave)
New York, NY 10011
(212) 929-4534

This past week, the Food Network interns decided to go to dinner and drinks together, giving us a chance to bond outside of work. One of the interns suggested a spot not far from work, run by a chef he's worked with in the past. Off we went, trudging through the downpours (yes, that huge rainstorm this past week, that was exactly when we decided to walk to dinner, go figure).  As we rushed into the entrance, evading the rain, I noticed immediately that the decor was warm and inviting, with a large bar in the center, and the pass window to the left, open so diners can see into the kitchen where executive chef Swainson Brown serves up delicious, seasonal fare.  We were all introduced to the chef by our friend who knew him, and shook his hand, excited to start our meal.  We were then seated in the back room directly under a large skylight, watching the rain rapping against the glass above us until our drinks and food arrived, course after course.

Chef Brown sent us some appetizers to enjoy while we sipped our drinks and chatted about food, work, love, our love for food, and our love for working with food.  First we were served hummus served with grilled flatbread, the appetizer special of the day.  This classic Mediterranean starter was very flavorful, and a nice thick texture.  We also enjoyed a lovely plate of housemade pickled vegetables.  Everything from mushrooms, to golden beets and bell peppers, along with a selection of olives.  It definitely got us salivating for more.

Hummus $5 

Our next round of dishes arrived all at once, a quadruple threat of appetizers, a balancing act of the senses.  Let's start with the calamari salad.  It featured a mixture of arugula and frisée with olives, lemon, red pepper coulis, roasted peppers, and grilled calamari. I usually prefer my calamari fried (as do most people I'm sure), but this salad made a believer out of me.  It was delicious, and I enjoyed actually tasting the calamari, which was smoky and the perfect texture, not really chewy at all.

Grilled Calamari Salad - red pepper coulis, olives, roasted peppers, frisée, lemon and arugula $9 

We also tried the beef satay, which wasn't actually on the menu (from what I remember), but it was excellent, a more refined version of the classic, tender beef, peanuty sauce, skewered with scallions, and served with a wedge of lime.  Delicious.

Beef Satay

Next up was a dish of classic Armenian flavors believe it or not.  Armenians love eating Feta cheese and watermelon (we have for decades... at least!), and I've noticed lately that a lot of people have jumped on that train.  I can't blame them, it's a pretty bad ass combo.  Here they are arranged in a row of large cubes, topped with fresh arugula, prosciutto, olives, and balsamic.  It was the perfect bite of sweet and salty, juicy and crumbly, with glorious colors to boot.

Watermelon Salad - feta cheese, olives, proscuitto and balsamic $8 

Our final appetizer was the Crooked Knife's rendition of a very non-classic shrimp scampi. It was sautéed with rosemary, garlic, fresh pear tomatoes, buttery croutons, and lemon wedges.  So completely different from every other "scampi" dish I've tried in the past, and incredibly flavorful.  Again, I loved the mixture of textures from crunchy to juicy to chewy, and the rosemary was a lovely and aromatic addition.

Rosemary Shrimp Scampi - tomato, garlic, croutons and lemon $7 

After a whirlwind of appetizers, our entrées arrived, and we all took turns tasting each other's choices.  Two of my dining companions shared the charcuterie platter, which was covered from end to end with meats, cheeses, olives, bread, and a delectable tomato jam.  They swooned over every bite of saturated fatty deliciousness :)

Charcuterie - Italian sausage, salami, chorizo, artisanal cheeses, tomato jam and marinated olives $14 

Another friend feasted on the spaetzle gratin, which was truly a revelation.  I love spaetzle, and I love just about anything in a gratin.  Instead of putting pasta or potatoes in there, how about this alternative starch, delicious, buttery, oh-so-German spaetzle?  Let's add a whole bunch of delicious vegetables and cheese.  OKAY! Sounds like a plan!  I only got to try one bite, but it was enough to know my friend had made a good selection.

 Spaetzle Gratin - sweet corn, wild mushrooms, asparagus, caramelized onions and gruyere cheese $14

My fourth dining companion enjoyed the risotto for dinner, which was tossed with shrimp, corn, mushrooms, and asparagus, and lots and lots of cheese.  It was also covered in more cheese, a nice melty layer under which the risotto could hide.  The risotto was cooked perfectly, suspended in delicious starchy liquid, like any proper risotto should be (nothing aggravates me more than dry risotto, except, of course, cream in risotto, big no-no!).

 Shrimp Risotto - corn, mushrooms, asparagus, and parmesan $17

Finally (yes, this is actually the last dish. I know it seems impossible that we actually ate all this food, but we really did! Almost every last bite!), it's time for my selection, the pan-seared snapper.  I have to say, when I see pan-seared snapper on a menu, it's difficult for me to chose something else.  When done correctly, with the skin on, nice and crispy, with the tender flesh against it, there are few things more enjoyable.  My favorite pan-seared snapper is at Nougatine at Jean-Georges (go figure), but this dish was right up there in flavor, with a lot more on the plate for me to enjoy :) It's hard to tell in the photograph, but when I started eating the components, cutting into the fish, and exposing the bright green pea puree and orange carrots beneath, I immediately stated (and I quote), "Wow, what a colorful dish.  It's almost an entire rainbow!" haha.  Yes, that's totally something I would say.  The flavors were delicious together! The perfectly crisp fish, the thick-like-mashed-potatoes sweet pea puree, the meaty shiitake mushrooms, the sweet curried carrots, all surrounded with a fence of mussels.  This incredibly flavorful dish definitely won me over, as did the rest of our meal.

Pan Seared Snapper - pea puree, shiitake mushroom, mussels and carrot curry sauce $20 

I loved the Crooked Knife!  I really and truly did.  The food was delicious, our service was impeccable, the atmosphere was incredibly welcoming, laid back and unpretentious, the chef was extremely friendly, and maybe best of all were the prices!  When I told my friends about the dishes we enjoyed and how the most expensive dish we ordered, my fish dish, was only $20, they were impressed.  Fish is usually one of the most expensive items on any menu (along with red meats).  I can honestly say that finding a spot with food this good at prices this reasonable, with all its other great qualities rolled into one little package is definitely a find!


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