"If all New York pop-ups are this good, may the trend continue forever."
At Pecan, 130 Franklin Street, New York NY 10013 (at Varick; map); 646-613-8296
Service: Shockingly professional and efficient, given that it's a pop-up restaurant
Setting: Like you're eating dinner in a coffee bar (albeit a comfortable, airy Tribeca coffee bar)
Compare It To: What Happens When
Cost: $45 for four courses
Why did West Side super-chef Bill Telepan open a Tribeca pop-up, when his eponymous Upper West Side restaurant has become the go-to spot for serious food at reasonable prices?
His answer: "Because it's so much fun. We get to use stuff from farmers we don't normally get to use, like these incredible calves from upstate that we used last week. For the pop-up I get to slightly simplify my food. We end up using two or three less ingredients or techniques in just about every dish. Finally, because the overhead is so low, we get to spend most of the money on the food we put on the plate. That's every chef's dream, and that's what I get to do down here."
Of course we chatted with him only after a few amazing courses—so to tell you the truth, we already knew everything he said. The food at the Telepan Tribeca pop-up (located inside the Pecan Cafe) was stupendous, simple, ridiculously ample, and cheap. At $45 for a prix fixe menu that included three substantial, multi-bite amuses, a bountiful appetizer, a hefty main course choice of either brisket or tuna, and a fine, multi-element dessert, they are practically giving away the food here.
Running for four weeks only, from last week through May 20, Telepan's downtown pop-up serves a four-course dinner on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays only; no reservations are taken, and the menu changes every week. (We visited on Wednesday the 4th, so you'll see the dishes pictured here on Thursday and Friday, May 5 and 6, only.) But based on how exciting our meal was, we have no reservations about recommending a visit, no matter which week you go.
Consider the trio of seasonal amuses, which in themselves could have been a full meal. Lamb Tartare (pictured at top) with black olives had shards of ridiculously fresh, clean-tasting baby lamb; it's lamb for avowed lamb haters.
Pea Agnolotti with duck confit was intensely, wonderfully pea-tasting, with the duck adding a necessary meaty counterpoint in the dish.
Thanks to ABC Kitchen, toasts are all the rage in New York restaurants, and Telepan's Ricotta Toasts with Ramps were creamy and onion-y from the in-season greens.
Smoked Trout with Cucumbers & Yogurt is a different take on a Telepan signature dish; I missed the blini they serve it on at the uptown restaurant, but when the smoked trout is this moist and meaty, it almost doesn't matter what you serve with it.
Anise Spice Tuna with glazed fennel and golden beet is one of your two main-course options; Telepan told us "I never serve tuna," but he does here to great effect—medium rare tuna, with tender glazed fennel and sweet golden beets.
Your tuna alternative is a grass fed brisket, a perfect spring dish—tender marbled grass fed brisket, slightly al dente fiddleheads, and nettles studded with cubes of melting brisket fat. (A quinoa side dish needed a dash of salt to come to life.)
The dessert, Chocolate Almond Cake with cocoa nib whipped cream, is a simple sweet that you won't be able to stop eating. A disk of crunchy, intensely chocolate-y and moist (but most definitely not flourless) chocolate cake is served with dreamy cocoa nib whipped cream; it's sure to disappear, despite how ample the courses were before it.
My recommendation? Run, don't walk, to sample the cooking of a gifted chef at the top of his game. If all New York pop-ups are this good (and judging from Kenji's review of John Fraser's What Happens When they just might be), may the trend continue forever.