New Leaf Restaurant and Bar
1 Margaret Corbin Drive, New York NY 10040 (map); 212-568-5323; newleafrestaurant.com
Kids' Amenities: High chairs, stroller storage
Best Dishes for Kids: Calamari, Salmon
Cost: Appetizers $8-16, Entrees $23-34, Desserts $10
New Leaf Restaurant and Bar's greatest asset is the synergy between its food and locale. Located in northern Manhattan's Fort Tryon Park, one of the highest points in Manhattan and the home of the Metropolitan Museum's medieval art branch, the restaurant is unique not only because of its beautiful setting in a cottage-like building in the middle of the park, but because it is actually a charitable and environmentally responsible operation.
The restaurant's net profits support the New York's Restoration Project, a non-profit organization founded by Bette Middler that seeks to reclaim and restore the city's parks. Like the gardens around it, New Leaf's menu changes with the seasons and dishes are prepared with locally grown ingredients by Chef Scott Campbell.
In our recent visit, we were stuck by the beauty of the dishes that evoked the colors of the spring gardens. After an appetite-building stroll around the park on a late afternoon—the park is also a Revolutionary War site and the brainchild of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.—we were sat at a comfortable table in the main dining area. They accommodated my daughter on a high chair but promptly removed her plate and silverware from the table; we had to request it all again when the food came. Despite this initial glitch, we felt welcome at New Leaf and were treated to a beautiful dinner.
As an appetizer, we shared the Quick Fried Calamari with Mint-Cilantro Chutney ($12). The calamari could have been crispier, but what made the dish was a very green and refreshing mint and cilantro dipping sauce that combined spiciness and sweetness exactly like a chutney should, and also provided the necessary lightness to a fried dish.
We ordered the House Made Ricotta Manicotti ($15) with wild mushrooms and truffle essence appetizer for my daughter as her main course. This was unfortunately the least interesting dish of our meal, mostly because the ricotta, despite its wonderfully creamy texture and truffle essence, didn't taste like much. The mushrooms didn't really add much flavor either, and what we expected would be the perfect dish for our toddler turned out to be too bland even for her.
She thus turned to my entree, a gorgeous dish of Bacon Banded Pork Tenderloin ($30) on a bed of Tokyo turnips, thumbelina carrots, shimeji mushrooms, chestnuts, blackberries, pomegranate seeds. I was so struck by the composition of the dish, its earth-toned colors flanked by the blacks from the blackberries and the reds from the pomegranate seeds, that I almost didn't want to eat it.
My daughter was far less worried about such aesthetic pleasures and proceeded to thoroughly enjoy the pork and vegetables. And indeed, beyond its visual appeal, the dish balanced many textures and juices from the pork, vegetables and fruits. I especially enjoyed the inclusion of chestnuts.
The Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon ($26) dish was also a beauty to behold in terms of colors and textures. The salmon was probably a bit more cooked than I had asked, just on the farther side of medium. The sides of ginger-carrot puree and green peas and white asparagus complemented and contrasted the colors in the dish, and the sweetness of the vegetables made the salmon stand out a little more.
We ended the meal with a terribly good warm chocolate cake ($10), which was still upstaged by the salty caramel-peanut butter ice cream that accompanied it. The cake texture was delicate, and it felt a bit like a muffin not just because of its shape but especially because it had a crusty top that cracked gently in your mouth. The ice cream was heavenly—ribbons of caramel and peanut butter on a simple custard base, with bursts of salt here and there.
New Leaf Cafe might be the perfect place to either end a visit to the park or museum, or to start it. Weather permitting they also offer a wonderful brunch in their terrace, and the access to the gardens make it easy to go take a little stroll with the eventual unruly child. Their bar area is very congenial, and on wintry days it offers a warm midway point for a coffee between the subway stop and the Cloisters. Yet New Leaf's solid cuisine is also worth the trip for itself; its beautifully executed dishes seem to encapsulate the art, gardens, and New York spirit that surround the restaurant.