for all you uptowners who resent having to head downtown for an intimate, crafty and reasonably priced meal, your day has come. recipe is that cozy (read: tiny) neighborhood restaurant, charming yet approachable, where you can dress up or down, depending on the occasion. whether it's a tuesday or a saturday evening, you can bet that close to all 26 seats will be occupied.
once you are parked on the restored antique bench just behind the bar, you will need to take a moment to notice the painstaking attention to detail that drenches each and every square foot of the interior. the dramatic metal lamp fixtures that hang ominously above the tables were found at an opera house in chicago. the window that separates the dining area from the servers station originally hung in the offices of the old new york times building. and a "lavatory occupancy" sign recovered from an old aircraft hangs above the single-person restroom. specials of the day are written in white chalk on a grade-school-esque chalkboard, lined at the bottom with fresh herbs. everything about the décor says "we care a lot," down to the miniscule wooden clothesline pins that so adorably snap your menus shut.
the one-page new american menu exhibits equally as much thought in its rustic simplicity. the first thing i noticed, however, that i did not find so caring was the $3 charge for the breadbasket. even though the basket, with offerings from grandaisy and tom cat bakeries, includes the rather thought provoking "new york honey-butter," it's hard to stomach a charge for bread in times like these.
moving beyond this small misstep, you will find yourself among a selection that emphasizes local and seasonal produce from executive chef shawn dalziel, who most recently spent four years at the ever-popular blue water grill in union square. dalziel reveals some of his most early training in san francisco's renowned aqua in his seafood and vegetable heavy offerings. the california-born chef so emphasizes his love for foods preserved and pickled that he has dedicated a portion of the menu to "cocottes and jars." these offerings change with the season and recently included dishes like pickled artichoke with champagne vinegar and mint, and foie gras terrine with apricot, date, brioche and cornichon. you will also see many a pickled vegetable during lunch, when the chef showcases his ever-changing sandwiches.
one of the best things about recipe is that the most expensive entrée is the halibut, for $21. considering the quality of the food and the pricey neighborhood it serves, recipe offers some serious bang for your buck. in addition to the aforementioned halibut, which is cooked to perfection and served with a mediterranean medley of eggplant, green olives and more, standard entrees include whole dorade, seared duck breast, a pork chop, grilled hanger steak, shrimp pappardelle and a composed vegetable plate. even though the menu is subject to change, the options offered will most likely always run this wide a gamut.
appetizers are a bit more eclectic, and range from a pulled pork rillette to a jumbo lump crab cake. the chef seems to take more chances with these starters, as opposed to the fairly consistent entrees, and it doesn't always work. the steak carpaccio turned out to be cooked fully through and therefore defeated the entire purpose of the dish. roasted locally grown beets seemed to drown in the mixed greens, goat cheese and pecans with which they were served. the best appetizer was the crab cake, made crispy and concentrated with flavor on the outside, and consisting of mostly pure, fleshy crabmeat on the inside.
sides left something to be desired, such as the seasonal vegetables, a surprisingly boring medley of sautéed broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, evocative of a 1950s frozen tv dinner. the macaroni and cheese, with bits of black forest ham, english peas and sweet corn, is fairly innocuous but nothing special, and really more of a dish for children. the roasted fingerling potatoes were crispy, meaty bites of flavor that prove a standout.
desserts are a highlight, especially the chocolate pignoli tart, an almond and chocolate biscuit topped with caramel and pine nuts that crunch and melt on your grateful tongue. the mango cheesecake is also a creamy, fruity delight, worth getting excited about.
recipe is still working out some kinks, that's for sure. and, the liquor license is currently pending. but with all the love, care and meticulousness that has already gone into its conception, i am confident that the food will catch up to the luster of the ambiance in no time at all. -- recipe 452 amsterdam ave. between 81st and 82nd streets 212-501-7755 entrees: $14 to $21