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Günter Seeger Brings His Brand of Micro-Seasonal Tasting Menus to New York

Developing a menu that satisfies more than most is difficult for any well-trained chef. However, when a chef changes a ten- to twelve-course tasting menu each day — all based on the micro-seasonality of ingredients — it takes a certain kind of leader to oversee the kitchen. Günter Seeger has proven himself up to the challenge at his newly opened restaurant on the border of the Meatpacking District and West Village, Günter Seeger New York (641 Hudson Street; 646-657-0045).

Nestled on the first floor of a townhome that dates back over 100 years, the staff makes guests feel at home immediately. There’s a clear view into an open kitchen from every chair in the house, and Seeger’s private art collection adorns the white-washed brick walls. And if the aesthetic doesn’t set the tone, Seeger can also be seen strolling through the main dining room chatting with guests about their dining experiences.

“This fall, it will be nine years here in New York,” notes Seeger, who moved to New York after closing his acclaimed Atlanta restaurant. “The reason to come to New York was really to open a restaurant here because mainly, you know, what New York is. It’s a thriving culture. It’s the best food city in the United States. I wanted to bring what I do to New York.”

Brûléed plum tart with fresh cinnamon leaf pastry cream and thyme
Brûléed plum tart with fresh cinnamon leaf pastry cream and thyme

For the chef, that meant appealing to a bigger, international clientele on top of an already passionate local crowd. And for a city that attracts nearly 60 million tourists, that means each day is a chance to create something new to impress everyone who walks through the door. Seeger explains that New York’s global appeal for diners with a variety of tastes is what keeps restaurants afloat in the city: “The high-end restaurant just needs that kind of audience.”

Seeger focuses on inspiring his team through quality ingredients and micro-seasonality, which means constantly monitoring the greenmarket for goods that disappear in the blink of an eye. It’s those challenges of embracing ingredients that have a brief lifecycle define Seeger’s style of cooking. “The flowering onions are there, but they may only last a week,” Seeger laments.

Scallop in bay leaf with Chanterelle mushrooms
Scallop in bay leaf with Chanterelle mushrooms

Some of the most recently featured ingredients on his tasting menu include snap pea gazpacho, bay leaf-wrapped scallops with Chanterelle mushrooms, and a brûléed plum tart with fresh cinnamon leaf pastry cream and thyme.

It’s a painstaking process to create and compose an ever-changing menu, but he explains that “it’s really the only way to get a vegetable that’s the best product — a great product is really the main focus.”

A look into the kitchen at Günter Seeger New York
A look into the kitchen at Günter Seeger New York

The restaurant currently offers dinner service with a five-, ten-, or twelve-course tasting menu with additional wine pairings. Larger parties and guests who don’t mind sitting with strangers can also opt for a chef’s table tasting inside the kitchen.

“As long as we are authentic in what we do, as long as we have personality, we will do the best we can,” Seeger says.


Why You Should Attend NYC Craft Beer Festival This Halloween

A very hoppy Halloween is headed our way as the NYC Craft Beer Festival returns to the Lexington Armory in Midtown, beginning on the night of Friday, October 31. A $55 ticket gains you access to all the hops, malt, and yeast you can handle for 2.5 hours. And to celebrate the holiday in appropriate fashion, a costume contest will award cash prizes to the most garishly garbed participants in the crowd. The event continues into the weekend, with two more sessions offered on Saturday: from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and once again from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

On tap is a comprehensive assortment of microbrews from across the globe, some 150 in all. A special focus is placed on local offerings, so you can expect to see the usual suspects, such as Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint, and Captain Lawrence. But the fest also brings craft lovers face to face with some of the new kids on the block. Discovery and experimentation play a large part in the frivolity. Ever try the Field 2 Farmhouse Ale from Manhattan’s own Third Rail Beer? How about the Catskill Hop Harvest Ale from award-winning Gun Hill Brewing? Both small-batch offerings are on tap this weekend and worth seeking out.

The local concentration doesn’t come at the expense of faraway favorites, however, as the tap list is studded with a trove of beers from beyond the five boroughs. Standouts from Bay Area-based Almanac, Southern California’s sour-centric The Bruery, and Michigan’s favorite son, Bell’s, are but a few of the heavyweights certain to electrify the connoisseurs in attendance.

In addition to the countless pours, NYC Craft Beer Festival offers educational seminars for folks seeking to learn more about the suds filling their souvenir glasses. Prominent author Ben Keene, for example, hosts a class on the Northeastern craft renaissance, while certified cicerone James Tai offers insight into how to critically judge a style of beer. Prepare to extend those pinkies.

Tickets are still available on the fest’s website, along with a complete list of participating breweries. You can elevate yourself to VIP status for an additional $20, which includes an extra hour of tastings prior to the general-admission session — a total of 3.5 hours of beer-drinking. Trick or treat, indeed.


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Washington Market Tavern: A Restaurant Four Generations in the Making

Though Washington Market Tavern (41 Murray Street; 646-964-4860) is not even two weeks old, its relationship to Tribeca goes back decades — and not just because it’s located in a landmark building. Owner Eric Schwimmer’s great grandfather and grandfather operated a stall in the old Washington Market, a burgeoning scene of commerce that represented the largest fruit and produce exchange in America during the 1940s. In 1977, Schwimmer’s family opened local bar and grill Mudville 9. That makes Schwimmer a fourth generation Tribecan.

Schwimmer was trained by his father, and he’s worked just about every job imaginable in the restaurant industry. “If you want to be in the restaurant business, learn how to use a mop and learn how to fix things,” he advises.

Schwimmer’s ability to fix things helped him with the build out of his new space, where the plumbing, electricity, and HVAC systems were all replaced, not to mention the entire interior of the three floor establishment. Only a brass railing remains of 41 Murray Street’s former life, a reminder of what Schwimmer calls a “mom and pop land” left behind so he could execute his vision. You might now call the decor “tavern chic.” Six wraparound booths with white cushions sit across from the long polished wooden bar, while the middle of the floor is filled with high bar stools and tables for four. Diners can chat up the bartenders and charge their phone at the same time — there are built in stations tucked away throughout the restaurant.

Towards the back, a small staircase leads to a bright dining room illuminated by rays from a skylight. There’s also a downstairs lounge, and Schwimmer plans to feature a cocktail series with different in-house bartenders in addition to hosting private parties and events. The downstairs lounge is also open for regular service for those looking for a dark and romantic hideaway.

As for the menu, the tavern deals in dishes for a casual setting that revolve around French culinary technique. Schwimmer cites Minetta Tavern as an inspiration, albeit his place has a more American focus. “This is how I like to eat,” he says. “That’s why I made this menu…you eat this food you’re not coming out of here bloated.”

Schwimmer tapped veteran chef Aksel Theilkuhl to run the show; Theilkuhl cooked under renowned chefs like Laurent Tourondel. The seasonal menu is broken up into four categories (Raw, Garden, Ocean, and Farm) and includes options for veggie lovers, like Blooming Hill Farms carrots, cooked multiple ways. The chef is also turning out lamb tartare, fava bean ravioli, and Maine lobster, and he plans to roll out a market board menu, which will include a burger, charcuterie, and, potentially, flatbreads, with everything based on seasonality.

“Vegetables are definitely a driving factor for me right now,” says Theilkuhl of his menu. “A lot of people come to restaurants and don’t necessarily think, let me have an entire dish driven by vegetables. I’m kind of hoping to change that a little bit. Vegetables have a bad wrap in a sense because I feel like a lot of restaurants or places in general don’t understand the process behind how to cook vegetables properly.”

That philosophy is applied to all four food categories as well as artisanal cocktails, on the drinks list in addition to wine and beer.

For a first look inside Washington Market Tavern, check out a few photos on the next page.


Chef Aksel Theilkuhl preparing a dish. The chef's menu concentrates on local, seasonal ingredients.
Chef Aksel Theilkuhl preparing a dish. The chef’s menu concentrates on local, seasonal ingredients.
Veggie lovers will find an ample selection of items like Blooming Hill Farm Fresh Carrots
Veggie lovers will find an ample selection of items like Blooming Hill Farm Fresh Carrots
Lamb tartare
Lamb tartare
The bar at Washington Market Tavern
The bar at Washington Market Tavern
Inside the first floor bar and dining room at Washington Market Tavern
Inside the first floor bar and dining room at Washington Market Tavern


Eat a Watermelon Sandwich at Black Tree Before It’s Gone

People love cherry blossom trees for their fleeting beauty, their mesmerizing transformation from stark bare branches to the brilliant bouquet of flowers brought on by spring. The flowers hang tight for just a few weeks before wind and life sends them to perish on the ground. Then the tree grows green with summer and dies again in winter and so the cycle goes.

While Black Tree restaurant and bar (131 Orchard St.; 212-533-4684) is of a different shade than a cherry tree, the ephemeral beauty behind the food there plays on the same idea.

Case in point, the heirloom watermelon sandwich, which will only be around for a couple more weeks before the region’s summer watermelon cache is depleted. And since Black Tree owners Sandy Dee Hall and Macnair Sillick keep things local–to within 300 miles of the Lower East Side storefront–once local watermelon is done, so is the sandwich, at least until next year.

With all seriousness, eat one while you can. Stop reading and go. Now. Before it’s too late. You’ll see.

Everything about the watermelon sandwich works: A glorious hunk of flour-dusted ciabatta bookends a clever combination of multicolored heirloom watermelon, fresh mint, and a soft, smoked ricotta cheese all brought together by a tangy balsamic vinegar. The juicy pulp of the heirloom watermelon and the freshness imparted by the mint make the first few bites reminiscent of a summertime cocktail, but the ricotta plays a bold cheesy angle that quickly reconciles the initial notion.

But what really takes this sandwich to the next level is the watermelon rind, pickled in a sweet and spicy vinegar and then fried in oil. Yes, you read that right: They pickled watermelon rind and then fried it and put it on a sandwich. It’s absolutely brilliant, and it adds a necessary crunchy element while also adding complexity with the spicy sweetness of the vinegar.

As a sandwich, it’s both ingenious and strange, and it is without a doubt best sandwich I’ve eaten in the name of this blog.

Sandy Dee Hall, Black Tree chef and co-owner, says if you think about watermelon outside of the, uh, rind, the inspiration for the sandwich becomes clear. “I always thought watermelon is very similar to tomatoes. If you think about it like that it totally makes sense,” he says, adding that the sandwich walks a similar line to panzanella, a Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes.

As the seasons change, expect bold new things from Black Tree, but for now, get there soon for that last bite of summer. We can also highly recommend the Squash Blossom sandwich, a cheesy and welcome reinvention of the classic tomato caprese which made cut for Fork in the Road’s 100 Favorite Dishes. (Though as of Sunday Black Tree had subbed out squash for pumpkin, and it was equally delicious.)



Could Fort Greene be Home to a Really Good Flea Market?

The folks at Brownstoner have just launched a new blog, Brooklyn Flea, documenting the process of opening their flea market, which is scheduled for April 7. This is also an opportunity for y’all to chime in with your opinions. We are excited to hear that the space, in the Bishop Loughlin schoolyard on Lafayette Avenue is big—40,000 square-feet. We are slightly wary of flea markets that give a lot of space to local craft-type stuff. Maybe it’s just us, but we want vintage furniture more than anything else. But there should be room for everyone here, and we are rooting for a flea market renaissance!


Last Meal: Blanc’s César Ramirez Gets His Goat

César Ramirez, a longtime protégé of David Bouley’s, is busy manning the month-old kitchen at Bar Blanc, where he makes things like confit of baby pig with chanterelles, brussels sprouts, and natural jus with cinnamon star anise and orange. We sprung the question of his last meal recently, and he asked for some time to think about it. Not much time—he called back five minutes later with some rich memories.

I decided you have to leave with something that brings you back to the beginning, like a dish I grew up with: barbacoa. It’s a goat, cooked in the ground for 24 hours. An amazing dish. Every time I smell lamb, it reminds me of this. I grew up in Mexico—well, I was born in Mexico; I grew up in Chicago.

How old were you when you left? I left Mexico when I was four years old, but I couldn’t forget this food. Do you know how it’s done? With this charcoal like iron, so it stays hot, and banana leaves. The hole is covered with plywood.

Isn’t this where the word “barbecue” comes from? It is sort of similar to barbecueing, and the word is close . . .

How is the meat seasoned? Just with some herbs, salt, and pepper. It’s more about the technique of cooking it that makes it special: Everything just melts. It’s like what the Hawaiians do with a pig.

Right. In restaurants, I try to cook like this. Not the same kind of food—believe me, I know Europe better than my own country. But if you can bring back a good memory to someone who is eating your food—even if the food is very modern—it makes your whole meal a lot better. You still gotta have one of those homey little touches, a little something. Technique is very important, but I like to cook simply, seasonally. Like figs from my grandmother’s tree when they are perfectly ripe, and the honey is spilling out of them. You just bump it with your hand and it falls off.

Yum. In cooking, I rely on my product. Onions and garlic are always the base, because without Italian food, there couldn’t be French food. Most people don’t know that, but it’s true.

Oh, I’m with you there. Anyway, you’ve been in New York for about a year. What do you think of the Mexican food here? I don’t eat Mexican food here. People think Mexican food is tacos, but it’s a lot more. I eat Mexican food all my life. Food is the love of a family, to bring it together. At least in my family, it was a big deal. And my mother and grandmother were always excellent cooks. Mexican food is very sophisticated, but that’s not where my heart was. I was married to a French woman, and I went there.

Where in Mexico are you from? Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City—a very cultural town, very Spanish. At the end, you go back. You’re going to die. You can’t take anything with you—nothing material, just memories. That’s why you have to live your life well, and one of the joys is eating. And I’d want to bring my kid and show her, too.


It’s a Good One: Jimmy’s Shishito Peppers

We’ve only been to Jimmy’s No. 43 twice, but we’ve decided to stick with the snacks from now on—and the beer. Last night, we were barely willing to share the huge pile of roasted shishito peppers ($7) with our friends. Tonight, we may just have to hit up Sunrise Mart for some (8.99/pound), so we can recreate this dish and drink a boatload of beer immediately.

The green peppers are small and long, just barely hot (although Our Man Sietsema warned that, randomly, every eighth or ninth will actually burn). At Jimmy’s, you may recall, there is no proper stove, just hot plates, and these guys are simply charred in a pan, then drizzled with lemon juice and sprinkled with sea salt. If you don’t like green bell peppers, don’t be scared. We don’t either.

The dish is a special, but it has become a fairly consistent listing.

Jimmy’s 43

43 East 7th Street

(212) 982-3006


New Fort Greene Gourmet/Organic Market is Open

Greene Grape Provisions, foodie sister of the Fort Greene wine shop, is officially open. We have long been surprised at the lack of good markets in this neighborhood, considering how many orani-yuppies reside there. It seems that Greene Grape is poised to fill the void.

EfV happens to have an informant who exemplifies the target audience, and is also quite a discriminating foodie. She is the mother of a really cute toddler who wears Vans, and a dedicated Farmer’s Marketer in the warmer months. She stopped by today and was excited to see that they stock Envirokids products, whatever those are, plus Balthazar bread and a good selection of fish, meat, and cheese. She said “They are still stocking up, but not a bad start.”

Here’s the store’s self-portrait:

We open at 7 am on weekdays and 8 am on weekends and stay open until 9 pm. Our fish and meat counters are currently open with a fishmonger and butcher available after 1 pm. The fish counter has organic Atlantic Salmon, swordfish, yellowfin tuna, tilapia, oysters, mussels and other fish. At the meat counter you’ll find New York strip steak, filet mignon, Bell and Evans organic chicken, organic ground beef, lamb chops, sausages, stew meat and deli meats from Applewood Farms. We are also serving coffee and espresso drinks and have daily deliveries of pastries from Balthazar and bread from Il Forno as well as pantry essentials like dry pasta, sauces, olive oil and vinegar.

If you want to lobby for your favorite brand of muesli or whatever, drop a line in their inbox:

Greene Grape Provisions
753 Fulton (near South Portland)
(718) 797-9463


Jamie Oliver Cooks in a Beenie, Naturally

Jamie Oliver returns to the Food Network on Sunday night, first to battle Mario Batali on Iron Chef America (9PM), and then with a “sneak preview” of his new show, Jamie at Home. We just watched a screener sent to us by some delightful PR person, and, if you like Jamie Oliver, you’ll love it.

He is dressed like the Beastie Boys circa “Check your Head,” grates cheese all over the table, says things like “I reckon it’s about 3 tablespoons,” and uses his hands a lot. The camerawork is of the food-porn variety, with sudden, extreme close-ups and intermittent blurriness that should come with a warning to the hung-over.


Each episode is about a different ingredient (Sunday will be peppers and chillies). The one we watched was pumpkin and squash, and he made an “Asian-style” duck and pumpkin salad, some muffins, and soup. We like his unfussiness, and the effort to talk about foods in-season and gardening is cool. This show is watchable, like the old days of Food TV. But what’s a kilo?

Jamie at Home will be on at 9:30AM every Saturday starting January 12 on the Food Network.


Fabio Trabocchi’s Last Meal: Back to Mussel-Shucking

Fabio Trabocchi, who took over the kitchen at Fiamma in September, was wholeheartedly excused for a menu that seems too fussy to be Italian when Frank Bruni gushingly renewed the restaurant’s three-star status last month in The New York Times. (Those original three stars were earned by Michael White, now at the helm at L’Impero and Alto.) As we dialed Trabocchi’s cell-phone number the other day, we prepared to ask him to spell the names of the fancy wines and obscure ingredients he would want to indulge in for his last meal. But as it turns out, his fantasy involves his home province on Italy’s Adriatic coast, an old bike, a tiny fishing boat, and nothing French.

So, if you could have anything in the world, what would your last meal be? Probably my last meal would be in the same place I started being a chef. It’s a little restaurant in Le Marche, where I’m from. It’s not well-known, just a simple summer/beach place in a town called Numana, but I think that’s where I would have to be, just because it’s like going back to where I started. They did certain things very well, like grilled fish, because it’s all very fresh. Very casual. It was only open in the summer.

It’s so different from what you’re doing now. It is, but it’s a good rewind of everything that has happened until now. That’s the place where I started to get into cooking. Certainly, I had no idea where I would go, that I would cook in New York or Washington, D.C., or London. It’s hard to think about dying, but I think, hey, it’s my last meal—I could tell you something fancy, but this is what I picture.

Was it a family-run restaurant? Yes, a father, daughter, and mom is in the kitchen. They own a little boat that they are using to go fishing. Then at dinner time, it’s more of a pizza place.

How old were you when you worked there? Fourteen.

Really? Yeah, so now you see why it was a big deal. At that time, in Italy, you could work at 14, and my father bought me a 14-year-old bike—the same age as me—and I rode that to the restaurant every day. It was my first summer job, and I found out I liked it. After that, I went to culinary school.

Were you actually cooking in the restaurant? I did everything. I was like the go-to guy: “Fabio, shuck the mussels.” “Fabio, we need to move the cars.” “Fabio, roll the pizza dough.” Whatever was required—I started with opening the umbrellas for people sitting on the beach. I would also clean up the beach, prep for lunch, bus tables, anything.

So what would the meal actually be? Would you cook? Oh, no, I enjoy the party this time. The wife would make spaghetti with mussels right off the boat, and branzino, also from the Adriatic, in salt, cooked in the wood-burning oven.

It sounds great. Yes. We’ll see, in many, many years, if it comes true.