It’s late winter in New York and we still haven’t been frozen in deep, but my craving for the comfort of a candle lit table and an intimate gathering around soul warming food is deep rooted and pays no heed to this year’s unseasonable weather. A “Winter Dinner” at The Green Table promises to satiate my desire. Located in the rustic-industrial setting of the Big Apple’s Chelsea Market, The Green Table, a farm to table restaurant owned by The Cleaver Co., was founded by Mary Cleaver, who has specialized in local food catering and event planning for over 30 years. The restaurant boasts a seasonally shifting menu and responsibly sourced ingredients.
Neighbored by Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, Amy’s Bread and Ronnybrook’s Milk Bar (the Manhattan outpost of Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, a third generation Hudson Valley family farm in Ancramdale (Columbia County, NY), the sheltered neighborhood-esque block (inside a former Nabisco Oreo factory) forms a little microcosm of artisanal foods, with local trade routes crisscrossing Chelsea Market’s buffed concrete floor. Bread from Amy’s travels west to the kitchen of the Green Table, whose diners when headed east can pick up a fresh loaf from the bakery on their way out of the market to Manhattan’s busy Ninth Avenue.
My guests and I decided to order a smattering of dishes to share. Out first was the Bruschetta “Four Ways.” Four slices of Amy’s Bread piled high with a different combination of toppings. Each one a mastery of sweet and savory flavors. My favorite was a goat cheese, fig, and Surryano ham, an American version of an old world curing technique.
Next on our tongues was Grilled Sunchokes. I’m always appreciative when a chef makes the effort to tease out the gourmet potential of an ingredient previously relegated to the sometimes murky waters of home cookery. Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes are a tuber native to North America containing lots of fiber, prebiotics and inulin, which is helpful for moderating blood sugar. It also increases calcium absorption, so we would be wise to eat more of this fast growing, easy to cultivate, tasty winter storage crop. The sunchokes, sliced and grilled, were delicious and worlds apart from my own novice attempts at working with them. They were served with roasted red onion, picholine olives, and garnished with an unusual variety of watercress with green and purple variegated leaves.
A boon to the dining experience was The Green Table’s knowledgeable wait staff. I’ve bumped into our waitress at a handful of food events including Heritage Food USA’s overflowing and rallying event Goatoberfest. She’s obviously dedicated to similar values as her employer and has even launched her own personal chef business, “Farm to Fridge,” which delivers ready made meals prepared with Green Market sourced ingredients to the fridges of busy, local foods supporters, and health conscious New Yorkers.
In an intriguing delivery, which almost took on the quality of a performative food ritual, our waitress brings to the table a tan parcel centered on a white ceramic dish. Using long handled utensils she makes several cross cuts into the package and as she slices it open, steam escapes from the little nest revealing an arrangement of fish, onions, mushrooms, and winter vegetables. The dish, Local Golden Tilefish en papillote, engages the traditional technique of cooking in folded parchment paper. This creates a special cooking environment, which combined with a saturating shower of Meyer lemon butter sauce, resulted in exceptionally tender fish and carrots. Line-caught fish en paillote is a cornerstone of the Green Table’s winter menu but as it is sourced locally from the Atlantic Fishery, the type of fish changes regularly reflecting both the changing seasonal nuances and sustainable fishery regulations. According to Southeast Fishery Bulletin, a few days after our meal, tilefish became unavailable:
“The commercial harvest of golden tilefish in the South Atlantic federal waters is closed, effective 12:01 a.m. (local time) February 17, 2012, until 12:01 a.m. (local time) January 1, 2013. NOAA Fisheries Service has determined the 2012 commercial quota of 282,819 pounds gutted weight of golden tilefish will have been reached by this date.”
For dessert, we opted for the trio of house-made ice cream. It was difficult to choose between the diverse selection of classic and unique flavors but we happily settled for chocolate, salted caramel, and kaffir lime. Kaffir lime is grown mainly in Southeast Asia, used particularly in Thai cuisine and “only the leaves are used in cooking” [Edible, An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2008, www.nationalgeographic.com/books]. Blended with cardamom, a known digestive, the cold ice cream and tropical flavors summoned memories of summer and were a brilliant end to a dark night’s winter dinner.
After our meal, hours having passed, the sun having set, we walk out to the street passing by the picture window of Amy’s bakery. A half dozen bakers in a flurry of assembly line productivity are starting the bread for the next day’s orders. We chuckle, knowing that some of those loaves are bound for the Green Table. [The Green Table at Chelsea Market (Manhattan), 75 Ninth Avenue (between W15th & W16th Streets), Center of Chelsea Market, across from the waterfall 212.741.9174 Lunch & Dinner: Mon-Fri 11:30AM-10:00PM, Sat 11:00AM-10:00PM Lunch: Sun 11:00AM-4:00PM www.cleaverco.com/]
[Sara Worden, 3/16/12]