Those rare times when we discover a restaurant we love before it has been “written up,” we live in fear that once the write-up comes the lines will grow along with the sound level. So if you live in NY or are coming to visit, hopefully you will get there before this happens to Thor, in the Hotel Rivington in NY’s East Village. Thor is not a new restaurant but it does have a wonderful new chef!First the location: Do you remember the movie “Crossing Delancey Street” and Gus’s pickles? Well this is virtually around the corner in what is the new and arguably most trendy neighborhood in Manhattan. If you arrive early, have a drink in the bar area—the design is both compelling and comfortable and the mixed drinks excellent. But it is the small and very modern dining room that makes you catch your breath. Highly modern but perfectly cozy and intimate, look up and see the sky through the glassed in roof, along with myriad fire-escapes that make you half expect to hear Marlon Brando yelling: “STELLLAAAA.”(yes I know that took place in the south but still…this is southern Manhattan…) Executive chef Jesi Solomon, knows how to cook to satisfy the senses. His skill is reinforced by his passion for his profession and his warmth of spirit. His cooking is classically based but not overly refined or overly rich. When you’ve finished eating you feel utterly replete without feeling stuffed. We soon discovered that the very knowledgeable and equally dedicated sommelier Daniel is his brother.
As we dined we became so curious about the flavors and the chef’s background that every time Daniel appeared at our table we asked him more questions. They are from the south west—Tucson Arizona, and their mother is a talented home cook from Turkey. Their father is a professor of the classics and also an avid bread baker. They both must be very proud of their sons. I brought my camera but couldn’t bear to stop eating to photograph. I only took a few notes at the end because I knew the food was so memorable I would have no trouble recapturing many of the high-lights: We began with a glass of orange label Veuve Cliquot (I never liked the yellow label but have loved the Grand Dame on the rare occasions when offered—the more affordable orange label, I’m pleased to report, is excellent.) I then switched to an excellent Rioja (Pedro Martinez Alesanco reserva 2001) which I enjoyed enough to have a second glass! Elliott had an octopus salad which I ended up finishing because I don’t usually like octopus and this was so tender and flavorful, perfectly complemented by the texture and saltiness of olives, he was moved to generosity. We shared the fantastic bacon and oyster hushpuppies with chipotle tartar sauce which may well have been my favorite course of the evening. Crispy and far lighter than any hushpuppie I’ve ever had the oyster was deliciously fresh and juicy. (I must return for the pork belly paté, boudin noir, and pickled watermelon rind side dish—how did I miss seeing that!) We also couldn’t stop eating the side dish of perfect-textured gnocchi with intense foie glazed balsamic figs. For the main dishes. we shared the spiced rack of lamb with feta chile relleno and veal burger both of which were astonishingly good. the veal burger was topped with “melted” leeks and foie gras mustard, on the airiest of buns and accompanied by the best fries I’ve ever encountered. In fact, though I most always love fries, they are so filling and so ordinary I usually leave most of them in favor of the rest of the meal, but I simply couldn’t stop eating these. Daniel thought the compelling flavor might be paprika but I knew there was something indefinably different and had missed seeing the word “truffled” on the menu. When Jesi arrived at or table he told us it was salt with truffle shavings in it. So fascinating because unlike truffle oil that makes its appearance almost too overwhelmingly present, the truffle salt does what truffles were always intended to do—enhance and intensify the food while staying in the background. Jesi makes this salt by dehydrating the truffle scraps and mixing them in with the salt. The salt also acts as a preservative. (Brilliant concept!) Jesi and Daniel understand their medium and their passion for it is as apparent as their love for the people they are serving. With this combination they cannot do anything short of succeeding in a very long term sort of way. So you are wondering what about desert? Sous chef Beth Huber designs them, and they are produced by Concepcion Sotaribba and Alejandro Almazo. (As a baker I’m always anxious to credit the pastry people!) Chef Huber’s taste sensibility is in entire harmony with that of Chef Solomon’s. We enjoyed a peanut butter, salted chocolate, caramel, and banana sundae (a fabulous combination of flavors) and an excellent chocolate bread pudding accented with just the right amount of dark rum and vanilla ice cream, after which I slept well and woke up 1 pound lighter (go figure!).