New York – An interview with Dan Kluger & dining at ABC Kitchen with Jean-Georges

Restaurant: ABC Kitchen
Cuisine:
 American/Local/Organic/Brunch
Last visited: 
March 8, 2014
Phone: +1 212-475-5829
Location: 
Manhattan, NY (Gramercy/Flatiron)
Address:
 35 E 18th St
Price Range:
 $30-50+ (about $50/person)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6Tres Excellent!!

Food: 4.5
Service: 4
Ambiance: 5
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten venture
  • Executive Chef Dan Kluger
  • ABC Kitchen/ABC Cocina
  • Named Best New Restaurant 2010
  • Farm-to-table
  • Local/seasonal menus
  • Mostly organic
  • GMO-free
  • Modern ambiance
  • Casual, but sophisticated
  • Reservations recommended
  • Brunch: sat, sun 11am-3:30pm
  • Lunch: mon-fri 12pm-3pm
  • Dinner
    mon-wed 5:30pm-10:30pm
    thurs 5:30pm-11pm
    fri-sat 5:30pm-11:30pm
    sun 5:30pm-10pm

**Recommendations: Crab Toast with Lemon Aioli, Roasted Kabocha Squash Toast, Akaushi Cheeseburger

ABC Kitchen New York Manhattan 01What a great spot! I’m a few years behind since it opened in 2010, but I finally made it. It was on my dining itinerary for Follow Me Foodie to New York 2011, but I ran out of time so saved it for round 2, which happened to be my “Follow Me Foodie to New York: Restaurants worth flying for” series presented by Cathay Pacific.

To be honest, I wouldn’t really put it in this category because it’s not necessarily a destination restaurant. I guess it could be for some, but it is more of an every day restaurant for locals (for New York standards). That’s the good thing about it too. It’s a restaurant I would go to more than once and it has potential to be the “Balthazar” of today. It’s been open for less than 5 years and it already feels like a New York classic. So if you are visiting New York, I’d still put it on the dining itinerary, and maybe even more than once if you happen to be there often.

Keep in mind this is New York though, and reservations are always recommended at any remotely popular restaurant. It can be a challenge to get a seat at ABC Kitchen especially since it’s a local favourite, but it’s worth trying. They also opened ABC Cocina on the other side of ABC Kitchen, a sexier and slightly more upscale version of ABC Kitchen offering modern and eclectic dining. They’re designed with a black and white contrast and both sides are busy any given day of the week at any time.

ABC Kitchen New York Manhattan 03ABC Kitchen is a Jean-Georges Vongerichten venture in partnership with ABC Carpet & Home, a modern home and furniture store in the Flatiron District. The restaurant is designed with environmentally conscious furnishings which are consistent with the theme of the local and organically sourced ingredients and food. The farm-to-table vibe is well designed to evoke sophistication without pretentiousness. The image is contrived, but in a non-offensive way. It is still cozy and quaint despite the size of the restaurant which is large for New York (seats about 100). It is New York, yet very not New York at the same time and I was easily charmed by it. It is casual enough to go on a weekday, but nice enough for even a special occasion.

ABC Kitchen New York Manhattan 02The pastry and dessert kitchen.

ABC Kitchen New York Manhattan 04The menu is approachable, sophisticated and well executed and it doesn’t feel mass produced given the context. It’s not exactly a small and intimate restaurant, but they do a good job giving the menu and ambiance warmth and personality. It shouldn’t be too surprising though since it is under the wing of Michelin-starred Jean-Georges (see my dining experience at Jean-Georges here). The executive chef is Dan Kluger who has done an excellent job executing Jean-Georges’ vision and carrying the philosophy of ABC Kitchen.

Farm-to-table, local, sustainable, organic, GMO-free, and all natural are used to describe many restaurants nowadays, so seeing them used to describe ABC Kitchen didn’t phase me. They are positive food movements here to stay, but the words have lost their impact and are too tainted by marketing these days (see my post on this issue here). It is hard to imagine a restaurant of this size (seats 100 and typically full) commit 100% to these food movements, but the restaurant was built around these concepts. That being said, the menu is not 100% local or organic, although most ingredients are and at times purchased from the farmers market. For the volume they do here, they would clean out the farmers market if all purchasing was done there.

While I support the good intentions, I didn’t enjoy the restaurant as a “farm-to-table” and “local” restaurant. I actually enjoyed it as simply a restaurant making very good food that I would come back to with either friends or family. It could be appreciated by the majority, but it still felt special and original, and creating that experience is a challenge. They know their clientele and how to please them and that’s a big part of the game.

The menu offered refined American food and some reinterpreted classics and it had all the parts to a successful restaurant. The household name certainly helps, but it doesn’t rely on it to fill seats. The ingredients are fresh and it is food you felt good about eating. It is food I would want to make and eat at home on even a regular basis and even serve to friends and family. It is not necessarily anything you haven’t had before or anything other restaurants are not doing, but they just do a good job with the menu and execution. It is simple, yet modern food professionally prepared with good quality ingredients and solid recipes created by one of the world’s best chefs… what more can I say? They had it figured out before it even started.

ABC Kitchen New York Manhattan 16The home and kitchen department at ABC Carpet & Home.

Note: This meal was paid for, however previous arrangements were made with public relations for an interview with chef Dan Kluger. All opinions are my own.

On the table:

ABC Kitchen New York Manhattan 05Complimentary Bread & Butter 

  • I always appreciate good quality bread and butter and it can say something about a restaurant.
  • The country style bread was house made, but not served warm.
  • It was made with whole wheat flour and perhaps something else, but the flavour was quite mild.
  • It had a thick crust and chewy moist interior and it wasn’t heavy.
  • The olive oil was good quality and it had a peppery kick in the finish.

ABC Kitchen New York Manhattan 07**Crab Toast with Lemon Aioli 5/6 (Excellent)

  • $16
  • My friend recommended the crab toast and it was an excellent choice.
  • It was the same country bread and it was lightly toasted with butter.
  • It was topped with a fair amount of fresh, juicy and moist crab which was lightly dressed in lemon aioli, dill, and perhaps some dried chili flakes.
  • There was a little bit of heat (everything Jean-Georges makes always has a bit), but it wasn’t spicy.
  • I think the crab was Peekytoe Crab which is a bit sweet and delicate and similar to Dungeness crab.
  • The crab salad was dolloped with aioli and it didn’t even taste like it was mixed with any.
  • It was very light and delicate and I liked the rustic elegance of this simple appetizer.
  • It was a bit pricey, but there was a decent amount of crab.
  • Another Peekytoe Crab I had during this trip was at Empellon – see the gorgeous looking Peekytoe Crab Salad.

ABC Kitchen New York Manhattan 08**Roasted Kabocha Squash Toast4/6 (Very good)

  • Fresh ricotta and apple cider vinegar $12
  • I didn’t know if I should order another toast, but I liked the sound of this and I love Kabocha squash.
  • It was something one could make at home, but I didn’t enjoy it any less here.
  • It came on the same crusty country style bread which was toasted with butter.
  • The roasted kabocha squash was a creamy rough mash and there was an unexpected heat (but if you know Jean-Georges’ palate, it’s expected).
  • The fresh ricotta underneath was not salty and it gave it more body and richness.
  • I find squash typically paired with goat cheese, but this ricotta was lighter and milder in flavour.
  • I could have used more basil leaves and even some pecans or pine nuts for added crunch.
  • I got some acidity from the apple cider vinegar and it was a sweet, savoury and tangy dish.
  • I love sweet and savoury so I loved this combination.

ABC Kitchen New York Manhattan 12House Roasted Turkey Sandwich4/6 (Very good)

  • Applewood smoked bacon, arugula and jalapeños $18
  • I probably wouldn’t have ordered this, but the waitress recommended it as one of her favourites.
  • It was a substantial turkey sandwich with a generous amount of stuffing.
  • The crunchy baguette was house made, but I found it a bit too chewy and tough.
  • The turkey was white meat so it wasn’t as moist or flavourful as dark, but also on the drier side even for being white meat.
  • I liked the salty crisp house made bacon, spicy jalapeños, and I think lemony aioli to round up the sandwich.
  • It was salty, slightly tangy with a bit of heat, but I wanted something sweet like an onion jam or fruit preserves.
  • It was a solid sandwich, different from your Thanksgiving turkey sandwich, but also not particularly memorable because it wasn’t your Thanksgiving sandwich.
  • It was served with crisp hand-cut herbed fries and house made ketchup which were both also very good.

ABC Kitchen New York Manhattan 09**Akaushi Cheeseburger5/6 (Excellent)

  • With herbed mayo and pickled jalapenos $24
  • I don’t know why the burger caught my attention, but it did. The waitress reinforced the decision by saying it was a house favourite.
  • Again it came with crisp hand-cut herbed fries and house made ketchup.
  • The crispy herbs which come nicely fried included rosemary, thyme and parsley, but they didn’t give as much as they used to.

ABC Kitchen New York Manhattan 10

  • Are you drooling at your screen yet? I am.
  • A medium rare burger at any restaurant already has my attention.
  • The Akaushi (“red cow” in Japanese) is a Japanese Wagyū breed, and the ones they use here are raised in Texas. It is comparable to Kobe beef.
  • Therefore it is not technically local, which deviates from the “eat local” theme.
  • If they didn’t stress it, it wouldn’t bother me as much since I tend to put quality first anyway.
  • They used 8 ounces of house ground chuck and short rib for the burger which are really tough and fatty cuts, but it was very tender here.
  • It was loosely ground meat with no fillers and simply seasoned with salt and pepper.
  • I don’t even think there was egg to hold it together and it was so rich in beefy flavour and I barely had to chew the patty.
  • It was extra juicy and succulent, thanks to the Akaushi beef, well seasoned and cooked perfectly.
  • The light bun was soft and fluffy, but still chewy and I wished it was a brioche bun.
  • There were few ingredients and nothing masking the flavour of the incredible beef which I didn’t mind at all. It was the star of the show.
  • There was a layer of jalapeños, just like in the roasted turkey sandwich, but it wasn’t spicy and just gave the burger a bit of background heat.
  • There was also a little bit of arugula and a basil-chive mayo for extra flavour.
  • I couldn’t really taste the locally made Cato Corner raw-milk cheese and I didn’t really care. It was all about the beef, baby.
  • Other notable New York burgers are the Chargrilled Burger from The Spotted Pig, The Cheeseburger from Peels, The Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern, the French Onion Soup Burger at Little Prince, the Griddled TM Burger at the Marrow and of course, the cheeseburger at Shake Shack.

An interview with Dan Kluger of ABC Kitchen

1. You’re a successful self-taught chef, but if you were to go to culinary school, which one would it be and why?

If I wanted to stay in NYC, I would probably go to ICC, which is pretty intensive and offers a wide variety of specialties. It would also give me the opportunity to trail at various restaurants throughout the city, while in school. They have a lot of great resources and chefs on their culinary council.

If I were to go to culinary school outside of NYC, I would probably go to CIA Greystone. Would be amazing to experience life in Napa Valley as well as obtain a very formal culinary education. The opportunity to learn classic French fundamentals like the mother sauces while also spending time at vineyards and farms would be incredibly beneficial.

2. Many restaurants are purchasing from farmers’ markets and embracing the eat local movement, what sets ABC Kitchen apart?

I think the commitment that we have to our farmers and the volume of produce that we purchase throughout the year sets us a bit apart. We don’t purchase from farmers to supplement items, but heavily rely on them. We’re working with one of our favorite farmers to grow specific produce for the restaurant. It’s neat when we are able to have the relationship with farmers to grow specific size and looking carrots that fits our needs at the restaurant. In regards to the local and sustainable movement, it’s important and a priority for me to sustain our local economy while supporting the livelihood of our local farmers and their families.

3. Thoughts on the organic food industry?

What is important to me is honest and quality ingredients coming from honest farming, not necessarily what is USDA approved, which may not necessarily be healthy for the plant or for humans.

4. You seem to really love pork, what are some of your favorite pork dishes in New York?

I’m a pork fan, but I wouldn’t say I’m a diehard pork fanatic.

Ippudo’s Shiromaru Hakata Classic ramen that has tonkotsu, and topped with pork loin chashu, and other great vegetables.
Momofuku’s pork buns, of course.
Empellon Taqueria’s chicharrones with salsa Veracruz.
Maialino’s Pig.

5. You used to be a DJ before you were a chef, which musicians would you want to cook for?

Billy Joel, Adele and Taylor Swift

6. Name 3 underrated restaurants in New York worth flying for.

Barbutto
Morandi
Perry Street

7. Which chef would you want to go head to head with in a cooking competition?

Most likely Floyd Cardoz. I was his sous chef when he was on Iron Chef and we had a lot of fun competing together against Bobby Flay, I think it would be a great experience to be against Floyd this go around.

8. What lesson has Jean-Georges taught you that you instill in every chef? And a lesson he hasn’t taught you that you teach other chefs?

Jean-Georges has taught me to really instill overall cleanliness in our staff. He and everything he touches is impeccably clean.

Chef Floyd has always instilled not just to me but everyone who works for him to be passionate about every dish you cook. Cooking from the heart is something that can’t be taught. It’s a constant reminder of why we do what we do. You can taste it in the dish.

Lightning Round

9. Sour Patch Kids or M&M’s?

BOTH! Depends on the mood.

10. Roast BBQ pork buns in Chinatown or instant ramen?

BBQ pork buns

11. Mom’s stollen or the cake she made you on your wedding day?

Stollen

12. Most overrated New York specialty?

Bialys

13. Early Jay-Z or early Usher?

Jay

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