I had the time (let's face it and only enough money) for one big, show-stopping meal during my holiday. Meagre wages had been saved and there was definitely a hit-list of places that I hadn't visited during my first trip to New York City. This is one story of a quiet, intimate and delicious culinary journey.
I had supposedly passed the restaurant earlier that day. I spent six hours walking the streets of Manhattan, there were gifts to buy and things to see. I was running out of time, my love affair with the city was going to end abruptly in the next two days. I was yet to see the public library, Strand bookstore, Ground Zero and the One World Trade Centre (under construction the last time I visited). Having had an amazing few days upstate for a friend's wedding, it was time to cram the final few things left on my itinerary in (my holiday mise-en-place list ha!). Wait, I also had a tour of Brooklyn Brewery booked in for 5pm that day but I will give you guys a run-down of that in a later post!
So, earlier in the day, it is 3.30pm and I have walked what feels like most of Manhattan; supposedly I am facing what is meant to be Atera, at 77 Worth Street. It is opposite a foreboding building that is akin to a large stone obelisk. You may agree not uncommon in the financial district, however this particular building had no windows, it was just a smooth granite-esque windowless skyscraper. A small mystery I will one day solve I hope. Anyway, I messaged a friend (we'll call S.) of mine with whom I was meant to be eating with that night, 'Just passed Atera, apparently, but it seems to be hiding', with which she responded 'Yeah - it's unmarked #sotrendy'. Now, I have no preconceptions when I enter a restaurant, but I was totally worried about finding the restaurant entrance that evening!
Later on, shirt on and slightly half-cut from the brewery tour, we headed downtown on the subway. Our booking was for the second seating at 9.30pm on a Tuesday. Totally an industry reservation. S. is also in the restaurant industry and had met the 'tea-guy' at her work previously. Now if you are unawares, if you are in restaurants and you go to another restaurant to eat where you have a contact/friend, it is good grace to bring a token for the team there (usually in the UK it is straight up beers) so me and S. stepped off the subway and were running around looking for a shop to buy both beer and sweets (as is customary in the U.S. apparently). Apart from the odd fact we could buy both of those things from a pharmacy, we just managed to breeze into the now-manned lobby bang on time.
It was a surprisingly small and demure space. I guess square footage costs its weight in gold in Manhattan, but we were happily surprised by the intimacy. There were a total of 7 guests seated for the second seating (out of a possible 18 apparently) including us. We sat at the counter, the chefs and front of house staff mingled happily behind the counter and our experience began pretty much as we sat down.
I will put a picture of the final menu at the bottom of this post but suffice to say the experience was well-polished from start to finish as to be expected from a two Michelin star restaurant. We started with a tomato essence and granita as we basically came off the street, an appreciated refresher having just run around looking for a pharmacy (off-license?). Highlights of our 18 course tasting menu - which is the only offering at Atera - included Caviar, Pistachio and beer cream; Crab, tomato and rosehip and also Oyster, broccoli and celery. The latter was especially a surprise, me and S. had rung previously to explain the we both weren't keen on oysters - to which the restaurants response was to at least try it - and we were both glad that we placed our trust in the restaurant, it was a standout dish.
There are many great restaurants in New York and I had my doubts in picking such a relatively new one as my 'one big meal' of the trip. I can assure you we left the restaurant having felt well-looked after and having partaken in a true piece of culinary theater. I'm sure a man of larger stature than myself may have left hungry and I will also say it is not for everyone's palate - the couple with too much money and not enough time for each other that were sat next to us are a testament to the nature of fine-dining guests. I agree it probably is hard to appreciate the level of technique and many nuances during a dinner as refined and polished as Atera. I, however, am glad that I had the chance to dine there and it was truly a masterclass not only in refined dining but also in service, guest interaction and tea! We were fortunate enough to receive tea and temperance (non-alcoholic) pairings along with our wine and, yes they were great for the theater, interaction and interest and not to mention delicious, however we just could not consume that much liquid (not a complaint!).
I will leave you with this, Chef Ronny Emborg, a Danish export to Manhattan has bought with him his light-handed, technical but also flavoursome style of Nordic influenced food to the States, with American produce and the previous Atera team under his command. If you are at all remotely interested in food and have someone who shares that passion, it is a pretty penny well spent to take them to dine there.