Friday, December 01, 2023

Atera (New York, NY)

Atera Restaurant
77 Worth St, New York, NY 10013
Fri 12/01/2023, 05:00p-07:30p

Atera Exterior

The second dinner of my recent NYC side trip brought me to Atera, a place that I'd been curious to try for the better part of a decade. Named after a Basque word meaning "to go out," the restaurant was originally opened in March 2012 by Chef Matthew Lightner (ex-Castagna) and financial backer Jodi Richard. Two Michelin stars arrived just seven months after debut, but Lightner eventually departed in March 2015. He was quickly replaced by Ronny Emborg, who remains the head chef to this day.

About the Chef: A native of Denmark, Ronny V. Emborg was born in December 1982. He began his culinary training in 2000 at Molskroen, a beachside hotel-slash-restaurant in Ebeltoft. In 2004, he left for a position aboard the HDMY Dannebrog, the private yacht of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, then moved over to Copenhagen's posh Hotel d'Angleterre the following year. During this period, he also participated in the Bocuse d'Or, helping Rasmus Kofoed secure a bronze medal in '05. In 2006, Emborg became a sous chef at Restaurant Prémisse, and took on a similar role at Geranium in 2007. However, shortly after the move, he relocated to Spain for a year, during which time he cooked at Hacienda Benazuza (El Bulli Hotel), Mugaritz, and elBulli proper. He then returned to Denmark and landed a sous position at Herman at the Nimb Hotel.

That post didn't last long though, and by June 2009, Emborg was Executive Chef at Restaurant AOC, which was the former Prémisse, but renamed due to an ownership split. It was here that he achieved his first Michelin star, in March 2010. The Chef ended up leaving to launch Marchal for his former employer Hotel D'Angleterre. The restaurant bowed in May 2013, and was awarded a Michelin star the following March. During this period, he also released his cookbook, entitled The Wizard's Cookbook. Despite this apparent success, Emborg would leave Denmark in March 2015 to become Exec Chef at Atera. He debuted his new menu in May that year, and has been able to retain the restaurant's two Michelin stars. In fact, the team has since launched Farra, a wine bar located just a couple doors down that opened back in March 2020.

Atera Interior
Atera occupies the former Tribeca home of Compose (also owned by Richard), which opened in December 2010 and closed after only eight months following the departure of Chef Nick Curtin. The restaurant is pretty much just a 13-seater counter surrounding the kitchen, though there is a single high top table accommodating up to five guests, as well as a private dining room. Shown above is the view from my seat, smack dab in the middle of the counter. As we can see, the cooks here wear toques, an old school touch that you don't encounter too often these days.

Atera Menu
Here's the night's menu, signed by Chef de Cuisine Erin Paterson, who apparently started out at Atera as a sous before working her way up to CdC. Pricing was a pre-paid $298 a person, plus $31.45 tax and a $5 Tock fee; note that service is not included. Wine/non-alcoholic pairings are an additional $198/$118, while the Old World-leaning wine list (presented to me tonight by sommelier Dan Lusardi) can be viewed here. Click for a larger version.

Hand Towel
Upon being seated, I was quickly presented with a eucalyptus-scented warm towel, which was much appreciated.

King Crab
1: King Crab | Apple, Caviar
In my first, amuse-bouche-like course, the sweetness of both king crab and Honeycrisp apple played off the salinity of Ossetra caviar, while a celeriac cream mediated the interaction.

1999 Raventós I Blanc, Enoteca Personal, Conca Del Riu Anoia
To drink, the late-disgorged 1999 Raventós i Blanc, Enoteca Personal, Conca Del Riu Anoia [$360] was an easy pick for me given the bottle's rarity (only 405 produced) and its below-retail pricing. I first tried the wine at cellar temperature, and found a bouquet filled with oxidized, nutty, honeyed, and smoky notes; the palate was similarly mature, and boasted a distinct earthiness to boot, while bubbles were fine and dissipated quickly. My second pour brought boatloads of white truffles on the nose, while-taste wise, the sparkler was noticeably sweeter and nuttier, but with a bitter edge. Pour #3 still had all those truffle aromas, but now with a nutty backing and drizzles of honey, and taking a sip, I found things quite a bit softer, rounder, and fruitier. I then requested that the bottle be chilled, which resulted in an amplification of the bubbly's oxidative, honeyed fragrances at the expense of the truffle, while the palate displayed more nuttiness, but with a markedly sweet backbone. It was a pleasure to witness the evolution of this wine over the course of the night.

2: Æbleskiver | Comte, Truffle
The aebleskiver was a favorite thanks to its delightfully soft, fluffy interior and gratifying cheesiness, accented by pinpricks of sour lime, while the burgundy truffle imparted a smoky weight to the bite. I could've easily popped a few more of these.

Kaluga Caviar
3: Kaluga Caviar | Custard, Bonito
My next course incorporated both bonito broth and smoked olive oil, and was also a highlight thanks to its perfect marriage of saline and smoke, all tempered by a cream custard. Delish.

Trout Roe
4: Trout Roe | Nori, Foie Gras
Though this might look your typical ikura gunkanmaki, it was quite a bit different, and quite a bit better than most. I was a particular fan of the rice here, which was firm in texture, and showed off this toastiness and nuttiness that meshed beautifully with the smoky, briny nature of the trout roe, all while the crispy nori added even more umami to the mix.

5: Hamachi | Avocado, Squash
Fatty, briny shards of Japanese yellowtail were juxtaposed against the sweet-and-sour qualities of butternut squash, Cara Cara, Cape gooseberry, and a citrus ponzu, with a layer of avocado moderating it all. However, I could've used more acidity, salt, or savor to make thing a bit punchier.

6: Scallop | Lobster, Truffle
A well-caramelized Maine diver scallop and super sweet Maine lobster came together flawlessly, bound together by an ultra-concentrated lobster bisque, while disks of black truffle imparted further headiness. Another favorite for sure.

7: Ravioli | Ricotta, Oxtail, Mushroom
This deceptively simple-looking course managed to be a crowd pleaser. The star of the show was a saffron-mushroom raviolo, with its commingling of woodsy, earthy, spicy-sweet, and grassy nuances at the fore, set against the weighty, dark-toned flavors of an oxtail ragù. At the same time, the ricotta foam helped tie it all together, and I appreciated the spinach as well, which lightened the mood.

8: Wagyu | Zucchini, Kombu, Harissa
A5 striploin from Miyazaki was as luxurious as I was expecting, but what really set this apart was the use of harissa, which contributed this piquant heat that balanced out the fatty, smoky richness of the beef perfectly. Meanwhile, ribbons of zucchini and a zucchini purée worked to brighten things up.

9: Squab | Salsify, Carrot, Pear
California squab showed off a superb depth and elegance, and paired like clockwork with a sliver of brioche (it's a combo I'd like to see more often). I was a fan of the coziness of the winter veggies as well, while carrot purée and a savory sabayon provided further dimension to the dish.

1982 D'Oliveiras, Boal Vintage, Madeira, Portugal
To go along with dessert, I ordered a glass of the 1982 D'Oliveiras, Boal Vintage, Madeira, Portugal [$64], which was actually just bottled last year. The wine smelled of juicy, woody raisins, sour fruit, and oxidation. Tasting the Bual, I found a soft palate brimming with more dark-n-dusty fruit, nuts, and a zippy acidity, all accented by touches of herb and mint.

10: Grapefruit | Raspberry, Dulce
The combination of a grapefruit-buttermilk sorbet, crème fraîche, warm raspberry sauce, and dulce de leche resulted in a spot-on interplay of lactic and tart-fruity flavors, with some great crunchy bits thrown in for good measure. Seemingly straightforward, yet surprisingly satisfying.

11: Pistachio | Milk, Caramel
Coming out a vibrant shade of green, this was one of the best pistachio desserts I'd ever had. I loved the super familiar, super tasty nutty-sweet flavors happening here, joined by elements of chocolate and caramel. Excellent crunch from those bits of puffed rice, too.

Marshmallow + Mascarpone + Lemon
12: Marshmallow | Passionfruit
13: Mascarpone | Black Sesame
14: Lemon | Chocolate
A trio of mignardises closed out the night:
  • I began with the canelé-shaped marshmallow, with its passion fruit and coconut flavors, countered by a dark chocolate base.
  • Next up was a crunchy, surprisingly decadent miniature cone filed with coconut ganache and mascarpone.
  • Lastly, we had a nutty chocolate bonbon that melded together caramel and an unexpectedly tropical lemon curd.
Walking into Atera, I had expected the food to be somewhere along the lines of New Nordic, given Emborg's background and training. However, what I found was cuisine that veered unapologetically contemporary American, with no qualms about weaving in international influences, Japanese in particular. The end result was ingredient-centric cooking with a global edge, on one hand spare and delicate, on the other lux and full-bodied, all undergirded by the Chef's Danish sensibilities.


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