A relative newcomer to the downtown dining scene that promises idyllic, yet inventive, farm-focused food in an ethereal, woodsy, and thoughtfully trend-aware setting.
There is a little note that hangs by my coworker’s desk that outlines something called “The Creative Process.” It goes like this:
1. This is awesome
2. This is tricky
3. This is shit
4. I am shit
5. This might be ok
6. This is awesome
After a recent dinner at Little Park, I imagine that Andrew Carmellini’s process in crafting the high-level seasonal and sustainable menu may have looked a lot like that. The local, vegetal concept is the great idea we have all heard a dozen times before, but the challenge facing Mr. Carmellini is in creating food that defies our preconceived notions of this common idea.
I won't pause to consider what the shit iterations of some of these dishes may have looked like because, fortunately, Mr. Carmellini has a great deal of imagination, and his food at Little Park, while not without its imperfections, is exceedingly fresh and unique. Mr. Carmellini is taking risks in his cooking to avoid the tired and the ordinary, and while some resulting dishes are still stuck at just “ok,” many are, in fact, awesome.
I yearned for a greater depth of flavor in the Big Eye Tuna, whose red fresno peppers brought a little too much heat to the delicacy of the tartare, which was also served a little too close to room temperature. The pickled heads of the white beech mushrooms deftly punctuated the dish, though, the vinegar a welcome addition to the fresh radishes and herbs sprinkling the plate.
Better was the Mushroom Carpaccio, an elegant plate of thinly sliced royal trumpet mushrooms marinated in a rich, meaty ragu with cured egg yolks. Here, Mr. Carmellini knows that providing a handsomely carnivorous foil to a plate can make a vegetable an even stronger star, and indeed, the best bites were towards the center of the dish where the mushrooms had had a chance to marinate even more deeply in the juices.
And while the idea of strawberries in a salad recalls for me the soggy salad bar at a Souplantation, the Strawberries and Burrata with arugula and summer herbs was creamy, peppery, and sweet in all the right places. The strawberries themselves were small, tender, and without a note of acidity or bitterness, which could have decimated the plate, instead only highlighting phenomenal quality burrata that would certainly impress any connoisseur.
Mr. Carmellini’s food here pays special attention to the vegetable notes and accents across plates, even in the mains like the Scallops with chanterelles, brown butter, and nettle, and the Long Island Duck with turnips and tangy grapes. Rounds of dark duck sausage take on the same texture and sweetness as the grapes and olives beside it, an exceedingly democratic approach to the dish that biases neither the meat nor the vegetables supporting it.
In many ways my entire meal here is a part of the creative process, the restaurant simply a step in the evolution of seasonal, farm-to-table cooking, and in many ways Little Park is truly a young descendant of restaurants like Blue Hill. It’s still an exciting, creative, adventurous work in progress, and the young, downtown-based diners looking for a power lunch or a dinner date will intuitively accept the dishes that occasionally swing and miss because of the ingenuity and inventiveness upon which the cooking is founded.
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