OA Blog/Destination Dining

Atera - Destined For Greatness

Okay I know that sounds fairly hyperbolic, but I will gladly put my foot in my mouth on this one if I am wrong. First things first, I feel obliged to disclose that I am friendly with Atera’s chef, Matt Lightner. We have spent time traveling and eating together. I am also friendly with Jodi Richard, who owns the restaurant, and her husband Dwight. So if you want to believe that any bias has crept into this review because of those relationships, please be my guest.

However, you would be foolish to discount my recommendation of Atera because it is clearly the best restaurant that has opened in NYC in years. And for those of you who are fans of Modernist cuisine, it is easily the best place in the city to experience the genre, and there is a good argument to make that it is only a matter of time until in becomes the best in the country. And this is based on only one friend’s and family meal that I was invited to last week.

At the heart of this culinary excellence is the aforementioned Mr. Lightner, whose resume includes a stint as the sous chef at Mugaritz in San Sebastian, which he followed with a stint as the executive chef at Castagna in Portland, a position that earned him a Best New Chef award from Food & Wine.

Like many other popular and successful restaurants these days, Atera’s cuisine focuses on foraging (I understand that the restaurant employs two full time foragers in various states.) But what sets it apart from other restaurants in the category is Lightner’s encyclopedic knowledge of modern cookery, along with an acute sense of how to apply it, that few chefs in this country can match.

Since the restaurant only opened a few days ago, I don’t feel it’s fair to post a full review. But a few dishes stood out as potential signatures and I feel comfortable writing about them as this early date in time. They are; Sheep’s Milk Yogurt, Frozen Beet, Jasmine & Lavender; Cured Scallops, Grapefruit, Meyer Lemon & Yuzu; Pork Fat wrapped in thinly-sliced dried Squid with a pork, squid and mushroom dipping sauce (the yummiest dish of the night for me); pulled Grouper cheeks with brown butter and pickled garlic and candied ginger with rice cake (yes the desserts are as good as the savory dishes!)

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Having just returned from a whirlwind tour of Europe where I had the privilege of sampling the cooking of great young chefs like In de Wulf’s Kobe Desramaults and Agape Substance’s Davd Toutain, I can honestly say that my meal at Atera, while not quite as polished, was in the same league. All I can say is go before it becomes impossible to reserve one of the 14 seats at the counter.

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03/26/2012 | Comments (5)