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Tuesday
Jul262011

Who are you calling 'The Fat Radish?'

  • Restaurant  The Fat Radish
  • Cuisine  American, gastropub, local
  • Location  17 Orchard St. (between Hester & Canal Streets), Manhattan 
  • Phone  212-300-4053
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  rustic, shabby-chic meets LES cool
  • Attire  smart casual
  • Ideal for  small groups, 1x1, date night, foodies, eat/drink at the (small) bar
  • Price  moderate

"Have you been anywhere great lately?"  ('Anywhere,' meaning a restaurant in NYC) I get asked this question all the time, especially upon meeting someone for the very first time, or by friends whom I haven't seen in a while.  And, despite the fact that I live in the city that prides itself on being the "restaurant capital of the world," my answer, typically, is 'no.' 

I find minimally-portioned, "fancy food" to be annoying and, often times, more palatable to the eye than it is to the appetite.  And, when it comes to the city's hottest new restaurant(s), there was a time when I used to get excited and caught-up about scoring a seat at that highly-coveted table but, after one too many disappointing experiences, I realized that I needed to keep my expectations (prior to dining at a new "it" venue) neutral.  Flat-lined.   After all, wasn't I doing myself a disservice by walking in to every restaurant with sky-high expectations...only to leave dissatisfied?

The Fat Radish, located in NYC's uber-trendy Lower East Side neighborhood, is one of those restaurants that, despite having been opened for almost a year now, is still as popular, today, as it was 6-months ago (in the heat of all of the publicity/magazine articles/PR/etc).  I decided that, if I wanted to get a taste of this downtown gem, there was no better weekend than the July 4th holiday to take advantage of a handful of unoccupied dinner tables that weren't being held for 5:30pm or 11pm reservations.  And, as luck would have it, my theory worked: due to Manhattan's mass holiday-weekend exodus, I was able to score a three-top for Saturday evening at 8pm.    

In true Lunch Belle fashion, I arrived at TFR (The Fat Radish) about 10-minutes shy of 8pm.  After checking in with the friendly hostess, I made a bee-line towards the bar.  The 'tender greeted me with a smile and asked what it was that I typically liked to drink.  "Tequila," I replied.  "I love a good margarita. Mexican restaurant, or not."  He informed me that my favorite cocktail just so happened to be one of his specialities and, moments later, I was presented with a chilled, salty-rimmed martini glass filled to the brim with an "up" margarita.   

Two or three sips in to my margarita, my dinner dates, Cathy and Clint, arrived.  Within moments, we were whisked to our cozy, corner banquette that was conveniently located in a position seemingly overlooking the entire dining room. 

Interior design stand outs included: white-washed, exposed brick walls - ceiling heights soaring to the heavens - a vaulted skylight illuminating the entire back quarter of the space - and a giant, rectangular-shaped mirror that was perfectly hung just below the skylight, in the very back of the dining room (this aided to visually open up the space two-fold).

Photo: ZagatAlong with cocktail and dinner menus, we received a gratis plate of, none other than, the restaurant's namesake, radishes!  For folks who've never tried this sometimes bitter root vegetable, I found the kitchen's preparation to be the perfect introduction: radish quarters were tossed in olive oil and olive tapenade, and finished with a delicate dusting of sea salt.

The three of us unanimously decided to kick off dinner by splitting the "grilled cheese and pickles" appetizer.  A small plate, topped with brown butcher paper (which I assume was there to seep-up the grease and pickle juice), arrived piled-high with a mound of sliced, bright green dills and grilled cheese "fingers."  What I believe to have been sour dough bread was perfectly buttered and toasted to a crisp, giving way to a gooey, molten center of pungent white cheese. 

We could not have been more thrilled with this dish except, perhaps, had we ordered a second helping.  

By this point in the meal, I was beginning to get nervous.  Here I was, at one of the trendier restaurants in town and, in terms of the actual food, I was impressed.  However, it's typically at this particular point - post-appetizer, that is - when things begin to take a turn for the worst.  Would my entree be able to stay afloat/hold its own?  Or, would it be catapulted in to my edible vault of disappointment?

I opted for the Green Curried Monkfish, which arrived over a bed of nutty wild rice and was accompanied by a side of sheep's yoghurt raita.  The delicate white fish was served in perfectly bite-sized chunks, and enveloped by a mildly spicy, though beautifully fragrant (lime, basil, a smidge of corriander and cumin), green curry sauce.  Spoonfuls filled with rice, curry, and fish - followed by quick dunks in to the cool, creamy raita - were blindingly decadent and euphoric.  So much so, that I tried to pace myself - to just eat a little bit slower.  I made a concerted effort to leave 1/4 of the entree on my plate.  But, in the end, the food won: this dish was far too delicious not to enjoy in its entirety. 

That's right, folks: I fought the food, but the food won.

To conclude: TFR is simple.  No fuss, frills, or attitude.  The kitchen has the magical ability of turning high quality ingredients in to excellent plates.  However trendy/hip it may be, the staff never made me feel rushed or "un-Hollywood."  In fact, all of the employees that we encountered could not have been nicer or more willing to go the extra "service" mile.  And the atmosphere?  Sigh.  I loved the shabby-chic, unapologetically urban space.

I hope to get to TFR for brunch in the very near future!

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

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