April 28, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

Back to Tree

        We’re carrying umbrellas because it’s supposed to rain, but the just opened garden at Tree is already a defiantly
third full on this brisk cool Saturday night. Our friends call out from their rickety picnic table. In fact, resourceful Tim has done the table steadying trick while the waitress is still dashing about seeking help.

photo Steven Richter                                                                                       
Tree's $21 rack of lamb is the antidote to $44 lamb chops.       Photo: Steven Richter  

        People are pouring in tonight, alerted by my rave in New York this week, and by the blackboard outside: “Hooray. The garden is open.”  I am the first to feel a raindrop. (My princess-on-the-pea syndrome). No one else outside seems alarmed, but we are quickly reseated at the roomy table in the front window. And once again, Tim is stuffing a matchbook under the short leg to steady it.

       I spot chef/owner Andrew Robinson imprisoned in the tiny kitchen.  He promised not to shock the system by filling the garden overnight.  But the kitchen is painfully slow. Finally, his thick fish soup with a garlicky crouton gets the evening well launched.  The classic frisee with runny poached egg is as good as I remember.  So I’m startled that the country pate is liverwurst resurrected. 

        After another long intermission – the antics of eclectic passersby on First Avenue are theater of a sort – marvelous short ribs with root vegetables arrive at last, and the roast rack of lamb, alongside a savory hill of ferro pilaf, moistened with mint pistou, amazingly bountiful for just $21.  Tim’s seared duck breast comes in thick, meaty slices, painted with pomegranate reduction (a tad sweet for me) on buttery parsnip puree. But the poached black ruff the chef compared to Chilean sea bass (“But not threatened”), when we spoke on the phone, turns out to be ropey and tough. I’m not sure if it is genetics or overcooking but I did ask for it rarish.

        It almost doesn’t matter that dessert is not a strength here – I am unimpressed by the Alsatian apple tarte and the lame chocolate cake.  It will still be my port before or after off-off-Broadway. And yours if you live near by.

190 First Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets. 212 358 7171.


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