January 28, 2013 | BITE: My Journal

The Straight and The Marrow

A pork cut from the shoulder is tender and rich on cannellini beans in bacon-cider jus. 
A pork cut from the shoulder is tender and rich on cannellini beans in bacon-cider jus.

          Now that the suckling pig has replaced the eagle as our National Bird and nose-to-tail is the new national sport, more compelling than baseball, there comes The Marrow. On some menus bacon just sneaks up on you.  But at chef Harold’s Dieterle’s third small bistro in the West Village, meat stars in a bow to his ancestry and the menu is divided: The Austrian-German Dieterle’s on one side, the Italian Chiarellis on the other, with cellar depth to match.

 

That’s pastry chef Ginger Fisher on the left, chef-owner Harold Dieterle on the right.

          It’s not the rustic look we expected in the glass-wrapped storefront where the Paris Commune used to be. It has a Mittel-European feel, with red tufted banquettes, the look of brocade on wallpaper, a blast of light from the window on the kitchen, and, courageously, matching salt and pepper shakers on every table.

 

Near a hectic evening’s end, chef Dieterle takes a break and stops by to say hello.

          Dieterle, who went from a Top Chef win to open Perilla on Jones Street, and then his “better-than-authentic Thai” Kin Shop a few blocks away, has taken our pulse, elevated or not. Our foursome of food professionals that first visit is taking forever to order because we’ve never seen a menu quite like this. Imagine, no octopus, no beet salad, no Caesar.

 

Of course we want to taste duck schnitzel but it’s the quark spaetzle we hunger for.

          Instead: Lamb neck. Duck schnitzel. Foie gras mousse with gooseberry. We’re all old enough that we survived the era when we were told fat would kill us. We’re still alive. And we want everything. We quickly demolish warm pretzel rolls, dabbing them with a crème-fraîche-smoothed house-made mustard.

 

Prime beef tartare comes in small dice with vinegar potato chips for the table to share.

           “Meat Plates,” it announces at the top of the menu, offering duck liverwurst on grilled bread and sliced veal breast with pepperoni. Prime beef tartare is served in bold little chunks to spread on vinegar chips for all the table to share. 

 
Hand-cut fettuccine with pork and sage sausage, acorn squash and baked parmesan chips

          Ten-thousand calories later, fueled with a boozy Robber Baron cocktail, I’ve swooned over luscious “lightly sauerbratened” fatso lamb ribs, dragging them through caraway yogurt. I’ve shared the kitchen’s hand cut fettuccine with pork and sage sausage and parmigiano crisps, and passed around with admiring murmurs, the mushroom-kale soup with its braised-duck-and-pretzel dumplings afloat.

 

Braised lamb neck with red sauerkraut and whole roasted carrots on rutabaga purée.

          My friend who ordered the grilled culotte steak – a butcher’s cut of Wagyu, our waitress advises – finds it a bit bland, tasting only of salt from crystals scattered on top. But I don’t mind at all. Given its Wagyu pedigree, it’s properly rich and silken, and cooked rare the way I like it. I imagine I can taste the Beerenauslese wine in its vinaigrette.  And all of us are wild about the cauliflower gratinée in an iron baking pan, served with it.

 

Culotte is a “butcher’s cut,” richer because it’s Waygu. We’re wild for cauliflower gratin.

          Our waitress points out pastry chef Ginger Fisher, working at the window just above our heads, and urges us to try her ginger stout cake piled with firm petals of roasted pear alongside honey ice cream. The apples inside her “hand pie,” a wonderfully crumbly turnover are perfect also, not too sweet. But then they needn’t be, anchored it is on a big slick of sweet caramel.

 

Caramelized duck with parsley root and watermelon radish in spiced huckleberry jus.

          A week later I’m back to taste more. The menu is evolving. The pickled herring salad is gone and braised rabbit leg has been replaced by crispy braised duck with watermelon radish and spiced huckleberry jus.

           I’m not sure who first revived the favorite canapé of the 60’s housewife – bacon wrapped dates – but Dieterle’s are the best I’ve tasted so far, fat little rounds stuffed with gorgonzola and wrapped in prosciutto on saba, a tangy reduction of grape must.

 

It’s my lucky day when two of my companions refuse to taste marrow with sea urchin.

          I have dibs on The Marrow’s signature bone, with its tiny fried potato squares, dabs of sea urchin and lemon aioli to spread on grilled toast. Am I lucky or what? Two of my companions have never eaten marrow and don’t intend to now. In ecstasy from my first bite, I am free to take another.

Tangy red cabbage and pastrami ribbons add flavor boost to perfectly cooked salmon.

          Yes, there are birds and fish on this meat-centric menu. Pork-jowl gets sautéed with cuttlefish. Fried salami flavors grilled chicken. Pastrami and vinegary cabbage season exquisitely rare pan-roasted Scottish salmon, and sweetbreads and tuna belly sauce save the bass from possible prissiness.

          Word is spreading fast. My own twittered raves have reached friends who can’t get a table on their own any time soon. Friday I am back again using my name [confession] to get an 8:30 table. It’s noisier near the bar, where mostly youngish customers, waiting for tables to turn, cadge drinks between determined bar eaters.

 

One day we get four juicy sauerbratened lamb ribs. Another time, three scrawnier ones.

          The chef sends us six little tombstone-shaped cuts of jagerwurst, smoked pork, house-made of course, painted with dabs of violet mustard, and also his special Dungeness crab salad. The crab is dazzlingly complex: marinated in grapefruit and ginger vinaigrette, tossed with shaved radish and green chili in a buttered lettuce dressing, with a crunch of fried egg noodles. (No, of course you wouldn’t necessarily guess all that the crab has been through. I asked. Dieterle confessed.) 

          The mushroom and kale soup, now with tiny duck and pretzel meatballs, is not hot enough. The kitchen sends three lamb ribs rather than four as they did twice before. And alas, blame it on the cow, our marrow bone is smaller, more shallow, a stingier serving than on my earlier tasting. And everyone with me tonight is a marrow fiend.

 

The chef says he was thinking puttaneca in this pasta with tuna marrow and bottarga.

          Of course, our foursome of self-styled foodies must have the evening’s special pasta: Tuna marrow and bottarga tossed with a few too many olive slices on marvelous, plump hand-rolled garganelli. Tuna marrow, a lightly sea-touched gel, is a first for me.

          Imagine baccala gnudi? Well, why not? The mild fish batter makes a heavenly, plump little cake, three of them precisely, in a lively puddle of pine nuts, golden raisins and spicy cherry peppers, mildly scented with rosemary.

 

Little cushions of cod gnudi sit in a sauce of pine nuts, raisins and spicy cherry peppers.

          And we can’t resist the evening’s roast coppa, another cut of meat none of us has ever heard of. Carved from the pig’s shoulder (our waitress indicates where on her own shoulder) it gets wrapped in speck for the roasting. I find it surprisingly pink and tender, slices lined up on a rubble of cannellini beans in bacon cider jus, and just $25 among entrees ranging mostly from $23 to $33, with a long-aged steak to serve two or three at $120. 

          The duck schnitzel is a brilliant invention too, served with spaetzle, hazelnuts, and cucumber-potato salad. Alas, the spaetzle, made using quark, an Australian cream cheese, are too small to savor. On an earlier tasting they were perfect.

 

Bamboo rice risotto in leek purée with a fried egg and onion rings.

          Even the vegetables are a revelation. Mashed stumpf (made with root vegetables), grilled baby romaine with Caesar salad fixings, and crusty dry-aged-beef-fat fried potato chunks ribboned with pepper aioli have my pals raving. Even when I can’t eat another bite, I can’t resist another chunk and then, another.

 

Ginger’s irresistible stout pudding is piled with roasted pears alongside honey ice cream.

          At this point in the evening, sane eaters often insist they can’t possibly eat dessert. Fortunately, there is usually a sweet-lover at the table who objects. I don’t like churros or most fried dough, but the pastry chef’s soft, sugared Berliners oozing Goldschlager-spiked custard win me over. Tonight the kitchen sends a gift of the apple turnover, the irresistible stout cake with poached pears and a plate of remarkable cookies. Luckily I don’t have the discipline to ignore the soft chocolate cookie sandwich or an excellent almond paste round.

          As for the miniature apricot crumb squares that come with the check…since you never know when this fatty life will take its toll, or you might get run over by a bus on the way home, I say go for the gold. 

99 Bank Street between Greenwich and Hudson Streets. 212 428 6000. Dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 11 pm. Friday and Saturday to 11:30 pm. Sunday 5 to 10 pm.

Photographs may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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