ATERA: chef + forager + mad scientist + artist

Atera 1

Dear Food Diary:
For StalkerBoy’s birthday this year, I wanted to surprise him with a little more than just a “nice” meal. I was aiming for that ecstatic moment when you’re ripping the wrapping paper of a gift, only with every dish and each bite (which would save me on an actual gift! LOL). Atera’s concept of “foraged-food” (the first in NY) fit to a tee. I was only able to snatch a reservation on Friday the 13th (“lucky” us).

Foraging is a new movement adapted by many young chefs. At Atera, chef  Matt Lightner brings nature to our plates through modern cooking techniques. Think man in the wild with the heart of a mad scientist, the sense of a creative artist, in an impeccable kitchen, serving up surprises, one after the other.

Nothing was what it seemed…

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We sat at the bar wrapped around the kitchen. Smaller than I expected. Intimate and attentive to our needs without being overbearing. Very professional, knowledgeable and approachable.
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Our cocktails were brought to us based on our preferences. I asked for something light and refreshing since it was scorching hot outside. StalkerBoy preferred a bit more booze. They both had an herbal/floral component. Unique and different (just can’t seem to remember the names).

$150 per person prix-fixe:

AMUSE BOUCHE 

These little treats seemed never ending, by the time our first course was brought, I was shocked, in a good way of course.

Atera - Beer macaron
Beer Macaron, Frozen Beer with Cheese
Like an icy treat, it melted the minute it hit my tongue.  Imagine freezing beer foam. A little sweet, a little salty, with a malt finish. I’ve never had flavors and textures like this before.

Atera - Flax cookies
Flax Cookies with Pine Nuts and Coriander
A cold, sweet and savory brittle. The pine nuts’ strong aroma stands out amongst the coarse cornmeal like texture. If these came in boxes I would buy them Costco size.

Atera - sun choke
Sunchoke Skins with Buttermilk and Sheep’s Milk
A hint of sweetness, the crunch reminded me of a thick cut potato chip. Partnering with the oozing creamy filling were subtle flower notes. I thought this looked really cute and pretty in a rustic way.

Atera - mini lobster roll
Lobster roll on toasted yeast meringue
Light, airy and sweet. These delicate little rolls were small in size but big in flavor and wow factor.

Atera - horseradish parfait
Horseradish parfait with halibut and mustard
Was a miss for me. Icy cold fish flavor with a spicy wasabi like kick. My taste buds didn’t know what to make of it and honestly neither did I. I’ve never had condiments alone just for the sake of “amusement” so there was no reason I would in solid form. I guess if astronauts were to have fish up in space, this would be a great idea, but not here on earth.

Atera - razor clams 1
Razor clams
One of my favorite and definitely most memorable dishes (not just of the night but ever! ) I’ve been telling friends about this. Creativity, illusion and artistry combined into a single “clam”. As I said before, not everything was what it seemed here,  this clam was a perfect example. Totally edible, the shell was made out of cookie dough, yes… cookie dough, genius!
Atera - razor clams 2
Look at the texture, details and colors. It was almost too perfect to eat. The slightly chilled center tasted like clams but I knew it wasn’t, for a moment there I was confused again, only to be reassured by the crunch of the shell and the absence of any chewy pieces.

Atera - pickled quail eggs, foie gras peanut, rye cracker
Pickled Quail Eggs, Foie Gras Peanut and Rye Cracker
I was more entertained by the whimsical presentation than the flavors. The pickled quail eggs were well, tart and sweet just like a pickle, which I didn’t really care for. The rye cracker tasted a bit like cardboard. BUT the foie gras peanut was amazing.
Atera - foie gras peanut
Once again, it looks like a peanut. The shell texture is intricately done in what looks like a peanut mold. The peanut butter like consistency is once again a bit cold. The savory foie melts along, forming a nice balance of sweet and savory.

Atera - lichen moss crisp
Lichen Moss Crisp with Herb Aioli and Malt Vinegar
A nutty/grassy/seaweed flavor with the texture of Chinese shrimp chips. I could eat a whole bag of it while watching t.v., the perfect alternative to unhealthy chips (even sans the fancy aioli and vinegar).

 

MAIN COURSES

Atera - lumpfish caviar 1
Atera - lumpfish caviar 2
Lumpfish Caviar, Sourdough puree and Sweet Woodruff
A beautiful bouquet on my plate, the sweet woodruff flowers released a sweet and pleasant scent. Unfortunately looks were deceiving, the caviar overpowered the rest, making it extremely salty and unpleasant. I wish I had left if on the side for decoration instead.

Atera - green almonds
Atera - green almonds 2
Green Almonds, Cucumber, Yuba, Fresh Almond Milk and Lovage
The young almonds had that crunch/turnip texture combo. It was almost like a pop. The yuba sheet on top was sweet and delicate. Almond milk added a bit more sweetness. It tasted like almond at its purest, with hints of that celery/fennel like aroma from the lovage.

Atera - diver scallops
Diver Scallops cured with Gin Botanicals (Sheep Sorrel) with Picked Green Tomatoes and Sesame
Sheep Sorrel would play the citrus component here, they have a very mild lemony aroma, but it lacked that acidity overall. The scallops were a bit bland and “fishy”. I wished there were a sauce or something to save the day. The icy green tomatoes didn’t do the trick.

Atera - peeky-toe crab
Peeky-Toe Crab, Tapioca, Toasted Shrimp, Wild Ginger Gelee and Salad Burnet
The totoro leaf (as I call it) aka Nasturtium always brings a smile to my face. The dish was light and refreshing. The different textures came together in an unexpected way, like a japanese zen garden. Sweetness from the crab, that bit of pop and chew from tapioca, bouncy/ meaty shrimp and umami filled gelee with hints of minty cucumber from the salad burnet.

Atera - salted rye bread
Salted Rye Bread and Cow’s Milk Cheese
Warm, soft and chewy. That cheese had an intense almost potent smell, in a good way of course, but a bit too cheesy for this China girl.


Drumroll please… prepping for their version of  RAMEN
Atera - ramen 1
The Chicken broth arrived first… building up the anticipation, StalkerBoy loves ramen. Plus, noodles are symbolic of longevity on birthdays for Chinese culture, so this was perfect.
Atera - ramen 2
The “noodles” showed up with a seasoning packet made from potato parchment, just like instant noodles, super cute! We were instructed to leave it in…
Atera - ramen 3
Our seasoning packet slowly dissolved into the warm broth. We were left with pieces of crispy skin and Cinnamon Basil that flavored the dish, yes, it did taste like cinnamon and sweet basil. The concentrated chicken broth had umami that carried through anything it immersed. The “noodles” were squid ribbons, a great idea to substitute regular noodles, loved it.

Atera - dried beets
Atera - dried beets 2
Dried Beet “Ember”, Roe in Lobster and Urchin Emulsion with Red Hibiscus
I’ve had my share of beets but nothing like this. All the flavors were so concentrated. It looked like a burnt whole beet on the outside, but once cut open, it was tender and sweet, it almost looked like a piece of meat. The creaminess of the emulsion, pops of salty roe and a slight tang from the red hibiscus made it an truly uncommon preparation.

Atera - pork fat roll
Sourdough Roll with Pork Fat
I drooled when the server mentioned pork fat and felt a little tingle… Pipping hot, awesome crisp crust and that fat flavor was like eating a juicy piece of meat. Ohhhhhh…

Atera - halibut
North Coast Halibut, Young Pickled Garlic, Whey and Chamomile
Usually I end my meals with chamomile tea, but here, they’ve incorporated to the moist halibut course. The whey sauce has that oatmeal/nuttiness and sweetness. I wasn’t interested in the young garlic, perhaps because it was pickled and had an odd texture (1/2 raw, 1/2 mushy). The floral notes of chamomile were comforting and familiar, the combination of it all was nice and the white on white was quite pretty to look at.

Atera - Sweetbread
Atera - Sweetbread 2
Broiled Sweetbreads, Savory Hazelnut Toffee and Garlic Scape
I enjoyed that sweet and savory hazelnut toffee crust, but on the inside I prefer my sweetbread a bit more cooked, grilled thinly if possible (the Argentinean way). This was more like fat to me and not that flavorful kind. It sorta reminded me of a luxurious version of General Tsao’s chicken. The garlic scape was similar to string beans only garlicky.

Atera - beef and marrow 2
Grilled Dry Aged Four Story Beef Strip, Pickled Marrow, Porcini
A fine piece of meat, cooked just right. Along with the chard and beef flavors, the porcini released that extra aromatic mushroom flavor through each bite.
Atera - beef and marrow
The marrow took on a different form, and showed up in between bites with that melt in your mouth texture and a bit of tang.

 

DESSERT

Atera- white rose
White Rose, Wild Flower Sherbet and Sea Rose Mallow
One of the most stunning desserts I’ve ever seen. Beautifully delicate, the flavors exploded with the rose, like perfume, that lingered on. The sea rose mallow (hibiscus) was a little tart, contrasting the sweet floral sherbet (frozen like a sorbet, but it has a small amount of milk fat). The combination took me back to that feeling of first love ;)

Atera - peach
Peach poached in Skeleton Rose Ceranium and Sunflower Toffee
Once again, the presentation blew me away. The pit was made with ice cream, but looked exactly like the real thing. The juicy peach had that sweet ripe flesh with an herbal finish from the skeleton rose ceranium. A bit of crunch underneath from the sunflower toffee added nice texture. Really enjoyed it. Light and luscious.

Atera - strawberry shortcake
Wild Strawberry Shortcake, Raw Milk Ice Cream and Mint
Unlike any I’ve ever had, this wasn’t baked! Instead, they aired the cake batter and froze it. Light, airy and cold. Melt in your mouth. The mint brightens everything and the raw milk ice cream tasted like the purest creamy frozen treat. Strawberries were small but had huge flavor.

Atera - churros
Churro, Salsify, White Cardamon and Cinnamon
As excited as I was to have churro, the texture was really off for me. Way to chewy. I grew up eating churros in Buenos Aires and this wasn’t it, which I’m ok with, since there’s a twist to everything we had, but I just didn’t care for the sticking to the teeth effect. The flavors were nice and that hazelnut/chocolate on the side was finger lickin’ good.

Atera - bourbon ice cream sandwich
Bourbon Cask Ice Cream Sandwich, Almond, Vanilla
The almond flour cocoa cookie had a crisp  and grainy texture which worked well with the creamy center. The ice cream was made in actual bourbon oak casks, faintly giving that boozy finish.

Atera - walnut and hazelnut truffle
Atera - walnut and hazelnut truffle 2

Black Walnut Truffle and Hazelnut Truffle
Chocolate and heavy cream always makes a good combo. No exception here. The hazelnut tasted familiar  but  the black walnut was dark and filled with walnut flavor, it looked like a walnut too, which didn’t seem to get old.

Atera - drip coffee
Drip coffee, I couldn’t do it since I don’t do well with caffeine late at night, but the fellow next to me ordered and just watching the process I was mesmerized by the attention to every single detail.

Atera - tea
Tea was prepared at the perfect temperate. Chamomile was soothing as always, can’t never go wrong with such ending.

One my all time most interesting meals, my favorite so far this year. Not gimmicky but truly fascinating. $150 per person prix-fixe isn’t bad considering the work that went into every single element of each dish. Since it’s locate on Worth St, I would say this was totally “worth” it (cheesy I know, but I couldn’t help it). And though not every dish was a hit for me, the really great ones made up for lost attempts. I would highly recommend it for a special occasion or if you’re in the mood for something unique and different. Menu changes based on availability of ingredients

P.S. Chubby’s Rating:chubby rating 5

www.atera.com

77 Worth St.
212.226.1444

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