Backyard Dining In New York City

29 Mar

It was sad to see Savoy, the former incarnation of Back Forty West, go, as it was a pioneer in the “locavore chic” movement where local ingredients are prepared by top-notch chefs in high-end spaces.  This concept seems to be everywhere now, but not over 20 years ago when Savoy came on the scene.  With the urban landscape changing around the restaurant, it had to change too, and while I did like Savoy, the food is still great here at Back Forty West, and the prices are much better.  The space is much more airy and casual, with the decor being reminiscent of a summer home on Fisher’s Island or Cape Cod.  The polos and standard cooking aprons with the Back Forty insignia worn by the waiters made me feel as if I was being served at a backyard barbecue in one of the aforementioned destinations.  The nautical vibe was extended to the clean glass light fixtures and the collage of artwork that lined the walls featuring small framed prints and paintings, including some of shells and beach landscapes.

The menu is a pretty good size, with the items split up into how you eat them: ‘Hands’, ‘Fork’, ‘Spoon’, and so on.  Warning: you have to pay for bread if you want it.  The menu really does have a little bit of everything; plenty of traditional dishes, but with lots of surprises thrown in here and there.

I started with the Shaved Celery Root with Roasted Forest Mushroom Salad which didn’t quite fill out the huge wooden bowl it was served in but was still was a decent size.  The bulk of the dish was mustard greens with a few pieces of celery root that at first glance I thought were slices of cheese.  Upon biting into the raw root vegetable, I was quickly reminded of what they were, as celery root is not nearly as soft as cheese is.  The buttermilk dressing was a tad salty but went great with the meaty mushrooms.  And the little things that looked like bugs crawling around the salad?  Well, they were none other than chef Shanna Pacifico‘s famed Black Puffed Rice which added a nice touch of crunch and flare to the dish.

For my main course, I ordered the Pan Seared Spanish Mackerel, though I was tempted by the Grass Fed Burger, a steal at $12, but I had that when the restaurant was Savoy, and I’m guessing it’s pretty similar.  The accompaniments to the fish sounded too interesting to pass up: Spicy Zhoug and Buttery Frik.  The Zhoug is a Middle Eastern pesto, typically made with cilantro, parsley, garlic, and pumpkin seeds, and the Frik is a relative of Freekeh (I’m glad I’m not in that family) which is a grain made from green wheat.  I really enjoyed the monochromaticity of the dish, with the green grains, green pesto, and a green leek on top of the fish, which was thankfully not green.  Every aspect of the dish was delicious and perfectly cooked; the fish was slightly crisp on the outside while buttery smooth in the center and all the different flavors and textures went together perfectly .

This place seems almost too good to be true: no wait at 8 on a Friday night, wonderful decor, great food, polite service, good prices, and they let us stay  long after we had paid.  It won’t be long before Back Forty West will be as popular as its East Village sister, where waits can be around 45 minutes for the same time, but I hope in vain that it won’t.  It’s nice to have a good go-to restaurant like this is SoHo, a neighborhood where many restaurants are more about the social scene than the food.

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