232 Bleecker is the first sit-down restaurant by the company formerly known as Dig Inn, the Danny Meyer-backed bowl chain that serves “seasonal American food, mostly vegetables,” per its website. No surprise: 232 traffics in plant-heavy American fare, much of it cooked over a wood-burning hearth, and in an environment that’s more rustic chic than Dig’s sleek cafeteria look.
There is no steak, nor is there a burger. But amid all the charred cauliflower with sunflower butter and grilled carrots with hot honey, chef Suzanne Cupps sells a gem of a roast chicken for $33. We really need to talk about this bird.
The poultry perfectionism is par for the course here. One of Cupps’s top dishes while she was at Meyer’s Untitled involved knobs of fried chicken thigh surrounding a gochujang-slicked breast. It was excellent. Her chicken at 232 is even simpler. It’s the type of pared-down yet unmistakable preparation upon which a chef can fuel their reputation for a decade or more. If Jonathan Waxman, once upon a time, was famous for his chicken al forno with salsa verde at Barbuto, Cupps will rise to fame on her roasted bird with herbs, hot sauce, and potatoes.
To make the regal fowl, Cupps takes the pedigreed bird, brines it, and air dries it overnight. The next day, she rubs it with cumin, parsley, scallion, and cilantro for at least two hours. Then, she grills it over white oak and charcoal. Finally, half a chicken arrives on a plate alongside steamed and grilled kennebec sweet potatoes with beurre blanc. There’s also a nice light jus made from the chicken carcasses.
I like to start with the soft thigh, where the skin is stretched tautly against the flesh. The meat has a mild poultry flavor — it’s not nearly as gamey as Poulet Rouge hens, the popular and expensive fancy French breed — while the exterior exhibits low-level smoke and pungency from the grill. There are also nicely crispy bits here and there, with a juicy chicken oyster (a super tender part of the bird) attached to the underside.
Then I move onto the breast, where things are just as interesting. The flavor of the rub is barely noticeable on the dark meat, but the grassy wallop of the cilantro comes through more cleanly on this neutral-flavored part of the chicken; the bright green hue also strikingly contrasts against the white meat. Sometimes the fat on the skin is particularly thick and wobbly here, exuding a rich schmaltz-y punch.
By itself, the chicken would stand alone as a brilliant main. But the potatoes help break up the salt and protein with a pleasant starchiness. And the hot sauce — a blend of aji dulce and fresno peppers that’s as pink as it is orange — adds a layer of perfumed heat. The sauce packs about as much floral fruitiness as a good habanero, with only about 50 percent of the peppery sting. In other words, it is still tons spicier than anything one might encounter at a tame New American or Western European restaurant. It easily ranks with the heralded chicken and hot sauce at the Michelin-starred Crown Shy by James Kent.
In keeping with the modern New York ethos of good poultry being a luxury, the chicken is the most expensive menu item at $33. That’s still a fair price for a dish that can easily feed two — though a hungry solo diner should have no problem polishing it off. It acts as a fine finale to a meal of plump, buttery, smoky roasted oysters, followed by a mid-course of sweet roasted squash with pumpkin mole. I’m rating this outstanding chicken as a BUY, and I’ll be back for more of the vegetables soon.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).