Earlier this summer, two Eleven Madison Park alums (master sommelier Dustin Wilson and chef Austin Johnson) opened a farm-to-table Tribeca townhouse restaurant called One White Street. Downstairs, a casual room serves seasonal American fare like scallop skewers with pesto, while a smaller space upstairs offers a fairly-priced, $148 tasting menu. I dropped by for the tasting on a recent evening, as it’s the format that the talented principals here are best known for — a reality that can make getting in a bit of a challenge.
One can walk into the ground-level cafe any day of the week; nabbing a seat upstairs, by contrast, will require planning your meal about a month out. Dinner for two will almost certainly exceed $450 after drink, tax, and tip. That’s not cheap by any yardstick, but it’s still closer to the sub-$100 tasting menus popping up around Brooklyn and elsewhere than the more exorbitant omakase spots overtaking Manhattan. Chef Johnson shares some DNA with those more accessible venues; after cooking at Eleven Madison, he spent a few years working at The NoMad and then went on to lead the kitchen at Frenchie in Paris, a venue famous for its short, reasonably-priced set menus. But that’s about where those similarities end.
One White Street, based on my single meal, doesn’t aim to push the envelope like the tastings at Contra ($110), Fradei ($90), or Falansai ($82). The Tribeca venue instead aims to please, with well-executed and predictable luxuries. As so many venues mold themselves to the culinary zeitgeist with nimble, high-acid, vegetable leaning fare, One White Street moves in the opposite direction, sending out tastings of caviar, truffles, foie gras, and entree-sized portions of aged duck (there are also meat-free options available). If the current Eleven Madison Park feels like a forced ode to veganism, my tasting menu at One White Street was a paean to more classic omnivorous indulgences.
A host leads you to the third floor space, brings you at one of four stools at a granite counter, or one of twelve chairs in the tiny dining room, and not too long after a waiter brings over a mornay-filled gougere topped with a small mound of kaluga caviar. The warmth of the sauce raises the temperature of the caviar ever so slightly, letting the pearls release just a bit more oceanic aroma than usual. It is undeniably tasty, but it’s also the culinary equivalent of the Metropolitan opera staging yet another showing of “La Traviata” — something quite a few folks have seen before.
After a quick tomato course comes an elegant foie gras terrine, which Johnson layers with tart, bright apples. Crispy shallots with garlic and ginger and a few tiny slices of poached apples are scattered across the plate. It’s all meant to be spread on a buttery Parker House roll. One could think of it as a deconstructed Thanksgiving stuffing, with various sweet, savory, crunchy, and offal-y elements. One could also think of the dish as yet another foie gras course that unnecessarily fills you up mid-meal, something better ordered downstairs where it’s available in a similar albeit slightly larger portion for $24.
A few minutes later, a server swings by with binchotan charcoal-grilled halibut, a firm filet sopping up mushroom bonito broth and truffles. Johnson also throws in a few heady maitakes for good measure. Folks who have dined at Le Bernardin know the wonders of letting halibut act as a neutral framing device for earthy, pricey fungi. Here, the fish doesn’t necessarily flake as easily, nor do the truffles pack any type of noteworthy truffle flavor. The dish is simply a tasty, hearty preparation filled with salt, umami, and nourishing goodness. One could also sample monkfish in different style of mushroom broth downstairs for $46.
For the final savory course, Johnson stuffs you with five slices of roast duck breast (you know the drill: silky fat, taught skin, tender meat) over crispy barley with a carrot reduction sauce. It’s a fine dish that tastes like it could have come from any of the estimable haute barnyard spots of the aughts. It’s also portioned generously enough that it could easily serve as a main dish on a three-course menu.
Desserts are where things start to get interesting. Ileene Cho, late of the NoMad and Betony, turns tomatillo and green apple into a bracing sorbet, a de facto frozen salsa with the sweet-tart balance of a good Jolly Rancher and a whiff of cilantro. The pastry chef then finishes things off with a visually striking pavlova; Cho shapes the meringue into individual flower petals and stuffs them with concord grape-lychee sorbet. The fruit exhibits a flavor that’s more grassy than sweet — the meringue takes care of the sugar — while tiny lemon balm leaves add a whimsical bubble gum finish.
Whether Johnson’s tasting menu, in its current form, is a compelling choice for diners is a tough question. Though some venues like the aforementioned Falansai like to use tasting menus to challenge diners — to get them to sample dishes they might not otherwise have if they were ordering a la carte — One White Street is a place where the savory part of the set menu feels like an ode to some of modern dining’s greatest hits. So for those who just want a nice tasting menu packed with standard deliciousness, One White Street might be a solid fit, especially with wine director Audrey Frick’s thoughtful beverage list. But if you’re a seasoned eater looking for something a bit more creative, one of Brooklyn’s sub-$100 tasting menus are a better bet.