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2nd Cuisine: American
Cititour Review:I know many of you may be scratching your head at this review, thinking, “What’s she doing writing about 5 Ninth? Doesn’t she know that this restaurant opened three years ago? Is she getting soft in the head?” Well, I can appreciate your confusion. (And I may be going soft in the head.) 5 Ninth did open three years ago. But it opened with a chef who recently departed. That chef was a young guy who’d developed a cult following for his locally foraged, Brooklyn Global menu at the Chickenbone Café in Williamsburg. Zak Pelaccio was (and remains) a culinary wunderkind, an outside the lines talent, a redheaded renegade with an untamed passion for pig, and a lust for the Far East and the lands of Malaysia and Thailand. 5 Ninth was his stage for three years, enough time for him to have a son, open Fatty Crab, and to strike a deal with Jeffery Chodorow to open a place called Borough Food & Drink. When Zak resigned about a month ago, 5 Ninth’s owners Vincent Seufert, Joel Michel and Rick Camac considered the restaurant. They loved the space they’d created—an 1848 brownstone with three floors, six fireplaces, and a spare, organic design, but they wanted to make some changes. They’d remain true to the spirit of the place and continue to support locally farmed foods, offer a menu alive with big bright flavors. But perhaps they could do this with a bit more accessibility. Zak’s full-on nose to tail eating was great and all, but some customers were craving something other than the snout. To take things down a notch, they brought in a chef who’d worked for many years with Zak, a guy named Chino. Yes, like Cher and Madonna, Chino goes by one name and one name alone (though his given name is Daniel Parilla). Before working with Zak, he worked at Sumile, Union Pacific, Bouley, Café Boulud, and at The Tasting Room. Not too shabby. He’s retooled the menu at 5 Ninth and worked it into an impressive document that makes me want to eat at 5 Ninth several times a week. At brunch, I’d probably have the skillet eggs with panzanella, proscuitto, and Pecorino ($11) and a one of their secret recipe Bloody Marys ($10). For lunch, maybe the fried oyster Po Boy with spicy remoulade, romaine lettuce, and tomato ($16). And for dinner, well, that’s what we’re here to discuss. It is the reason for this review: Dinner at 5 Ninth. It’s good. Really good. Craig and I had dinner in the garden at 5 Ninth with two friends, two Joshes, actually. One Josh was visiting from Dallas for the Fancy Food Show, and the other Josh lives, and explores the meaning of life (and how to meet and marry a nice Jewish woman on J-date) here in New York City. He’s 31, sweet, a real mensch, girls. Anyway, we sat down in the garden and I thought, well, Andrea, this was a mistake. (The garden, not the restaurant.) I didn’t realize how much of an oven it was outside when I had requested our table in the leafy reprieve. Somehow I thought a magical breeze would be waiting for us back there. No such luck. While the lights were twinkling and pretty, I was contemplating how it might be if I took a wine bucket full of ice and turned it over on top of my head. Would anyone notice? If I was quiet about it, maybe not? Craig and the Joshes were mopping their brows. We were all melting. Oh, dear. Instead of the wine bucket over our heads, we kept hydrating with glasses of Vincent’s refreshing rum-based sangria. It helped a little, but eventually we just realized we’d lose a lot of water weight during dinner. Not such a bad thing. So, back to that dinner menu. Chino’s palate is very Pelaccio (a good thing)—there’s still a lot of pork, tons of chilis, loads of picklings, and a nice respect for local ingredients. But Chino’s dishes are tuned down an octave. There’s less fear, more comfort. For instance, a luscious hunk of braised and roasted black pepper pork belly is tucked into a cool crisp cup of Bibb lettuce, and topped with a sweet-hot roasted garlic and chili jam ($14). A salad of cucumber mango and green papaya is tossed with charred long beans, peanuts and lip-licking spicy tamarind sauce ($14). Lobster wontons ($15) are piping hot and crunchy, made from egg roll dough folded over like origami envelopes, and filled up with lumps of lobster with a soy sake vinaigrette and a salad of spring garlic. The menu also includes a selection of sandwiches, a nice option for those who aren’t interested in a huge dinner. But these are far from petite or delicate. There’s a smoked beef brisket with Vermont cheddar, grilled onions, pickled chilis and beef jus ($14), and a remarkable Cuban stuffed with Berkshire pork, prosciutto di Parma and pickled jalapenos ($15). We shared a grilled cheese of brie, tomato, and basil to start. It was just what you crave in a grilled cheese—ooey, gooey melting cheese sandwiched between buttery griddled bread ($11). Plus, we went for the side of warm tomato soup ($6) for dipping—a rich roasted tomato puree that tastes of bright hot summer. The decision of what to have for dinner was a tough one. This menu reads like a walk through Kirna Zabete or Intermix. I wanted everything. (For guys, I’d say the equivalent is a fantasy baseball draft, where you have the number one pick.) One of the specials called me. It was sort of a Greenmarket eggs benedict. Chino places a poached egg on top of a circle of brioche, tops it with whipped hollandaise, and gives it a side of a handful of grilled asparagus and a little mini Caesar salad ($19). It was pretty much breakfast, but I was into it. I love breakfast for dinner. But I was most amazed by the late night menu’s fried beer-battered jalapenos—hot poppers stuffed with a mix of cheddar and diced ham. These will have me making nocturnal journeys to Five Ninth in my PJs. And while I was roasting in the garden, I couldn’t resist the Korean-braised short ribs with white kimchi and chilis over steamed rice. The short ribs were rich, dark, moist and meaty, picked up with the pungent bite of the kimchi and the racy heat of the chilis. But there was too much food. Craig helped me with my shortribs in between bites of rabbit ravioli ($21), lovely little spheres filled with up with rabbit confit and set in a fresh tomato sauce peppered with olive tapenade and topped with a spray of light Parmesan foam. I had flashbacks of Marcel on Top Chef, but I survived. One of the Joshes was hankering for a bowl of pasta, and he went for the gnocchi, handmade into small and creamy rounds, shaped like little balls of mozzarella. They were light and ethereal, dressed in nothing but a warm fresh sauce of sweet sautéed cherry tomatoes and summer truffles ($26). The other Josh went for the seared snapper, a crispy-skinned fillet set on a smooth bed of polenta showered with chorizo, tomatoes, and corn ($29). Speaking of corn, Craig’s brother Adam had been lamenting that he couldn’t find a place to get a simple side of corn on the cob. Granted, he could cook it, but that would require turning on (and locating) the stove. Not happening. But there on the menu was the answer to his craving—Corn on the Cob. It could not be any simpler, but really what’s better? And I left 5 Ninth thinking just that about the restaurant. It’s hitting a new stride and it feels really good. The place is still gorgeous, that rare space that really works the raw organic simplicity of its original design, letting the bones of the building take the spotlight. And Chino has a good thing going there. I appreciate that his menu offers something for everyone. I like that intrepid eaters can find safety in a plate of fried chicken and biscuits, those yearning for something more flashy can dig into the likes of soba noodles with Daikon, edamame and nori, Malaysian chicken wings, or a deviled pork panzenella with pickled chilis and spring parsley. In any case, I’m happy to report that in its third year, 5 Ninth is experiencing a rebirth of sorts. It’s growing up a bit. I think they call it evolving? I was impressed. And I encourage you all to make a journey to that Disney Land known as the Meatpacking and grab a table in the garden. There’s eating to be done, and plenty of Sangria to keep you cool.
Review By: Andrea Strong