The Last time we tried Matt Lightner’s food was in the early days of Atera, back in July 2012. The experience was overall memorable: the food strong, the tunes wonderfully eclectic and the service on point. The one criticism was that while the dishes were all beautiful to look at, a few came across as a bit unbalanced, they seemed to be more about the laborious technique of making them and less about the creation of memorable flavors. It was also evident that Matt was deeply inspired by his time cooking abroad so much so that a few of the dishes transported us directly back to Geranium, Noma and Mugaritz. ( Link to previous post )
We always thought about checking out Atera again but like other fancy restaurants in the city the high price tag was a deterrent and we weren’t sure how much the menu was going to change. That being said, Atera has been been brought back onto our radar recently thanks to a few of our international food savy friends. They mentioned that their recent meal there was fantastic and one of the favorites from their trip. These conversations got us intrigued…and a week later we received a fortuitous invitation from Matt to attend and photograph one of the Bocuse d’Or fundraising dinners. The dinner was $300 a person, including wine pairings and $100 went to the Bocuse d’Or USA foundation. Seemed like a great opportunity to try the new menu and see what Matt’s been up to this past year.
This visit we were able to get an inside view of the inner workings of the restaurant, let me tell you there is more to it than meets the eye. You see the kitchen and small yet elegantly appointed dining room and think thats it but little do you know that it is a mere cover for all the fantastic stuff that they are doing in their underground lair. Below the restaurant, as many of you know, is a moody and romantic lounge that immediately transports you into a heavily stylized Wong Kar-wai film like “In the mood for love” or “2046” (in other words, a great place to go if you are looking to impress your date )
On that same floor is where the creative magic happens. There is a dreamy large test kitchen where the team plays and creates. Down the long hall is a gorgeous private dining room which double as a library where Matt keeps his inspiring collection of artist books and cookbooks, and from what we hear on the floor below is the subterranean hydroponic garden where they get all of their beautiful herbs and flowers.
So lets get to the good stuff, the food.
We started with a series of small bites that came out like clockwork one after the next. To be honest they were all fantastic and more flavorful than I our previous dinner a year ago. The edible bone marrow, Geoduck and the Foie sandy were some of the standout favorites from the group.
Like many of the dishes from the night this one had a playful focus on texture. It was a delicious dish packed with strong flavor combinations. The dish was carefully paired with Cervejaris Kaiser, “Xingu” Black from Sao Paulo Brasil
Paired with a Mourvedre/Grenache Domaine du Cagueloup, Rose Cote d’Azur, 2011
The Razor clam dish was a texturally rich Jenga-like adventure. The plating and construction of the earthy monochromatic building blocks conjured up strong connections to artist Andy Goldsworthy ‘s natural structures . (An artist that has inspired other chef’s like Jordan Kahn of Red Medicine, not to mention many architects and designers alike) We loved how the monochromatic quality of the dish tricked your palate into not knowing if you were about to eat a clam, garlic or almond.
Paired with a Sake Tentaka Kuni “hawk in the heavens” Nipon
Paired with Meantime London Porter London UK
This dish was bizarre in a good way. It was the first time that I had ever had the combination of scallop and sauerkraut. As strange as that combination was it did work. This dish was paired with a Grüner Veltliner Weingut Nigl, Privat, Senftenberger Pellingen 2011
When getting a tour of Matt’s underground lair, we had the opportunity to see where he got some of his inspiration for this dinner. He thumbed through a Charley Harper book until he got to one page (see below) where he mentioned that “you will see a dish like this tonight” and sure enough we did. It was wonderful to see the translation of a piece of art into an edible form on a plate.
Paired with a beautiful Semillon, Kalin Cellars, Wente Vineyard, Livermore Valley California 1999
From what we hear there were a few dishes that the team came up with on the fly a day before the dinner. This dessert was one of them. Jose and I were deeply impressed with the bright richness of this dish. If only we could serve this at our wedding!
Scott’s pairings throughout the night were magical. He is a extremely knowledgeable guy that possesses the chops one needs to tell a good story. (Each pairing is a fascinating lesson in wine. Come on,who doesn’t love a little education.) One of the pairings we especially loved was the Arolla Stone Spritz, a refreshing dessert cocktail made from Gamay, Pine Liquer and Pine sap water.
The desserts overall were fantastic! We were impressed to hear that Matt is the creative lead on this front which is somewhat unusual given the fact that most restaurants have a pastry lead.
Paired with a Moscato Chianti Vergano, ‘Luli’ Asti, Piemonte Italy 2012
The last pairing we went to Jose’s favorite place, Spain with a Pedro Ximenez, Bodega Toro Albala, Montilla-Moriles ‘Don PX’ Gran Reserva 1985
My only criticism from the night was the playlist, it seemed less eclectic and fun than it was a year ago. That being said music is always a tough nut to crack. Overall what a wonderful night. It was without a doubt quite a departure from our first dinner there. This time it was clear that Matt’s strong vision was uniquely his own. Jose and I were able to sit at the counter and focus on his creations and flavors without getting sidetracked with recalling dinners past at places like Mugaritz or Geranium . We were really in the moment and enjoyed every second of it. We would love to go back for the fall menu, that is only if we save some money…even super low key weddings are crazy expensive! 🙂 If any of you end up going let us know what you think. It is surely worth a visit.
Atera77 Worth St, New York, NY 10013
PS The guest chef dinners at Atera featuring Chef Rafa Costa E Silva, and David Toutain were a great deal of fun. Link to see the meals here (side note, we are incredibly excited about Rafa’s new restaurant in Brazil that should be opening soon. If the food is anything like what we tried in January it will surely be worth the cost of the flight there) We are really hoping there will be more of these dinners in the future.PSS Thank you Matthew Abbick, waiter at Atera for all your help. You should all check out Matt’s blog he really knows his food! Website