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ABC Kitchen

For years, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s has been the “love ’em and leave ’em” of chefs, opening new restaurants at a vigorous clip and abandoning them after the reviews are in. He claims to remain in charge, but you never see him there again.

So when we heard that Vongerichten was opening two restaurants in the space of a month—first the Mark (which we visited last week), then ABC Kitchen—we were more than a little skeptical. Much to our surprise, ABC Kitchen turns out to be the better restaurant, and it just might remain worthwhile long after Vongerichten’s attention wanders elsewhere.

ABC Kitchen is part of the department store ABC Home. There have been other restaurants in this space, though none I have visited. The space fits the sparse ABC aesthetic, with its off-whites and exposed beams.

At first, the concept sounded like a big bore: yet another environmentally conscious haute barnyard with organic, locally sourced ingredients and an herb garden on the roof. We’ve heard that song before.

But ABC Kitchen takes it farther than just about anyone else, with tables made from reclaimed wood, vintage dessert plates and flatware purchased on eBay, coasters made from corrugated cardboard, soy-based candles, and even organic cleaning products.

None of this would matter if the food didn’t deliver, but we liked almost everything we tried. Chef de cuisine Dan Kluger has worked at Union Square Café and Tabla, and more recently at the Core Club. At a restaurant where the menu, by definition, will need to change constantly, we assume that the food is really his, and not Vongerichten’s. That gives us some confidence that the place might avoid falling to the static torpor that dooms most Vongerichten places..

Prices are reasonble, with snacks and appetizers mostly $12 and under, pastas and whole wheat pizzas $12–16, entrées $22–35 (only steak and lobster above $30), and side dishes $5–8.

I started with a plate of crudités ($10; above left) at the bar with a terrific anchovy dip. Bread seemed to be house-made, served—we are told—in hand-made baskets “by the indigenous mapuche people of patagonia.”

It’s not often that a roast carrot and avocado salad ($12; above right) is a highlight of the meal, but we loved its bright, forward flavors. A pork terrine ($12; below left) was the evening’s only dud. It tasted mostly of the grease that was used in the deep fryer.

A Four Story Hills pork chop ($24; above right) was perfectly done. Crispy chicken ($21; below left) was also very good. We also liked the baked endive with ham and gruyère ($8; below right), not your typical side dish.

ABC Kitchen was doing a brisk business on a Friday evening. The crowd seemed to be drawn from the neighborhood, and not from the adjoining store. (It could be very different at lunch.) Hard surfaces and tables packed close together make for a loud space, but not unpleasantly so. For such a busy place, servers are well trained and reasonably attentive.

We can’t say whether ABC Kitchen will avoid the downward spiral that has spoiled so many of the Vongerichten restaurants. But if the farm-to-table haute barnyard concept appeals to you, right now this is one of the better versions of it.

ABC Kitchen (35 E. 18th St. between Broadway & Park Ave. S., Gramercy/Flatiron)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: *
Overall: **

ABC Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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