You know what a prix fixe menu is, right? And you know what a “small plates” menu is, right? If the two get married and have children, what do you get?
Meet Feast, a prix fixe restaurant with menus structured like a sequences of small plates. We loved it. To us, it was the best of both worlds—though others might not be so fond of it. Such is the case when a restaurant tries to fiddle with tradition.
The main menu offers a choice of three “feasts.” As of last week, the options were the Farmer’s Market Feast ($38), the Scallop Feast ($49), or the Nose-to-Tail Lamb Feast ($48). According to a recent email from the restaurant, the scallop feast will shortly switch to soft-shell crabs, and lamb will morph to pork. And so on.
Each feast consist of an appetizer course with four plates, an entrée course with another four, and a dessert. All prices are per-person, and the entire table must order the same feast. There’s also a separate (and small) à la carte menu, which the restaurant is clearly trying to downplay. Most tables seemed to be ordering feasts, which is the whole point of the restaurant.
So you get nine plates, served as three courses, at a pretty damned good price. Unlike a tasting menu, it doesn’t go on for hours. Unlike a small-plates restaurant, there’s no guessing how much to order, nor upselling from servers trying to entice you into ordering more than you need.
The chef is Christopher Meenan, a former chef de cuisine at Veritas. The food is not as ambitious, but it’s pretty good, and you get dinner for just about the price of an entrée at Veritas. It just might be just about the best meal for two, under $100 (before tax, tip, and drinks), that we’ve had in quite a while.
We ordered the so-called “nose to tail” lamb feast. It’s a bit of a misnomer: to me, “nose to tail” implies at least some of the offal or off-cuts (like brains, kidneys, tail, lungs, and so forth). It was an all-lamb meal, but not quite as adventurous as the name promised.
Our first quartet of plates included a carpaccio (above left) with honey crisp apple, almond, and cognac mustard; and a roasted pepper salad (above right) with soubise, banyls, and vinaigrette.
The merguez stew (above left) with tomato and quail eggs was probably the highlight of this group, while the “Shepherd’s Pie” with lamb belly and sweet potato (above right) was a bit underwhelming.
Moving onto the entrées, the potatoes gratin (above left) were wonderful, and so was the rack of lamb (above right) with an herbed crust and port reduction.
“Lambsagna” (above left), with lamb shank, goat cheese, and broccoli rabe, was quite clever, and the fricassée of winter vegetables (above right) was first-rate. The one problem with the format, is that when four hot dishes are served at once, whichever one you eat last is going to be lukewarm by the time you get to it.
Dessert, a pear galette served warm (above), was terrific.
If there’s a disappointment here, it’s the wine list, which is extremely brief (about ten bottles) — the server mentioned that more are on the way. The California red wine we ordered (Montgomerly Place Mouton Noir, 2008; $63) was fine, and not really out of place in the overall context of the cost of eating here, but it was the most forgettable part of the meal.
The décor offers a little bit of all the latest trends (taxidermy, reclaimed wood, exposed brick), but it’s a comfortable space, not terribly loud, even when full (as it was by 9:00pm on a Wednesday evening). The servers have much enthusiasm for the project, as well they should.
I don’t know if this unusual take on the tasting menu will take root and prosper, but we were quite impressed with it: a restaurant doing the little things well. We’d love to see it succeed.
Feast (102 Third Avenue at E. 13th Street, East Village)
Food: American cuisine, served in three-course “feasts”
Service: Attentive and enthusiastic
Ambiance: From the East Village playbook