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Tina, Jay, baby Parker and I celebrated Christmas Eve at Little Park. I was drawn by the name, it be so close to out dear little Parker, but had been aiming to go for a while now having generally heard positive reviews of the place.
Turns out it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a very long time.
Many restaurants slap the farm-to-table label on their marketing material these days, tiring out that trendy term when most don’t actually deliver the touted freshness in their ingredients. But there’s really no question about that at Little Park, where every input can stand on its own and not an ounce of flavor is out of place.
The portions are a tad small for their prices, but that’s more than made up for with how substantive — in terms of the thought that goes behind each entree and the resulting flavors — each of their plated creations are.
We started with two of the “raw ” selections: red snapper and big eye tuna. The red snapper sushi comes diced, forming a ring around a pool of squid ink and olive oil. The flavor is delicate expect for the occasional hit from the jalapeno — a perfect way to kick off a meal.
The big eye tuna is served like a carpaccio. On its own, the tuna is pure ocean, fresh as if it were still in its watery elements if not for the earthy white beech mushrooms and fresno peppers layered on top of it, which were only just as bright and untainted.
Even something as simple as the broccoli was elevated in its original state. The vegetable got a straightforward char and mixed with radish and blood orange. The kicker here was the bits of spicy ‘nduja pork sausage.
The meat portion of the meal involved an Oregon wagyu steak, cooked medium rare, and that night’s special, the veal.
The wagyu was immersed in a sweetish sauce from the apple and cooked-down cabbage. The beer in the reduction gave it a robust, hearty taste — a combination unlike any flavor I’ve even had in a steak dish.
The veal was somewhat less memorable, but still of an utmost quality that leaves you thinking how all cooking should be this clean and simple.
But the surprise of the night was definitely the lumache. At $18, the hefty plate of pasta was one of the better valued selections, but not at all diminished in the distinctive flavors brought out by what would have been very simple standalone ingredients: crispy herbs gave it a really cool crunch, the salumi provided the salt, the pork ragu grounded the whole thing. The quality isn’t too surprising if you’ve had the pleasure of dining at Carmellini’s other venture, Locanda Verde.
Two desserts rounded out the night: a frozen meyer lemon fluff and malted milk panna cotta. Other winter selections included a pumpkin cake and cinnamon toast ice cream, all the very sorts of sweets that makes you want to cozy up by the fireplace. The lemon fluff was super tangy, with its citrus meringue, fresh orange sorbet and candied ginger. The panna cotta was the perfect contrast, with its rich creamy pudding topped with chocolate ice cream and barley.
You can’t get more serious about farm-to-table in Manhattan than the offerings at Little Park. From the poultry and fish down to the very last herb is carefully sources and thoughtfully prepared. If you don’t believe me, take it from Pete Wells.