A Clear Lineage from Eleven Madison Park as Local and Luxurious Elements Shine Together
Thanks to a mishap in the kitchen, I found myself entering Betony at the same time as three fully decked firefighters, with emergency strobes pinging light off the restaurant’s glass façade. Ultimately there would prove to be no fire, but the warmth I received from each member of the staff–from busboy to sommelier to chef Bryce Shuman himself–could only be characterized as “three-alarm.”
Though Betony offers a prix fixe of four courses for $95 (with supplemental fees for the more decadent options) the $195, eleven-course chef’s tasting is a fair amount of food for the price and includes the menu’s more extravagant ingredients like black truffle, foie gras, and Muscovy duck. Pairings for the tasting menu refreshingly cost a mere $95 and include eclectic offerings like crabapple cider, sparkling sake, and wines from New York’s Finger Lakes, Australia, and Greece.
From the get-go, Shuman draws on a reverence for New York produce to show how humble, local flavors shine alongside more traditionally luxurious elements. Betony’s take on caviar service, for example, nestles beads of Tsar Imperial Ossetra on top of a spool of delicate, intensely earthy buckwheat noodles coated in crème fraîche. Far from a mere vessel, the slightly tangy, perfectly chewy noodles could stand on their own yet provide a rounded backing to the brininess and mouthfeel of the caviar.
A course titled “The Charcoal & The Sea” is not only a similar amalgamation of local and foreign elements, but captures some of whimsy surely passed down from Shuman’s previous tenure under Daniel Humm. Diners are presented a selection of screamingly fresh lobster, squid, sea scallops, and razor clams and told to pick one protein for a course to follow. In the interim, the kitchen sends a coleslaw of fresh and fermented vegetables–a bit light on tangy flavor but nonetheless vibrant–to begin a “picnic” sequence.
When the chosen protein reappears, now fully prepped into two bite-size pieces, it comes alongside Betony’s sous chef and a crackling Japanese grill filled with traditional white charcoal from Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture. The seafood is delicately placed on the grill for just a few seconds per side–delightfully curling and scrunching from the intense heat–before being simply served with lettuce wraps and a fresh salsa verde. With a bit more of a show (but with no compromise on flavor) Shuman gives local flavors a traditional treatment, with crisp lettuce and tangy salsa complementing the char and chew of some of the best squid I have ever eaten.
The savory portion of the tasting concludes with a sequence of corn and duck that begins with two bites of corn (one chip, the other a foie gras infused bon bon) before an unbelievably sweet and unctuous black truffle polenta. A warm corn madeleine with duck fat marks the shift towards the fowl dishes: a duck tongue tarte, cup of duck consommé, and a beautifully golden brown, pie slice shaped breast of Muscovy duck served with sweet corn purée. It’s hard to pick a favorite between the indescribably sweet, ruefully short-seasoned New York yellow and white corn and the succulent, local duck–and you rarely need to given how the majority of the dishes in the sequence thoughtfully play with both components.
A foie gras crème brulée with pumpernickel is not just an appropriate shift towards dessert, but one of the most elegant, shockingly creamy and sweet preparations of duck liver I have tasted. A cheese course of Pleasant Ridge Reserve smoked in hay until just before fondue consistency and a chocolate dish paired with sassafras and vanilla to capture that indescribable root beer flavor only showed how serious Shuman’s menu is from beginning to end.
Betony effortlessly glides between a profound respect for all New York produce and protein has to offer and precision and imagination to combine those very ingredients with the best of the rest of the world. It’s excellence done with just the right amount of restraint and none of the pretension, and I look forward to what the next season brings.
Date Visited: 8/29/2015