Élan

43 E 20th St. New York, NY 10003 • (646) 682-7105elannyc.com

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When you enter Élan it doesn’t exactly exude much élan with its small bar up front funneling into a narrow hall decorated with a pop art step and repeat mural, which opens up to a somewhat secluded, mid-sized dining area in the back. And while everything is done with a tasteful, modern flair, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the awkwardness of its layout.

The other thing I found distracting was the spotty service. Each course taking way too long just to order, from drinks to starters to mains and dessert, the pacing felt like we were in a car with someone learning to drive a stick shift, bucking back and forth between stop and go. But then the truly bizarre happened… Before pouring our third bottle of wine that I had ordered, the waiter informed me that he had “already tasted it and it was fine” therefore no need to have me taste it. At first I thought he was joking, but when I looked back at him, there was no wink or smile, just the weight of creepiness now hanging in the air.

But don’t count Elan out just yet, because David Waltuck, former chef of Chanterelle (RIP), seems to have carried his gift of gourmet over to Elan. And he doesn’t take much time warming up either, channeling that warmth and infusing it into his seductively, warm pretzel rolls served with Bavarian mustard butter. They are so addictive I could’ve just done two plates of those and a couple of beers and called it a win. But should you manage to muster up the restraint and not fill up on the bread, bully for you, because fortune awaits!

Such treasures being the mushroom, truffle croquettes, which are so wonderfully warm and gooey inside, it’s like an edible womb. It’s also like an Ultimate, because for me, most croquettes aren’t even worthy of mention, usually tasting more like their fried breading than anything else. But mention these I shall, at the tippy top of my lungs.

Also worth shouting about is the crispy ricotta gnocci so skillfully prepared it’s almost unfair that it’s only a starter, because I would’ve happily ordered it as a main. Well, that would’ve been true had I not heard about the off-menu duck burger with foie gras (pictured), which is so devilishly good you owe it to yourself to order one. But be sure to get it “done up,” as if the foie gras and caramelized onions weren’t enough. Yes, “done up” means it’s also topped with a fried egg and bernaise sauce. Sure, your diet is going to hell, but look on the bright side, your mouth is going to heaven. It really is a must. If I recommended it any higher I’d get altitude sickness. In fact, the only burger in the city to best it is Minetta’s Black Label Burger, and that’s some seriously high praise right there people.

Other dishes shined as well, but perhaps not as bright, for example the much hyped sea urchin guacamole was certainly good, but according to the Yelp consensus it was supposed to be “the best thing on the menu” which it surely wasn’t, coming in a distant third even just amongst the starters alone.

Another almost great dish was the raw oysters with an Asian marinade packing a nice ginger kick. The preparation was very good and unique, but fell just shy of greatness due to the mothershucker who left so many shell fragments in the second one I ate that I’m lucky I didn’t crack a tooth.

And of the side dishes, I also found myself really enjoying the Japanese eggplant with honey. They’re not quite up there with the ones at All’onda, but after that duck burger you’re gonna need a veggie or two to stem the guilt and the pea shoots don’t quite cut it on flavor.

In addition to the pea shoots, another side worth passing up (especially if you’re getting the duck burger) would be the duck fat hash browns. I know duck fat is all the rage in potato land these days, but I’ve had way better at Twisted Oak in Tarrytown, NY. Besides, the squashed potatoes that come with the duck burger blow the hash browns away.

Also living in miss-o-potamia would be the foie gras roulades with fig, which proved to be very blah amongst the deep bench of winners, as did the swordfish made with eggplant and a black bean salsa. This dish was the resounding loser of the night. So lackluster it almost makes you question the judgment to keep it on the menu.

As for the desserts, nothing had me doing bell kicks around the dining room, but the clear winner was the berry ice cream sundae, surprisingly enough. The chocolate cheesecake, pumpkin cake and butterscotch pudding all registering a tepid reception from the table.

Let’s not end on a down note, however, because Elan is nothing short of a smashing success, serving up a whopping four Ultimates. Earning it just as many knives as a result.

4 teeth

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Momofuku Milk Bar

72 Wooster St. New York, NY 10012(347) 577-9504milkbarstore.com

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Momofuku Milk Bar is what happens when you let a mad scientist (David Chang), who is very in touch with his inner five year old, into the kitchen. Yes, this tiny dessert café (a.k.a. bakery) sports a menu that reads like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, minus the snozberries.

Starting with the cookies, the Compost Cookie (pictured) is most definitely the one to be getting, made from a menagerie of ingredients including (are you sitting down?) pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, chocolate chips and about 40 other things. No exaggeration. It’s salty meets sweet meets the kitchen sink. In fact, this cookie is so complex, it’s likely to give the other cookies a complex. And it does, because after the Compost, the other cookies range from good (the blueberry & cream) to good riddance, like the corn cookie.

The Cereal Milk in all of its various forms from milkshake to soft serve to, well, plain old milk (about which there is truly nothing plain), tastes like the leftover milk from a bowl of Fruit Loops. Genius in theory, but in practice there’s actually something a bit unsettling about this one, because you can’t help but wonder who, and how hygienic was the person who ate the bowl of cereal from the milk you are now drinking? Granted this is obviously not how it’s made, or at least I pray it’s not, but for some reason it still triggers this visceral off-putting reaction.

Another infamous treat at the Milk Bar is the Crack Pie. Basically a variation on a chess pie with toasted oats and hints of butter cake. The net, net is supposed to yield something so addictive it’s like that other addictive thing bearing the name “crack.” Well, having never tried the cocaine version, I can only speak from my experience of the pie, and addicted I am not. Primarily because it is way too sickly sweet. And that’s kinda the problem with Milk Bar in general, much of the stuff is so crazy sweet that it becomes polarizing.

But polarizing means there are two extremes, and while the Cereal Milk and Crack Pie fall at the low end, the Compost Cookie and the Birthday Cake Truffles fall at the peak. Now I know some people dismiss these as birthday cake pops without the stick, but I would say that is a drastic oversimplification. It’d be like calling quantum physics similar to algebra because they are both math. Yes, there’s way more going on in these balls than meets the mouth.

So ,while it’s not exactly a smashing success like Ko, the Milk Bar still has its moments. You just have to navigate your way through the sugar bombs.

3 teeth