Thursday, July 2, 2009

It's Time to Give JoeDoe a Go...No?

After a week long journey through Barcelona and a somewhat impromptu business trip to London, June is shaping up to be my busiest, most hectic, and certainly most international month so far this year as the Ubereater. Equipped with oodles of information and new experiences, and now stateside indefinitely, I can focus on a tale originally meant for posting prior to my departure for Espana weeks ago:

"The Ubereater has to go!"

"We absolutely loved it."


When I first caught wind of East Village newcomer JoeDoe, it was by way of rave review from family and friends, who, with rather bumptious zeal, implored Meghan and me relentelessly to check out this downtown newcomer at our earliest convenience.

In fairness, and justifiably so, I often consume recommendations with deliberate focus and self-awareness. Experience has taught me that discrediting a recommendation, solicited or otherwise, is presumptuous; experience has also taught me that crediting a recommendation unwittingly is indiscriminate.

So with open minds and clear heads, Meghan and I headed East - it was time to give JoeDoe a go - no?

If you're anything like me, then you will immediately find JoeDoe's look and feel to be quite warm and cozy. The space is longer than it is wide, but allows for the full bar on one side and the row of tables on the other to share the space swimmingly. There is a decidedly earnest early 20th century vintage charm to the dining room, clad with a beautiful mahogany bar and a tastefully decorated brick wall. From the small kitcheonette in the back, Ming Tsai disciple Chef/Owner Joe Dobias, a tall, cap-hatted, line-backer of a guy, steers the ship with unwavering focus, while partner in business and life, Jill, manages the commotion on the Bow. Together, on its maiden voyage through some of Manhattan's murkiest, most unpredictable culinary waters, JoeDoe forges ahead - full-bore and with a purpose.

As I understand it (especially having now eaten there twice), the menu follows not one particular theme or cuisine, but is more a gallimaufry of gastronomy that showcases Chef Dobias' ability to create interesting and flavorful dishes using strictly locally sourced produce and meat that varies in availability from week to week. To that end then, the menu at JoeDoe is constantly changing, reshaped more often than not to reflect the bounty provided by surrounding purveyors and organic farms from Upstate and beyond, making for an eating experience that is entirely ephemeral and for me, quite exciting.

Apart from its self-evolving nature, or perhaps because of it, the menu is limited, but remains viable at the same time. Each assigned poetic names, a handful of appetizers and entrees employ a basket of ingredients familiar to the American table, in a variety of ways that range from quasi-traditional to unabashedly intriguing. We started off on the right foot with the Fresh Greens with Beet Dust, Flatbread, and Garlic Cream Cheese. This was an adventure for all the senses, starting with right-out-of-the-ground, al dente farm-fresh greens showered with nuggets of dried beet, partially canopying a expressionistic shmear of dastardly delicious home-made garlic cream cheese. Though delightful on its own, the garlic cream cheese was exploited to the fullest when given a swipe with a handle of the accompanying warm, crispy flatbread, seasoned liberally with salt and pepper. This was an outstanding start to our meal, if not a clear representation of what JoeDoe food is all about. Simple, fresh, and stimulating.

Though Meghan's food fetters made devouring her flatbread nearly impossible, I was soon distracted by the second appetizer, which I think, in hindsight, captured most effectively the Zeitgeist of pure JoeDoe. A first for me, my Corazon (below) arrived as large cubes of beef heart resting comfortably in a pungent tomatillo-based sauce of sorts, and topped with a bundle of tart spears of pickled rhubarb. Though historically my relationship with organ meat (known as the "fifth quarter" in culinary parlance) has been non-existent, something about this dish drew me in. The husky, dark, almost sanguineous chunks of "corazon", tasted unlike any protein I've had yet. Neither familiarly beefy, nor gamey, nor ferric as many often describe these functioning parts, instead, these morsels of myocardium were pleasingly crispy on the outside while surprisingly nimble and tender on the inside; apt to tear apart in a way that is reminiscent of properly cooked brisket. Of course the comparison to any sort of traditional beef product ends here. Much more commanding than "beef" of any cut or persuasion, this flesh, was dense, bold, and reassuringly resilient - and why shouldn't it be? This is the flesh that gives life! The novelty of this dish fell victim to its honesty as something totally different and completely delicious - and for that reason, among many others, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

For the main course, our hangar steak (below) was a tender one, cooked medium rare to perfection, sliced on the bias, and joined by a smattering of house-made sauce concocted from raisins among other things, to mimic, better yet, emulate, a classic homemade steak sauce. A sky scraping heap of fresh greens stoutly guards a trio of Chef Joe's Pastelicos (2nd below), salaciously sumptuous balls of creamy herbed mashed potatoes christened with a crisp-fried exterior. These were delicious and as equally welcoming of that homemade steak sauce to which we had taken such a liking. This was a plate bursting with bovinity and screaming of freshness, giving credence to every major food group the way we all envision but don't usually experience in reality. This, was a wonderful dish indeed.

Making my way up the food group pyramid at this point, and determined to finish things off properly, we hewed to the special request of family, and made it a point to check out the Wildflower Honey Custard Dessert. This unique offering paired slightly solidified custard with another, less buxom flatbread that wore a laquer of salty peanut crumbs and powdered sugar. The custard, an incredibly light, almost weightless cream, quite canorously coincided with its flatbread sidekick, which packed a rice-cake-like snap when broken down to be slathered with the lovely custard. As satisfying as it had described to us, we couldn't have thought of a better way to finish this stellar eating experience.

Having enjoyed this particular meal so much, we decided to come back with friends a couple weeks later to get a better feel for the rest of the menu, which was we expected, and much to my pleasure, had changed. The table selections that night ran the gamut, from Salmon to Duck to Sausage - all of which was prepared with the attention to detail and insight we had expected based on our first experience a couple weeks earlier. Good times and good food were had by all!

Unequivocally, I am a firm supporter of JoeDoe and the work of its eponymous founder and his family. I have tried, during my still short tenure as the Ubereater, to maintain an M.O. that revolves around highlighting and exposing New York City eateries and the people behind them. That is, those people who succeed in serving quality food with dogmatic consistency. As haute critics and nincompoops alike exercise their rights to cavil and complain as they always will, myself being one of them at times, I similarly retain my right to remain steadfast in my stance that JoeDoe is a restaurant whose good looks and even better food are overshadowed only by its potential to completely bust up the quiet block on which it sits. It is my hope that the hearts and minds behind JoeDoe remember that only the roars of disagreeability can drown out the harkening voice of its wonderful food, and amiable aesthetic, which does, and always will, speak for itself.

In the meantime, I'll continue to heed the call of JoeDoe.

JoeDoe (map it)
45 E 1st St
(212) 780-0262

Food: A
Service: A
Ambiance: A
In a thought: "An impressive meal that is visibly and palatably thoughtful."

No comments: