While in New York, one of the things I had to do was have dinner at Tremont Restaurant, corner of West 4th and Bank Streets in the Village. The reason for this was simple – my cousin Jeremy Blutstein is the executive chef there and I was eager to try his food.
Since I only get to New York once a year and my visits are relatively brief, it’s been more than 10 years since I last saw Jeremy. In the interim, he learned to cook, worked at some places near his parents’ home in the Hamptons, spent some time under Mario Batali, and now is running the kitchen in this wonderful spot. Of course I’m biased but you can also check out the reviews on Yelp and in the Wall Street Journal. The restaurant was also a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category in the 2012 James Beard awards.
Tremont has a bright corner location. The large windows, high ceilings and clean interior make up for the relatively small space.
Jeremy was aware we were coming and I assume the staff also knew this – plus the cousin I went with (author Glenn Kurtz) had been there before and the staff clearly knew him. Both waitresses were extremely friendly and patient with us – but based on the reviews I’ve read and what I observed at other tables, that’s just how they are. It’s a friendly, relaxed vibe and the 3-1/2 hours we spent there flew by.
We ordered three starters – and were sent 6. Most of them were memorable – what surprised me most was that the dish I expected to like the least was probably the most memorable of the night – Truffled Polenta Croutons, with 3 kinds of mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. It may be why I didn’t get a good photo of this dish, because my expectations were so low. When I finally tasted it, my eyes popped open – but there wasn’t enough left on the plate to get a good photo. It had the strongest combination of flavors and textures of any dish on the table and I love it when caught by surprise like that.
Other starters that we had included Crispy Heritage Pork Belly (pickled radicchio, caraway, New York State apple bourbon chutney) and one of the specials that night, tuna crudo. The pork was tender and full of flavor, the tuna as you can see was as fresh as it gets with a very nice combination of flavors.
We also had braised octopus (smoked andouille sausage, fennel, preserved lemon, calabrian chile, spiced pecans) and aside from the sophisticated flavor combinations, I was knocked out by how tender the octopus was. There was also a special salad that night – sorry, I forget the list of ingredients in it.
After 6 starters, the three of us were actually feeling rather full! Jet lag was getting to my appetite as well as the glass of red wine I’d had at the start – lately red wine and I do not get along and I keep forgetting this. At any rate, at this point we ordered another starter – their take on mac and cheese (seems like every modern American restaurant in New York has to include this on the menu) – and just one main dish, seared sea scallops with crispy brussel sprouts, grapefruit, pine nuts. The scallops were perfectly cooked and a light enough dish rather than going with some of the things that I had hoped to get to, in particular the apricot glazed pork shoulder, which will have to wait till my next visit.
We took a long break at this point. I was getting my second wind and when the kitchen sent us three desserts, I didn’t complain.
This was the unexpected winner, a pear tart with rosemary gelato. Rosemary gelato? Completely blew me away. (Jeremy told me that the woman doing their desserts has a way of working with savory ingredients that’s unique and I’d have to agree.) The other two desserts weren’t shabby either:
Those donuts were amazing too!
The bill came and we were of course only charged for the items we ordered and not the other dishes that were simply sent to us. For four appetizers, one main dish, 5 or 6 glasses of wine, 3 coffees, it was an amazingly reasonable US$170. (We guessed that if we’d been charged for everything we ate, the bill would have come to at least $300 and so we tipped 20% of $300 and not $170 – the staff deserved it.)
Cousin or not, free dishes or not, take this with as many grains of salt as you want, if I lived in NYC, I know I’d be going back there many, many more times.
I’d asked Jeremy if it was okay for me to bring my camera and get some photos of him at work. I was picturing some huge kitchen with a dozen staff working away, he warned me it was a tiny space with just him and one other person and he wasn’t kidding!
So while I had this idea that I could stand in some corner and capture him as he cooked and assembled various dishes, I realized it simply wasn’t going to be practical. I grabbed a few quick photos and then got out of everyone’s way.
I really thought about this a lot since then. Look at that kitchen. It ain’t big, there’s no windows and I’m sure it’s hot as fuck in there. The restaurant does lunch 3 days a week and weekend brunch as well as dinners and I know he’s doing those day time services too. The restaurant may be small but I understand that on many nights the tables will turn 3 or 4 times. So he’s on his feet in that small space how many hours per day? Turning out 100+ dishes per day, day after day? Can you imagine how hard that is, physically? The work ethic that’s involved with that? Plus he absolutely loves what he’s doing. It seems like he ends every post he puts on Facebook with the phrase “food is bond.”
I mean, yeah, I know this is common in the restaurant industry (one reason I don’t go there myself) but it’s really uncommon in my family! I’m so impressed with the work he’s doing there and so very proud of him. Yes I’m biased but I’m convinced he’s going to be on TV and going to have his own cookbooks. And then I’ll be able to say, “I told you so.”