This is not a restaurant review of ABC Kitchen, the newest restaurant from Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York City. Sam Sifton said it all in his recent review in the New York Times. What I wanted to find out was the true extent to which the restaurant served food made from local produce and products from the Union Square Greenmarket.
I learned that Jean-Georges was opening up a new restaurant inside ABC Carpet & Home last year when I was in the thick of researching and writing Markets of New York City. I have had some wonderfully memorable meals at Jean-Georges’ restaurants. I hear all the time about the city’s great chefs being spotted at the Greenmarkets, and I’ve seen chefs doing demos under the GrowNYC tents. So I was thrilled and intrigued that the basic concept for the restaurant was to serve locally produced foods, ostensibly from farmers markets. But I was also a tiny bit skeptical. Would a grand scale restaurant like this one commit fully to serving a local, mostly organic and seasonal menu? It sounded almost too good to be true: marketing rather than markets.
I met with one of the restaurant managers Brandi Kowalski (who, coincidentally, also sells beautifully refurbished typewriters with a partner at the Brooklyn Flea as Brady & Kowalski). She invited Executive Chef Dan Kluger to sit with us, and he told me all about his shopping sprees to the Union Square market several times a week. In fact, he has shopped there for his restaurants for years.
And here is the scoop: While Jean-Georges was spending time at the Union Square Greenmarket as ABC Kitchen was coming to life, he noticed Kluger purchasing enormous quantities of produce, enough to fill two taxicabs to the brim. They struck up a conversation, and Jean-Georges would soon offer Kluger the executive chef position at ABC Kitchen based on his impeccable experience and talent of course, but also on his passion for creating delicious and innovative dishes with seasonal, local ingredients.
I can now confidently state that ABC Kitchen has a true and firm commitment to buying the freshest local ingredients directly from the farmers two blocks away in Union Square. And it all started amidst the tents and vegetables at the farmers market.
I spent a recent morning at the market with Chef Kluger and the oversized cart he had especially made for shopping his trips. By the end of our visit, the cart was overflowing with 30 lbs. of hot peppers from Oak Grove Plantation, several large bags of Martin’s Pretzels, sacks of gorgeous organic yellow squash and purple eggplant from Norwich Meadow Farms, a huge jar of bee pollen from Tremblay Apiaries, and much much more. Kluger even buys the fresh flowers for the tables and bars at ABC Kitchen at the market.
Kluger, who bikes into Manhattan from Brooklyn every day, says he enjoys the challenge of cooking with whatever is seasonal at the market. “We can plan ahead all we want, but at the end of the day, the vegetables dictate what we’re going to serve. If the tomatoes are not ready for us, we just have to wait for them.”
ABC Kitchen – 35 East 18th Street, ground floor of ABC Carpet & Home, (212) 475-5829, abckitchennyc.com.