Once again Time Out New York released their Top 100 Dishes of the year and once again, I’m going to eat my way through every one. And no price point or subway delay will stop me. In no particular order, here’s my take on their Top 100.
It seems like there’s not a single old forgotten neighborhood in the five boroughs that has yet to be conquered by sustainable chefs and foodie hipsters. I’m sure there are still some unchartered territories in the Bronx, but they’ll make it up there soon enough – trust me.
The neighborhood of DUMBO has been gentrified for quite a while now. And in addition to expensive rents, high-end shops, and yuppie families, they certainly have their share of destination restaurants, including River Café and Grimaldi’s Pizza. But if you walk a little further north east you’ll discover what feels like a lost city that is known as Vinegar Hill. And there doesn’t seem to be any reason to come this far out except if you’re there to try the recently opened Vinegar Hill House.
Our list item was the Red Wattle Pork Chop, which also happened to be the most expensive item on the menu. I was eyeing the pasta special (a rabbit pappardelle) as soon as we walked in so that along with a side of Roasted Delicata Squash and the Cast Iron Skillet Chicken made up our dinner.
The chicken was a no-brainer because every review I’d read about this place mentioned it as did two people who ate at my restaurant who were gushing over Apiary’s chicken (which is on my personal Top 100 from last year). I’ll say up front that Apiary’s chicken is better – juicier and meatier. This chicken was different and took a little while to adjust to. It was quite large (half a chicken) and tender to the touch, but the overwhelming sour vinegar flavor was a bit off-putting and unusual at first. It was served completely a la carte aside from the sherry vinegar butter sauce and a sweaty shallot. The chicken was cooked well and was tasty once my tastebuds got used to the sour flavor of the vinegar. I know this place is called Vinegar Hill House, but I assumed it referred more to the neighborhood than the ingredient.
The Pappardelle was rather uninspired and small. The rabbit was cut too big so it stuck out and fought with the pasta. The flavors were rather bland, but the pasta was cooked nicely. The best thing we tasted was that delicious roasted squash. It was a play on a twice-baked potato where the mashed squash had been tossed with quite a bit of rich butter and stuffed back in the skins, drizzled with maple syrup and garnished with some crispy seeds for great crunchy textures.
Which brings us to the Pork Chop. This was a difficult one for me because unlike the chicken, which got more enjoyable on subsequent bites, this got progressively worse. But how could it not when the first bite was heavenly? I cut into the pink meat and my eyes lit up. I thought I had found my first perfect dish of the year. It was rich, smoky, tender, and had a sweet earthy flavor from the pork jus. And the meat literally melted in my mouth.
But as I pushed on, I discovered quite a few flaws in the pork that brought it down a notch or two. Some pieces were rather undercooked and a bit mushy. While other pieces were so full of fat, that I could barely locate any meat. But the most offensive part of the dish was the sauerkraut that was served underneath the meat. It tasted briney and overly salty. Sort of reminded me of the sea. The sauerkraut had no sweetness, heat, acidity, nothing to relieve the salt overload. It was so loaded with sodium (much like sea water) that it seeped into parts of the meat and turned what started as a winning dish into a rather unpleasant finish.
In my mind Vinegar Hill House had some hits and some misses. I’m not quite sure it’s worth the walk from the subway or the wait in the cold (if you don’t come early enough). I’ll save those travel days for when they finally open a hipster-filled locavore restaurant in The Bronx.
Would Vinegar Hill House’s Red Wattle Pork Chop make my Top 100 of the year? If I could judge that first bite alone I’d say absolutely, but unfortunately the undoings were yet to come and a salty, fatty finale overshadowed a terrific, flavorful tender beginning. So all together the dish gets a 6 out of 10.
|VINEGAR HILL HOUSE|
|72 Hudson Avenue (between Water Street and Front Street)
Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn