The Bronx’s Other Garden
Chef Michael Sherman’s young eatery in Riverdale is ready to blossom
The bronx is a geographic chameleon, some parts Fallujah, other parts nirvana. It has yet to spawn a trendsetting Williamsburg or Astoria, but, given a converted warehouse or two and a few intrepid chefs, it could well be on its way.
Chef Michael Sherman has already staked his claim near the Riverdale attractions of Wave Hill and Van Cortlandt Park. Always eager to get the jump on a trend, I access MapQuest from the restaurant’s website and head out to mix with the outer-borough crowd.
That crowd is a little sparse when we arrive, but what the room lacks in numbers, the staff makes up for in warmth. The attentiveness extends from the initial luxury of valet parking to the parting gift of petit fours, but there are two hours in between and lots more to extol. Some, too, to protest.
In the extolling column: Riverdale Garden’s cozy wood-beam-and-brick dining room, its rear wood-stove-anchored lounging nook, and its seasonal garden patio. In the protesting column: a sparse front bar room that’s more take-out store than gourmet hotspot, uncushioned wooden seats, and a hard-surface-induced noise level.
But then there’s Chef Sherman’s resumÃ©, which reads less like a list and more like a paean: Culinary Institute of America, Lespinasse, Bouley, Aureole, and March. Suddenly, my sensations shift from numbing chair to hungry mouth.
And justly so, as I soak grassy olive oil into fine whole-grain bread, and savor the tang of Camembert and crunch of hazelnuts in a starter of roasted beets. High-beam citrus and pickled red onion pierce the smokiness of grilled squid, though a lot more Stilton and bacon voltage is needed to illuminate the bland endive salad. Most luminous of all: the wild mushroom risotto, sublimely toothsome and heady with truffle oil and thyme.
It’s requisite these days that chefs pledge an oath to local, seasonal, and organic ingredients, and Sherman’s menu follows that credo. There are the risotto’s foraged mushrooms, plus squashes, cabbages, cider, cranberries, and quince, all from the Hudson Valley. Meats and chicken are free-range. Sherman’s vows translate to deeds, some feeble, some triumphant, in an assortment of entrÃ©es, most notably two ruby pillows of venison. Anointed with quince conserve and laced with a quince-balsamic reduction, the two frenched ribs lie crossed over braised savoy cabbage and acorn squash purÃ©e like a gateway to bliss. Moist, meaty grilled yellowfin tuna is, if less an apotheosis, still worthy atop nutty rice perfumed with shiitake musk and jasmine flower.
And then divinity crumbles. The pork tenderloins’ roasted cipollini onions, leek-inflected grits and applecider cranberry glaze tried valiantly, but the meat—though well charcoal-seared—was fated for dry, flavorless doom. And it didn’t travel alone: the braised lamb shank glistened regally but was bland as well. The wines accompanying them, though, must also be noted for effort: a sumptuous Monterey Paraiso pinot noir and a crisp Trimbach pinot blanc, two of 10 available by the glass on an adequate list of mostly French and California bottlings.
Where Sherman’s sensibility tends toward the refined, his wife, pastry chef Lisa Sherman, tends toward the rustic. We choose from soul-soothing cobblers, streusels, and compotes; there’s an excellent pecan pie (liberated from corn-syrup tyranny), and an apple-blackberry streusel sated with buttery crumbs, though lacking an oven-warmed finish. And then there are Lisa Sherman’s homemade ice creams and sorbets, marvels that have nothing to do with trends and everything to do with classics.
THE RIVERDALE GARDEN
4576 Manhattan college Pkwy., Bronx, NY
Lunch, Tue. to Fri. 11:30 am-2:30 pm
“Blunch,” Sat. and Sun. 10:30 am-2:30 pm
Dinner, daily 5-11 pm