Since Thanksgiving, there's been a flurry of new restaurant activity: Sugarmill, Los Chingones, El Chingon, Olive & Finch, Masterpiece Deli Uptown, Pikkas Peruvian Cuisine & Pisco Bar, and Lower48 all opened within weeks of each other. So, how to prioritize your dining escapades? By meal, of course. Hit Sugarmill and Olive & Finch for breakfast; Masterpiece and El Chingon for lunch; Pikkas for happy hour (pisco sours!); and Lower48 and Los Chingones for dinner. That's a start anyway, but above all, put Lower48 at the top of your list.
Here's why: Even if you didn't know that Lower48 Kitchen's co-owners Mario Nocifera and Alex Figura have a collective resumé that includes Frasca Food and Wine, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the Little Nell Hotel, Vetri, and El Cellar de Can Roca, their pedigree is immediately on display. The high ceiling-ed dining room is casual but polished, likewise the service, which Nocifera oversees. Settle in with the "Each" menu: one- to two-bite starters (pictured) that offer a glimpse of executive chef Figura's immense talent.
The cornmeal-based hoecake (pictured top and bottom) is a flawless bite of corn cake, citrus-cured salmon, sour cream, and horseradish. The combination sounds simple, but to taste it is to experience layers of texture and flavor that far extend the southern staple's origins as a snack cooked on the blade of a planting hoe. Not only is Lower48's version delicious, it also embodies the restaurant's mission of mining the lower 48 states' culinary traditions. You'll find American ham folded onto grilled, house-baked bread spread with smoked butter; smoked chicken wings with mustard onions; and an excellent (carrot) veggie burger with smoked sour cream.
The price for these tastes? A mere $2 to $3. Add a cocktail or glass of wine, and you could make a small meal out of the eight offerings. Or, do as I did and select several before moving on to the equally impressive menu that extends from braised squid to grilled brisket.
Bonus: Service Bar opened Friday in Lower48's adjacent space. Although owned by Nocifera and Figura, the bar functions separately from the restaurant. That said, Figura has worked up a menu—biscuits with smoked honey butter and American ham; hand-cut fries with sweet-and-sour mayo; beignets with whipped lardo and scallions—specific to Service Bar. Also look for large-format beers and bottled cocktails like Negronis and Manhattans.
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