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Monday, February 25, 2013

Peachy Picks Battery Gardens Our Coverage Sponsored by Fresh Origins

Paul Nicaj, Owner of Battery Gardens

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Every time we interview a Mover and Shaker, a required question we pose to everyone is what is underrated in Manhattan?  If Peachy Deegan answered this question with one answer only, her answer would be Battery Gardens in February!  It is so underrated and you must make your reservation this minute, and we have a myriad of reasons to elaborate on to edibly justify this answer.  We also discovered many non-edible qualities to adore like the phenomenal new decor, redone after the damage of Sandy:
The decor is gorgeous including the oak floors and all furniture that has been changed since Sandy (they were closed for nine days then).  We think even Mover and Shaker Geoffrey Bradfield would agree.  When you have a phenomenal dinner in phenomenal decor amongst phenomenal hospitality and genuine care by those responsible for aforementioned excellence, you can't get any better than that.  The view is entirely awe-inspiring and no other restaurant in New York can compete with this view today.  The only other restaurant views we have experienced that can compare are Top of the Hub in Boston and The Rainbow Room in New York which you can't go to anymore. 
Battery Gardens was featured in Tasty Tidbits:
For every reason, it has advanced to Peachy's Picks.
Not only is Paul Nicaj, Owner of Battery Gardens, the embodiment of the American Dream as he himself came to the USA from Montenegro in 1970, but also the most famous symbol of the American Dream, the Statue of Liberty, is a prominent member of the dining area if only in view to most. Peachy Deegan may be the first guest that is convinced she heard Lady Liberty in conversation, however.  Peachy heard the statue talk: "Give me your Clam Chowder from the shore, your majestic Risotto of Bay Scallops, Rock Shrimp, Calamari, Cockle Clams and Saffron yearning to break free of the kitchen boundaries to make friends with my stomach; I have been suffering cuisines that have been just a bore, before meeting the excellence of Paul Nicaj and Executive Chef Ari!"
Note to staff: Please send to statue!  (If you were standing in the harbor for 127 years holding a lamp for everyone else, you'd get hungry too.)

 (Obviously we are playing with The New ColossusGive me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore...)  
All kidding aside, there is not one aspect of Battery Gardens not to love.  Paul's wife is IRISH, hence the hundred thousand welcomes above the bar!  And we felt entirely welcome, as the minute Peachy arrived at the door of Battery Gardens, Paul himself gave us a tour of the breathtaking venue.  Battery Gardens is the southernmost restaurant in Manhattan.  If you went any further south, you'd be in the water.  As the site says it is diagonally across from 17 State Street.  And you can't get a safer dinner either when you see the Department of Homeland Security is just a leap and a bound away.   Battery Gardens seats about 600 inside and 400 outside. 
After our tour of the inside, and note that the outside space is quite significant but not relevant in February, Paul and Executive Chef Ari Nieminen (who hails from Finland and is well-versed in Finnish hockey players-Ari here is Risto we remember playing in Hartford) discussed the menu in detail with us where he employs a traditional French technique and answered the many questions that rocketed out of Ms. Deegan.  But not before Paul suggested this winner from Chile:
Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Chile is absolutely the best wine Peachy has ever had from South America, nevermind just Chile.  Its smooth, robust quality was the perfect start to an exquisite evening that we did not want to end!  Note that the beautiful wine list at Battery Gardens has great value as well as is moderately priced for the quality of wines sold.
Battery Gardens began in 1998 and Paul Nicaj took it over later, reopening it in 2004 with Ari.  It boasts a creative (but not ridiculous as some restaurants can be when they are overly creative) selection of International/Continental fare that has a menu change for every season-i.e. four times a year.  In our experience, we would say it is American cuisine because of its variety. Prior to the Battery Gardens endeavor, Paul spent 28 years at The Plaza starting in 1970 when he arrived in New York (we had to ask him if he knows Eloise-we love, love, love her and have reviewed every version and incarnation of Eloise that Simon and Schuster has in print-just ask them!  Maybe even Paul told 
@MrHilaryKnight because we see Hilary recently retweeted us!)  From The Plaza, Paul next went to work at The Pierre for six years.
Peachy Deegan dreams of terrific New England Clam Chowder, but the problem is, it does not exist in New York where some people think putting tomatoes in it is a good idea.  As a kid, Peachy would not eat the clam chowder from a can but when she got to college in Boston, she ate it all the time on Fridays when it came to the Boston College dining hall from Legal Seafood.  With serious time spent at the annual Chowderfest in Boston before moving to New York, Peachy Deegan can verify this New England Style Clam Chowder at Battery Gardens is every bit as good as the best she's had in Boston.
Oyster crackers were delicately placed on the side and enthusiastically jumped in at Peachy's command with vigor.
This was a creamy vacation from lesser versions we've experienced at competing Manhattan venues.  Local clams from Long Island (hence the world Style-New England Style) will warmly welcome your tastebuds to Battery Gardens.  Ideal for February!
The main course pasta was too inviting to skip over, and the Risotto that Peachy swears she heard the statue talk about made a grand appearance:
Bay scallops from Peconic Bay, Ecuadorian Rock Shrimp, Calamari, Cockle Clams and Saffron joined together for a gastronomic symphony that would make Ari's great-aunt super-proud; she was trained by Chefs of Royalty who fled Russia in 1917.  
Ari with the Risotto and Miso Glazed Chilean Sea Bass

Executive Chef Ari Nieminen is a graduate of the CIA in Hyde Park and you can see his talents reach into every kind of dish.  The Risotto was rich and well-flavored and punctuated properly with every sea creature involved rising to the occasion.  With the risotto which Peachy and the panelist split, they also shared the Miso Glazed Chilean Sea Bass:
This is the best Miso experience Peachy has ever had.  It was not an aggressive Miso-it was a pleasant accent and the Sea Bass itself was just a gorgeous fish.  Served with jasmine rice, shiitake mushrooms and miso glaze seared on a plancha, this absolutely something Peachy would order again.  Actually when she thinks of everything she tried at Battery Gardens, she'd order everything again.  You should starve yourself prior to entry as the menu is highly thrilling.
Sauvignon Blanc was suggested for this course and it was a crisp, captivating wine that heightened the taste of our edible entries.  Thumbs up New Harbor!

Ari with our two entrees we picked plus one surprise for us!

So, when it came to entree-deciding, we again turned to the statue.  She's been seeing people eat in front of her all of these years and surely she knows what is best.  Peachy heard Lady Liberty hint: "Send these, the Pan Seared Halibut to me, the Roasted Long Island Duck Breast too, and then I'll lift my fork to the Warm Apple Tart Tatin galore!" 
[Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!]
Tarek Ahmed was also a delight to work with and he paired the rose with our meal too.  Rose goes with everything and it was a true delight!
The Pan Seared Halibut is like the steak of fish-and the steak of the sea at Battery Gardens pals around with Fennel, Roasted Bell Pepper, Spinach, Cerignola Olives and Lemon Confit.  Its substantial texture is heightened by the pan seared olive oil, fresh thyme, wilted spinach garlic and lemon that go into the actual searing.   Every creation of Ari's made us feel lucky he decided to come to America as an exchange student in 1979-80 and his background includes the Four Seasons Hotel, Cafe des Artistes and places in outer boroughs.  Though Ari opened Battery Gardens with Paul in 2004, he left later to pursue these aforementioned ventures and we are glad to say since the day after New Year's in 2010, Ari has been back at the helm of the kitchen in Battery Gardens.
By this stage it is clear that Peachy was far more captivated with the marvelous cuisine than the shutter button on her camera:
The clarity of that photo does not speak to the delicious magnitude of the Fire Roasted Market Fish. Branzino roasted in a word burning oven with salt & pepper, EVOO, cumin, roasted fennel, coriander, and bathing in a spa of green sauce otherwise known as Herb Salsa containing spinach, parsley, cilantro, dill, evoo, cucumber and bell pepper; this catch of the day was not to be missed.  Bitter greens joined the party bringing dandelion, chicory, and toasted macadamia nuts.  Thinly sliced Yukon potato-Boulangere Potato- baked with onions and fresh thyme was also to-die-for served aside.  
Ari suggested this Pinot Grigio with the main course and again, it was a top selection.
When it came time for dessert, we love the answer of "all of them" (not literally, silly, but a select few of the best) and the crowning glory of the selection was the Warm Apple Tart Tatin with whipped creme fraiche, dulce de leche caramel sauce:
Warm, soft and the flavor of American comfort, this dessert was loved most by Peachy-and Paul tells us it is also his favorite.  
Let us assure you the golden lamp is all about lighting up this sanctuary to gastronomic excellence.  
Our only question is when can they set up ferry service from the Upper East side to get to Battery Gardens, Pronto?!  Preferably with a bar on the boat...or maybe we'll just rollerblade along the river to get there...Peachy cannot WAIT to go back.
Our esteemed panelist adds:
Love the chef at Battery Gardens! With a background that manifests his pedigree (Four Seasons, Cafe des Artistes, Firebird), Ari Nieminen hails from Finland, and boasts of learning his art at his Great Aunt's elbow. With the finishing touches at CIA, in Hyde Park, Executive Chef Ari delights the senses with his approach to herbal, seasoning, flavor infused food. Try to come to Battery Gardens with friends, because if you've never shared dishes before , you may have to indulge that custom here. Come for dinner, come hungry, and come back. Chef Ari will explain, if you ask, just how the goat cheese achieves its mousse-like texture, in the beet salad. His phenomenal attention to detail, and temperature forms the base of his approach to local fresh food served in perfect balance with good wines and convivial company. We loved Chef Ari, and the Garden's owner, Paul Nicaj, not just because of their obvious talents. Their approach to guest service is unparalleled, perhaps because Lady Liberty is looking over their shoulder every minute. The Lady with the lamp sits in the harbor just outside the floor to ceiling windows of Battery Gardens, and is a seriously breathtaking part of every mouthful you enjoy. "Send me your tired, your poor", and above, all, send me the hungry, because the staff at Battery Gardens will wine and dine you into a new state of nirvana.
Approach the menu with fascination, and read between the lines: barley in the Warm Goat Cheese Salad? Gives a sense of the unusual, of the thought that goes into the menu preparation. The cheese itself is wrapped in a fillo fan, nestled in its bed of thinly sliced golden and red beets and greens. 
 A Montrachet, with it's temperature raised to mimic human body temperature, and given 4 1/2 minutes to warm up, it takes it's heat from the fillo casing as well. Perhaps these are little things that only a foodie can love, but it's all so fascinating! The balsamic reduction adds that melodic touch that only balsamic vinegar gives: a soft and gentle bite, with an edge. The fillo is crisp, browned, and hides it's delicacy within: a generous portion of quite the airiest goat cheese ever sampled. The wine for this course was selected by our connoisseur waiter, and it proved to be one of the most fragrant red wines from Chile I've ever tasted. Perhaps its Rothschild roots gave it that finesse, and the airs of Chile leant the brilliant clarity to the grape. Remember Los Vascos, 2009, a truly remarkable Cabernet that will last all throughout dinner.
It helps that the owner of Battery Gardens is restaurant/hotel cognoscenti. Paul Nicaj ran the Plaza Hotel for a mind boggling 28 years and the stories he will never tell could fill volumes, I'm sure. Downtown (he has his fingers in the pies of other establishments as well) Mr. Nicaj can play the grand host in an environment suited to its many weddings and celebrations. Party on the second floor? By all means, winter or summer. The amount of weddings and events that Battery Gardens hosts is staggering, but they do not impinge upon a perfectly intimate dining experience. The layout of the entire building is conducive to finding pockets of privacy that give a sense of relaxation, overlooking the famous views of our harbor. Lady Liberty may lift her lamp in honor of your wedding vows, or perhaps to celebrate your 25th anniversary. Then again, she may just be calling a waiter over , to see what's for dinner.
If the sea bass is on the menu, please try it. Oh, the delightful aroma! Rubbed with fennel, coriander and cumin seed hand blended in a mortar and pestle, the fish is placed in a wood burning stove to crisp the skin and meld the flavors. It is succulent beyond words, with the lemon slices that came through the entire process lending their smoky finish to a mouthwatering piece of fish. The politically correct sea bass is brushed with a miso glaze. Try a Pinot Grigio 2011, Fini Barone Valdadige with the fish, or perhaps the Chateau Saint Ballon rose. The rose is dry, light, and not too sweet, and make a brilliant match with the fish. Or the roasted Long Island duck breast, for that matter. 
The duck breast is sliced, and served pink, with roasted baby carrots. Here's another hint from Chef Ari: rest the duck after it's seared so it will re-absorb the natural juices. The moistness that results proves his point as the duck is plumped up by delicate flavor and duck fat. The Vascos is wonderful with the duck, by the way, with enough of an edge to provide a full body, but it does not overpower, and adds to the delicate nuance of the duck breast.  
In Chef Ari's world, traditional french cooking is laced with fusion. There may be a whiff of asian, or just a soupon of the exotic in his approach. Enjoy the variety of this winter menu, while New York harbor still lives in a mist of chilly wintry solitude. Or delight in the menus to come, as they change seasonally. For Spring and Summer fare, there is also the outdoor terraces, and the Beer Garden. Quite the place to sample, or savor, as the Hudson instills it's water magic, and the Statue of Liberty breathes freedom into the very air.
We must talk about the desserts. There is a superlative mound of chocolate mousse that is called "Chocolate Trio". It is just that: dark, white and milk chocolate mousse, mounded quietly on the plate. 
 And there's the cheesecake, just enough to satisfy that never satisfied sweet tooth. The cheesecake hosts a fruit compote (this month it's blueberries), and is encircled by a creme anglaise. It's not heavy, and will surprise the cheesecake lover at the table with its approach to volume. If only for the rum raisin ice cream, order the pecan tart. Somehow, summer afternoons spent on a swing come to mind, and the mind becomes one with the palate with just one spoonful.
Hidden at the foot of our gorgeous island of Manhattan, Battery Gardens is the perfect place to take those out-of-towners who yearn for space, air, and incomparable views. It's the perfect place to meet friends after those heavy weeks off yearning to breathe free. It's just simply the perfect place.
Ari and Peachy

Peachy Picks Battery Gardens!
Battery Gardens is Highly Recommended by Whom You Know.

Paul and Peachy
If you are a restaurant that has not been reviewed, you should consider this team a prime example of how to do everything right.
As a side note, they do about 170 weddings each year. The day after we reviewed Battery Gardens, an Indian wedding was scheduled...but let us assure you you don't need to be married or get married to enjoy all that Battery Gardens has to offer!!!

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