Summer Begins at Henry Street Taproom
Believe it or not, but it is June, and the first deliveries from the CSA are finally about to begin. So now it feels like about the right time for restaurants to start rolling out their early summer menus. And that’s exactly what Henry Street Taproom did last night for a small handful of lucky ducks.
While I’ve been eager to try the place for a while now, this was my first time through the door. Granted, this was not a typical experience. The restaurant was closed to the public for a few hours, and those invited were able to choose whatever dishes from the menu struck their fancy.
There were some home runs, some winners, and some dishes that could use a little tweaking, but I really liked what the kitchen was trying to do with seasonal flavors, and I especially appreciated the clever way the menu will be able to keep up with the changing availability of seasonal produce.
It’s really a no-brainer, and I remember making a similar suggestion a long time ago. And that’s printing the menu on paper, and inserting the paper into a sturdy folder. That not only makes the menu feel substantial, but also allows for an infinite amount of flexibility (a picture of the full menu is at the end of this post).
The Farmers Market Famous Bowl is going to change every two weeks, based on what’s currently available at the market down the road. It’s a bowl filled with house made pappardelle, tossed with vegetables. Last night, the noodles needed some fine tuning, the the seasonal flavors really spoke to spring, with the chive blossoms being the most interesting component.
But let’s talk about summer food for a second.
When it’s hot outside, I tend to have one of two desires. Either I have no real appetite and just want to eat something small and calorie dense, or I want something cool and refreshing. Henry Street Taproom has something for both my moods, and a solid list of craft beers to help with those aims.
I’ve been known to make a meal out of just cashews. But take those cashews and add candied bacon? Then take the bacon fat, add it back into the nuts, and coat them with a curry spice blend? Holy hell, that’s delicious. And that bacon! They make it in house and cut it into a large dice. It’s fantastic.
My favorite dish of the night, without question, was the crab salad. It won on every level. In my mind it was the most summery dish on the menu. Not only was it light and fresh, but also called for grilled corn. Chef AJ admits that this is a dish that will get better and better as the season progresses, and corn becomes sweeter and more delicious. But it was those few circles of crisp fried fingerling potato chips that really put this dish into the winner’s circle. Not only did they add texture, but that earthy potato flavor really helped ground the salad and evoke the flavors of a crab chowder, while being cool and refreshing.
It was hard to know what to make of the fried pickle chips.
I thought I would hate them. Then I tried one and thought it was underwhelming. However, as I continued to munch on these house breaded discs of house-made quick pickles, I realized how much I enjoyed them. Part of it was the excellent miso remoulade. The other part was the delicacy of the pickle itself. These are not hard-brined salt bombs. In fact, they seem to have more in common with fried green tomatoes than the classic deep fried pickle bar snacks.
My concern is that people who might otherwise like these deep fried pickles will skip over the dish, fearing that it will be too intense. And those who do order it expecting a traditional deep fried pickle, will most likely find themselves reaching for the salt to try and recapture some of the missing brine. But these well-fried, lightly pickled cucumbers, were delightful and worth a try.
Another summery dish was the squash carpaccio salad. Marinated and grilled slices of zucchini and summer squash were accompanied by a smoked eggplant caponata. And it was perfectly tasty, but it felt like it was missing some kind of crunchy component. Like a piece of olive oil grilled bread. Or even just some kind of crouton. While the flavor was bold, the plate would have benefitted from textural contrast.
There were more dishes too. And other tables tried things we just didn’t have the room to consume. I went with Yelp Elite Jason L. and the two of us had a grand time. But I heard from trusted sources that the scallops, beef tartare, and chicken with waffle sandwich were all excellent.
Please remember, your milage may vary. This was a special event, when the restaurant knew it was being evaluated by a large group from the Capital Region food community. Hopefully, all the excellent things continue to be excellent throughout the season. And I can’t wait to see how the menu evolves as the season advances.