It’s not often we come across a restaurant and have to really deeply scour our brains to find a critique of the evening. Usually we’re able to find at least one thing that didn’t meet our standards. Perhaps the service, or the wine list. Something, at least. Well, the other night we left Chef Andrew Carmellini’s Little Park restaurant in TriBeCa at a loss for words.
‘Well the….and it wasn’t so….’ We stuttered around, trying to find a way to dig out our harshest of inner critics. Silence fell and then an eruption—‘Did you taste that duck?! Oh, that goats milk cheesecake. I can’t even. And the bubbles to start! Okay but did anyone notice how perfectly pickled those button mushrooms were? That cinnamon toast ice cream will live on in my fantasies forever.’
Little Park is a place that makes you delight in an evening out—Chef Andrew Carmellini, the thoughtful restauranteur, has created a whimsical atmosphere while still maintaining incredible fine dining standards by serving really clever, serious food in a setting that’s as comfortable as it is fun. Twinkle lights and tapas reinvented.
Little Park adjoins Smyth, a Thompson Hotel, with newly designed interiors from Gachot Studios. Furniture, fabrics and finishes are sourced from local craftsmen and mixed with mid-century treatments completing an earthy, urban environment.
This is not the powerhouse suit steakhouse—nor is it a kitschy overly romantic bistro or hipster café. Little Park appears to be refreshingly trend-free and is breathing fresh life into this tired farm-to-table genre. The authenticity here is that the farm fresh focus is not a gimmick, and nothing feels overworked or like anyone is trying too hard.
Simplicity equals perfection, from the encouraged shared dining experience (think tapas style with Mediterranean, French, Spanish and Turkish influences) to the level of quality ingredients. Chef de Cuisine Min Kong joins Carmellini in the kitchen here, and the menu of small and mid-sized plates of everything from ‘Raw & Cured,’ ‘Seasonal Vegetables,’ ‘Pasta & Grains,’ ‘Fish & Shellfish’ and ‘Fire-Roasted Meats’ takes you on a gastronomic sort of adventure. It sounds a little scattered perhaps, with everything from African to Turkish spices dusted across the menu, but it’s so very well executed. Everything is adventurous, and also marries really well together. Not an easy feat.
The menu isn’t overwhelming, and with the small plate concept we ended up ordering almost one of everything. But two of the crispy Brussel sprouts with smoked parsnip and apple cider. Those we literally could not get enough of. Each little gem of a dish came as a surprise, and just as our tastebuds were exclaiming in the mushroom spaghettis with poached egg and crispy shallots a plum-sweet playte of herb crusted scallops would appear. Everything was polished, well-paced, and most importantly, delicious. Texture, flavor, innovation in technique, the trifecta was in every plate.
The perfectly seared chicken with black garlic and swiss chard, along with the long island duck with sunchokes and black kale were the heartier of the dishes, and still we made room for them. The standout may have been the grass-fed hanger steak with tokyo turnip—unexpected perfection and quality, considering we weren’t ordering a filet at Del Frisco’s.
For dessert, don’t leave with the palate cleansing an addictive multitextured little creation called “Frozen Lemon Fluff Honey,” which melts to a kind of tart, candied sweetness on the tip of your tongue. The inner kid in you will also want to dive into the cinnamon toast ice cream, complete with homemade cinnamon toast crunch croutons.