The future of haute cuisine rests in the endless possibilities of combining old favorites with new flavors, whether it is through sauces, vegetables, garnishes, or all of the above. Eighty-Four on Seventh in the West Village does just that, and it does it brilliantly. In addition to a marvelously eclectic (if short) menu, Eighty-Four boasts a great drink menu, which also presents new twists on familiar cocktails. Its décor is beautifully modern, with white walls and wood trim augmented by dim incandescent bulbs and lots of candles, generating a distinctly romantic vibe without seeming too sultry.
I started with the Purple Baize, consisting of blackberry juice, gin, champagne, and basil. It was an odd combination of flavors, but refreshing on what was a fairly warm evening. Chelsea had the Eighty-Four, which had gin, Midori (a bright green melon-flavored liqueur), lime juice, and cucumber slivers. It was good, similar to a mojito, substituting gin for rum (which I’m fine with) and Midori for mint. We split a third drink, the oddly-named Punch Like A Girl, which was vodka, Chambord (raspberry liqueur), sauvignon blanc, and orange, lime, and lemon juices. It didn’t taste at all like alcohol, instead tasting like a standard fruit punch – not even an aftertaste of the vodka! While enjoying our drinks, the server brought us each a cod fritter served with a homemade potato chip; both were lightly fried, with none of the cloying heaviness of a deep-fried item.
We split two appetizers. The first was tea-smoked trout with onions and mâche (a green leafy plant also known as lamb’s lettuce or corn-salad, despite not being related to the corn plant) and a horseradish based sauce. This is the best smoked fish I’ve ever had, the use of tea leaves in the smoking process infusing the already sweet trout meat with notes of citrus from the tannins in the tea. The corn-salad was bitter and slightly astringent, which along with the sour heat of the horseradish made a nice balance to the trout.
Our second appetizer was diver scallops served with radicchio and salsify. Salsify is a strange flowery plant, the root of which is used for culinary purposes and has long been cited as having curative properties as an herbal remedy. The scallops were perfectly cooked, with a nice texture, while the vegetables were paired with an incredibly bitter butter sauce made from Campari, one of my favorite liqueurs, its distinctive red color diluted with the butter to make a surreal shade of violet on the plate. While I enjoy Campari and its bitter flavor, it does pack a mean punch for someone not expecting it.
Chelsea’s entrée was grilled tuna with a Nyons olive tapenade and lemon risotto. Nyons is a town in France famed for its olives, and they are delicious. The tuna was cooked rare, meaning the exterior of it was a shade of light grey, while the center of the meat was a vibrant shade of purple. The salty quality of the olive tapenade mixed nicely with the tang and creaminess of the lemon risotto. As for the tuna itself, it was delicious, not quite as heavy as a tuna steak, but certainly not a light meat item.
My dish was pan-seared char, served with a cranberry bean and vanilla salad along with pickled rhubarb and horseradish. As a pan-seared fish, the char’s exterior had a delicious grilled flavor to it, but beneath the surface it was a creamy sashimi-like texture, revealing a broad range in terms of taste and mouthfeel. The cranberry beans had a nice earthy flavor to them, balanced out by a sweet and savory vanilla sauce. Pickled rhubarb is unique in that it takes a tart and slightly sweet vegetable and removes the sweet altogether. It was a delicious entrée, one I highly recommend to anyone with an eclectic palate.
For dessert, we had just enough room to split a banana cake with brown butter ice cream. Even with two of us, we couldn’t quite finish it, but it was wonderful.
With its prime location on Seventh Avenue, Eighty-Four should have no problem attracting both a regular neighborhood clientele (and indeed, many diners looked like they had just arrived after a long Friday at work) as well as curious foodies from across the five boroughs and beyond. It’s worth adding that while our entire meal consisted of seafood, there are a few meatless items as well as poultry and beef on the menu. For all its gourmet indulgences (I had never had corn-salad, Nyons olives, salsify, or cranberry beans before, for example) the prices are competitive when compared to those of other fancy eateries in the area.
If one finds themselves in the gourmet mood, but not quite willing to don a tie and jacket, Eighty-Four on Seventh is perfect for an excellent meal before a night on the town. You’ll get all of the flavor, but none of the stuffiness. The restaurant should enjoy a great deal of business with the upcoming summer season and beyond.
Eighty-Four on Seventh is located at 84 Seventh Avenue South, between Bleeker and Grove. For reservations or more information call 212-255-7150. Or visit www.84nyc.com.
All photos by Chelsea Herman