y first thought when having dinner at Le Turtle for the first time? That this restaurant is Underfinger, but for real.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar, Underfinger is a restaurant review that we wrote in 2014 for a restaurant that doesn’t actually exist - though its characteristics definitely did at the time in the New York dining scene. It was a joke with some truth behind it, but a joke nonetheless.
Now that you have that context, imagine us, sitting at our table at Le Turtle, a somewhat mysterious new restaurant from the people behind The Smile and Freemans, eating a plate of charcuterie called “Ends Meat,” served to us by a waitress wearing what can only be described as a prison jumpsuit from the future. Around us are tables that may or may not be made of plywood, each occupied by a group of very cool looking people who are the kind of individuals who take cigarette breaks during dinner. There is also some sort of VIP booth that sits a foot off the floor near the bar, kind of like a cage for hungry gogo dancers, or exotic animals at a zoo for animals that love to party. On the menu are dishes like “Kabocha Squash with Fresh Cheese,” “Whole Sasso Chicken for Two with Bitter Greens, Sorrel, and Pumpkin Vinaigrette,” and “Grilled Wagyu with Japanese Sweet Potato, Persillade, and Nasturtium Soubise.” Kind of sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?
Here’s the thing - it most definitely isn’t.
Despite all of the weird quirks at Le Turtle, from their insane website, to the menu full of probably made up things, to the fact that the restaurant won’t let us take pictures of the interior, Le Turtle is a place we keep coming back to. Why?
Because whatever it is that they are doing, they’re doing it right. The food, though often unfamiliar, is regularly excellent and at the very worst, interesting. The service is professional, friendly, and welcoming, flying in the face of the “how to run a cool restaurant” handbook. The wine list is unique and full of bottles you’ll want to take a picture of so you can drink them again. And somehow, even though it’s a sceney place, Le Turtle feels like a neighborhood hang. It’s a restaurant that is as good a destination for a laid back Tuesday night dinner with your friend as it is for the next Fashion Week party you won’t get into. And that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write seriously.
I guess the joke’s on us.
Le Turtle has a small but nice selection of charcuterie and cheese at the top of their menu, and we’d recommend diving into it with a glass or two of wine to kick things off. There’s a chicken liver mousse available, too, which is good but has a funky grape jam aftertaste to it. If that sounds good to you, do it up.
A simple salad made up of romaine leaves and topped with a sh*tload of anchovy breadcrumbs. Sort of like a reimagined caesar salad. We like it. You will, too.
This is an excellent dish made up of roasted kabocha squash and some soft cheese made in house.
A plate of incredibly tasty lamb with delicata squash, roasted carrot, and puffed amaranth (?). This thing looks like chaos on a plate, and it tastes like one of the better lamb dishes you’ll ever have. A must order.
A nice plate of steak, served with Japanese sweet potato and some other things that we had to Google (persillade, nasturtium soubise). All you really need to know is that it’s good, and surprisingly simple.
An excellent and massive plate of chicken that can actually serve three, easily. Especially if you’re ordering more things for the table, which you should. Do it once, but don’t feel like you have to on your first go-round. There are plenty of other things on this menu that will please you.
This is sort of like eating a really luxurious bowl of forest floor, and we mean that in the most complimentary way. The mushrooms are tossed with an “oyster brie emulsion,” which sounds like something a drunk French guy came up right before he won a James Beard Award. Proceed only if you are very fond of mushrooms.
We’ve had carrot creme brûlée, hazelnut cake, and some kind of fruit torte thing, and each one has been incredible. Do dessert, and do it hard.