We are often asked the following question: “What’s the hottest restaurant in New York City right now?” Then there is almost always the following caveat: “The food doesn’t have to be great.” And another caveat: “I’m not asking for me. My sister’s boyfriend is a Hollywood lawyer and he’s in town looking for a good place to act like an asshole.” The reason those caveats are so common is because generally the restaurants that are the heaviest on scene in this town are the lightest on substance. They also all seem to serve sushi, but that’s a discussion for another time.
When we first heard about Narcissa, we figured we had another one of those restaurants on our hands. It’s on the ground floor of the east side Standard Hotel, which guarantees a certain type of... clientele. Even the name of this place makes it sound like somewhere a guy who thinks he’s Drake would go to drink champagne with his dinner. But then we figured out who the chef here is, and our perspective changed.
We’re not usually ones to point out where certain members of the kitchen staff came from for the purposes of a review, but in this case, it matters. John Fraser, the chef at Narcissa, is best known for his Upper West Side restaurant, Dovetail. But he also had a pop-up restaurant a few years ago called What Happens When, which is still one of the most memorable dining experiences we’ve had in this city. He’s a creative guy who knows how to cook things that are both interesting and delicious, and he definitely doesn’t seem like the type who is gonna sign on to make spicy tuna rolls at a typical hotel restaurant.
Sure enough, Fraser has created something special at Narcissa. This place has a unique menu, full of vegetable-focused small plates that also sometimes employ ancient grains, exotic spices, and interesting flavor combinations. Even the desserts here will blow your mind, thanks to a real deal pastry chef who spent ten years at Gotham Bar and Grill. Add that up with amazing service from the person answering the phone all the way to the people who bring you your food, and Narcissa is surprisingly devoid of all the things we hate about trendy new restaurants. Yes, there is definitely a scene here. But it’s more subdued and humble than the crowd at the other Standard Hotel. Maybe that’s because the staff is so nice. Or maybe it’s because people are actually eating the food.
Behind the chef’s counter (which is where you want to sit at Narcissa) you’ll see beets on a spit, rotating slowly until they’re black on the outside. Those beets are smashed up a little bit, thrown in a bowl with some bulgur and horseradish cream, and served to you in this dish. It’s a really interesting way to eat beets, and you’ll like it if you like things that are earthy.
This was actually recommended to us by the pastry chef, as we ended up sitting in front of her on one of our visits (again, you want to sit at the chef’s counter). A pile of crab sits in a bowl with some hearts of palm and hazelnuts, and is topped with a bunch of basil. The flavors and texture combinations make for one insane plate of food. A must order.
Thin slices of bright red tuna, sitting in cucumber-basil water with a jalapeño relish. Super light and super good.
An incredible little serving of gnocchi, with chestnuts and sage. This won’t weigh you down like you think it might, so maybe order two.
One of the few things we didn’t love here. This risotto is done with barley, which gets a little bit slimy. There are some clams in the mix, which were nice, but we found ourselves wishing this was made with rice instead of grain.
If you’re afraid of curry, keep it moving. But you should probably get over that, because this is one of the best things we’ve eaten in a restaurant in a long time. Perfectly cooked black bass comes in a small iron pot, with yellow curry, lentils, and a grilled onion. Each ingredient plays a role, and each bite is perfect. Order it.
Quickly becoming the dish Narcissa is known for, which is a shame. These are sort of like American tempura, with a side of jalapeño dipping sauce. They're tasty and interesting, and you should eat them. But there are more impressive things on this menu.
All we are going to do is list the components, and then you can make up your own mind. Olive oil ice cream, lemon thyme whipped cream, meyer lemon curd, Himalayan sea salt, and some crunchy sh*t.
An amazing play on carrot cake. Order this and the sundae for the table.