I was recently asked by Bon Appetit what restaurant I’d save up to splurge on. At the time I didn’t really have an answer. Then a week later I had the good pleasure of being treated to dinner at Betony. Even though I often eat at restaurants of decidedly less lofty stature, I appreciate a three-star New York Times eatery as much as the next guy. Betony is now my pick for that splurge restaurant.
Everything we had, including the fried pickles ($12), no mere bread and butter chips, but rather wax beans in airy tempura, and foie gras bonbons ($19) was top notch. Served with a couple of lines of coarsely ground black pepper the decadent bonbons rolled in cashew are an haute riff on butter crunch toffee. It was my main course, though that really blew me away. As a card carrying carnivore I was torn between the grilled short rib ($40) and the roasted lamb ($44). I went for the lamb. Paired with eggplant it’s the kind of dish that might be called lamb two ways elsewhere. Nomenclature aside, it was simply amazing. So amazing that I had to find out exactly why.
Chef Bryce Shuman was kind enough to tell me about the components of this ovine masterpiece.
A. The vegetable—crunchy, almost meaty, roasted eggplant brushed with black vinegar—lies at the center of the plate.
B. The lamb shoulder is confitted in lamb fat for a day, then grilled over charcoal, and glazed in a black vinegar and lamb jus reduction. Lastly, it is rolled in fried shallots and rendered lamb fat. It’s so crunchy and delicious that for a moment I thought I was eating a perfectly charcoal grilled octopus tentacle.
C. “We char the heck out of an eggplant,” Shuman says of the dollop of puree that echoes the smokiness of the lamb shoulder.
D. Our friend the aubergine makes another appearance in the form of a translucent disk of dehydrated eggplant.
E. The lamb saddle is simply roasted in a cast iron pan. Giddy up.
F. Dandelion greens lend some color and balance the richness of the meat.
G. The sauce is a reduction of lamb bones finished with black vinegar.
With its layers of flavor and masterful technique Betony’s roasted lamb is easily the best lamb dish I’ve had all year. Hyberbole? You betcha, and well-deserved. Like I said in an e-mail to Shuman the night after that dinner: “I can’t stop thinking about that friggin lamb. Stupendous.”
Black vinegar is a staple condiment in many of my Flushing haunts, so I was surprised to see it being used so much at Betony. When Shuman told me about the dish’s genesis it all started to make sense. He found the inspiration at Joe’s Shanghai of all places. He and his sous chefs were discussing menu additions while snacking on dumplings with black vinegar and a plate of sauteed eggplant in garlic sauce. “The inspiration was just right in front of us,” Shuman recalled.
Betony, 41 W 57th St.,212-465-2400