How often do you get a chance to eat a delicious meal, and then kick of your heels, climb a ladder and waltz around an urban rooftop garden to see where some of the ingredients were grown? That's exactly what we got do at our recent dinner at Fifth Group's Ecco in Midtown.
Chef Craig Richards (a former Adventurous Tastes Hottest Chef Nominee!)was most recently at our neighborhood fave, La Tavola, and we were sad to see him go and eager to see what new dishes he brought to Ecco. Richards has made the transition into a bigger space very well, and although his training is predominantly Italian, he's already dishing out top notch Mediterranean fare.
After our meal, Richards gave us a tour of the rooftop garden. I most likely flashed him while trying to climb up the ladder in high heels and a short dress, but he's provided me with so many great meals over the years that I probably owed him (I jest, of course!)
The garden is too small to account for all of their product, but crops like the squash blossoms made for a lovely appetizer, and the mint showed up in their award winning Long Live the Queen cocktail (gin, elderflowers, lemon, peach and mint). It's also a very cool set up with a view of the city and a totally sustainable approach with water coming predominantly from air conditioning condensation and compost from the restaurant's garbage.
Squash blossoms are one of those things with such a short window of opportunity that you sleep through one farmer's market and you might miss them for the year. And it may well have been my favorite dish of the night. Delicately fried and stuffed with mozzarella, anchovy, chili flakes and served over a basil emulsion, the blossoms were simultaneously boldly flavored and delicate. I tried to make stuffed and fried squash blossoms last year, and let me tell you, they are not easy to pull off. It's near impossible not to tear the flowers or have the coating fall off. Ecco nailed it (granted, they are professionals, but still...)
The Mr. never met a mollusk he didn't like, so the piri piri squid with olive puree, a sunny side egg, and cilantro was right up his alley. I'm not as big of a fan of all things tentacled, but I enjoyed the heat from the piri piri, and anything served with a nice, runny sunny side egg is AOK in my book.
Sea trout a la plancha with romesco, green tomatoes, cucumbers and mint made for a light and fresh entree. This is definitely not the sort of thing I'd normally order, but I'm so glad I got to try it. The romesco was more subtle than versions I've had before, but it provided a nice kicky counterpoint to the light veggie acoutrements.
A side of local beans (not from the roof), shaved onion, basil, mustard seed and sesame oil was a perfect accompaniment. These beans tasted of summer - so fresh and crisp and simple, but kept from being boring by the nuttiness of the sesame oil.
Usually these types of dinners are bacchanalian affairs, but ours was so light that we had room for after-dinner drinks and two desserts. Orange and date cake with creme fraiche sounded bizarre and lovely, so I just had to try it. The cake was wonderfully moist with big meaty chunks of date and the sour creme cut the sweetness.
More decadent was the chocolate walnut semifreddo with caramel-espresso sauce. It looks somewhat brownie like in the photo, but it was closer to a firm mousse in consistency. Rich, chocolatey and nutty and oh so good with a glass of port!
I've always had good meals at Ecco, but I've tended to dine on heartier fare like fried goat cheese and charcuterie. So it was nice to experience their summer garden-to-table cuisine and try out some of Chef Richards' new dishes, and I left feeling very satisfied but not weighed down.
*Full disclosure: Although my meal was comped, I always endeavor to offer my unbiased opinion of the experience!