Third visit and Atera hasn't lost it! In the words of my friend Sharon: "I feel like every dish so far is the best thing I have ever eaten." Everything really is THAT good.
Except the mains.
Seriously - the stuffed chicken wing was laughable. If you're going to serve chicken at this level, it better be the very best most perfect delivery. This dish came off as cheap. A money saver. Perhaps needed these days (see my conversation with the chef from Koya). But for a 2 star place in NYC that charges a warranted but full price, a dish like this comes off as almost insulting. Like we won't notice what they're doing.
The steak was solid, but not special. (I still yearn for that beer sauce from my first visit!) The mains seriously disappointed.
But everything around it? Stellar. The food! To give you an idea, the mushroom broth was so deep and rich, I asked a (very friendly) chef how they get such deep flavor into it. Here is the process:
Button mushrooms are cooked down for 4 hours release their liquid. This liquid is captured and added to miso broth. The broth is then reduced by a little more than half. They then add brown butter, truffle and truffle oil.
The amount of work and excellent to create just one of the broths demonstrates the substantive effort to deliver food at this level. It just never gets old.
My friend was avoiding wheat (for Passover) and they handled it effortlessly, providing quality alternatives and assuring that the adjusted dishes made for her were on her side of the plate every time. I love it when restaurants manage curve balls so wonderfully. It shows such a touch of care for each and every guest.
The temperance (non-alcoholic) pairing is an absolute must here. Every one of them is incredible - especially the "whisky". I was so delighted to be able to enjoy that again.
The service was also vastly improved! Our talkative server was nowhere to be found and the new(er) sommelier was perfect. Really loved everyone's affect - formal, serious but uber-friendly and accommodating.
This remains an NYC must. But I do hope they find a way to make the mains the star like my first visit (that lamb!!). It would really move them to the upper echelons enjoyed by other NYC Michelin stalwarts.
I brought my sons to Atera, returning less than 5 months after my first incredibly impressive visit (see below). Atera is a 2 star restaurant with 3 star food. It's 3rd star lacking from service (which was improved, but still lacking) and the insane 3-star restaurants it "competes" with (CTBF, le Bernadin...). While I preferred my first visit - it had a few more stand-out dishes - this meal was essentially without fault. And a beautiful introduction to Michelin dining for my kids.
The number of items that were different on the menu after only 5 months was impressive. I anticipated maybe 30% of the menu turning over. It was exactly the opposite - about 70% had changed. It shows a chef who is not content to rest on his laurels and continually innovating. Bravo.
I went with the non-alcoholic temperance pairing. Every option is fully made in-house, from the pine "champagne" to the "martini", beet juice "red wine" and deliciously bright melon digestive finish. But the "whiskey"...my GOD that drink. It was far and away the best thing I put in my mouth all night. Black tea, honey, lemon, Chicopee root, ginger root, torched oak chips at the bottom of the glass with a branded ice cube. It's impossible to describe how complex this drink was. Powerful in its complexity and equally delicious. A show-stopper to be sure. I would come back just for that glass.
There were some substantive service misses. Running out of foam before the last cup was filled. The chef handled it wonderfully, but it's a mistake you shouldn't make at this level. Our far-too-friendly waiter was back. (He's been mentioned in some Google reviews - they need to let him go.) "Are you from around here?" he asked, uninvited, while we were mid-course. I realize that may sound snobbish, but there is a respect you give food and the experience someone is having at this level which values that time of enjoying each dish as pretty sacred. For him to attempt to open a conversation in the middle of it really shows immense disrespect to us, our experience and the restaurant as a whole. It is as if to say "My desire to small talk is far more important than the entire reason you are actually here as well as the immense effort the chefs put into what sits before you to enjoy right now." So not OK.
I also take copious notes when they describe a dish (to include here on the blog). The sommelier indicate a few times that they would provide a menu at the end of the evening. Everyone does - but they rarely contain the detail I am looking for. When I asked him to repeat what was in the final beverage pairing, he kindly noted again that "You will get a menu at the end of the evening with all of this information." I asked "It will have every single component listed?" "Yes sir, it will." You can see in the photos - it does not. Curious as to why he would be so adamant about something that is clearly not true.
Service was saved by the hostess, who was absolutely outstanding. I had indicated on my reservation that one of my sons is a chef. She came over (between courses, of course) and asked "Whos the chef over here?" Some lovely banter followed - she had gone to college in our hometown of Saratoga Springs.
As we left, she handed us our coats and invited Ryan to stodge with them at any time. (Spend a day in the kitchen with the team for experience.) Quite the offer from a 2-star establishment! And a really nice touch.
I still recommend Atera to you, especially if you are looking for your first Michelin-level experience. Not that it's the lowest rung on the ladder - far from it! But the food is delicious and accessible, even for palates that may not be used to food of this sort. Really delicious and very high level cooking. I'll be back.
From a food perspective, Atera deserves 3 stars (not just the 2 they have). From conception to execution to sourcing, this is some of the best food I have ever had from start to finish.
So why 2 stars? The service. The wines were incredible, but the sommelier's manner was awkward. (Why would he wear a chef's hat?) And the waiter was far too friendly and overbearing as the night went on.
But do not let that stop you. The kitchen more than made up for any of that. Most seats are at the bar looking directly at the kitchen the entire time. I looked up at the end of the meal and the kitchen was closed, empty and fully cleaned. I didn't notice a sound, soapy water...anything. I will go to my grave wondering how they did that.
This is one of the very best restaurants in New York. Get here.
Replying to Steven Smith
What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.