Cookshop A Loo-Bop A Wop-Bam Boom

On a gorgeous Chelsea evening last week, I met my former roommate and psychic birthday twin Lauren for dinner at Cookshop on 10th Ave. The walk over there was gorgeous, standing outside waiting for her was gorgeous, taking this picture was gorgeous. Say hi to the picture: Hello, gorgeous.

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Springtime in New York makes awful winters worthwhile; I love having seasons. Having done much of my growing up in the consistently muggy South Florida tropics, I find it so gratifying to suffer through a freezing winter only to awake one morning to a bright, invigorating springtime air. The weather right now is so perfect that if I could freeze a temperature in a bottle and release it at my most miserable, this would be the weather. It’s just excellent.

On the walk over to Cookshop, I passed the only existing seminary in New York (I think this is true—at least it’s the only one in Manhattan.) I kept imagining nuns and priests dancing in the courtyard, but all I saw was a bunch of grass and people talking:

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Then, when waiting for Lauren outside Cookshop I snapped this cool picture of an industrial bridge. This is what this part of town looks like. “What part of town are we in?” asked Lauren when she arrived. “Western Chelsea,” I said. “We’re just north of the meatpacking district.”

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Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I’m sorry, did you fall asleep? Oh right, this is a food blog—-not a tour of Western Chelsea blog. Fair enough. Let’s get to the food at Cookshop.

Walking in on this Tuesday night, the place was pretty buzzing. “This place is pretty buzzing for a Tuesday night,” I said. And the place is also pretty huge. Tables travel the entire length of the room and then curve like a candy cane on towards the kitchen. Lauren and I were seated at a wooden table along the aisle, where the waiters walked, and my back was up against a taller display table. It wasn’t my favorite table in the house and it wasn’t the most comfortable but the light outside hit the room in such a lovely way (Cookshop has lots of big windows) that I didn’t really care.

Immediately, we were presented with bread and this amazing unidentifiable spread. “What’s in this spread?” we asked the waiter. “Creme fraiche, horseradish and _____.” (I forget what the third thing was. This is why food critics take notes.)

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He asked us if we wanted drinks and Lauren ordered a Pinot Noir. I studied the specialty cocktail list and chose a cocktail with champagne, ginger and blood orange juice. Here it is, ain’t it pretty?

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In the New York Magazine review of Cookshop, Hal Rubenstein writes: “No one I know serves hominy for dinner. No one I know even craves it, really. Yet, every time I go to Cookshop, I order the fried spiced hominy before I even look at the rest of the menu. I don’t know if it’s because I enjoy popping these crunchy, chili-stoked kernels in my mouth so much that I wish they sold them at the movies instead of popcorn, or if I’m just stunned that chef Marc Meyer can take pasty, dehydrated, thick-skinned corn and turn it into this spunky, grab-it-by-the-handful treat.”

Lauren and I stand behind Hal in this assessment. This hominy is wonderful: [That’s the first time I’ve ever written the sentence, “This hominy is wonderful.” It’s fun to do. I suggest you try it.]

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“It’s got a kick,” said Lauren. “But just a little kick. And then it’s sweet and it has all these flavors going on.”

We devoured the plate pretty quickly. (I wanted to say we devoured it faster than Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney could sing, “Ebony and Ivory/live together in perfect HOMINY.” But it wasn’t very funny. I’m glad I didn’t tell you guys about it.)

Next up were the appetizers. I bravely ordered the “Chicken Fried Duck Livers.”

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These big crunchy, livery specimens went really well with the salad and the spiky, vinegary dressing. Lauren had pickled oysters:

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She was wary of pickling high quality oysters–“It seems like a waste of a perfectly good oyster”–but I assured her that Cookshop didn’t invent the practice. And while she thought they were ok, I think she liked my duck livers more. “I think I like your duck livers more,” she said.

Here is a good place to talk about the service at Cookshop. Our waiter really sucked. There’s no other way to put it. He was deeply disinterested, totally aloof and really unhelpful and unfriendly. The candle on our table kept going out and he kept coming back to light it and we’d joke about how funny it was that our candle kept going out and he didn’t crack a smile. We just want to be loved, waiter! Why won’t you love us?

For my entree, I had the duck breast with kumquats:

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And Lauren had a shortrib served on grits with onion rings:

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[I said to Lauren: “If people looked at these plates and had to guess the gender of the people who ordered them, I bet they’d get it backwards.” You see because the short rib looks so manly and the duck looks so feminine.]

Anyway, I was a little disappointed in the duck. I thought it was very okay and that the kumquats were a good choice but it didn’t ascend to the stratosphere of flava. Lauren really enjoyed her shortrib. “These onion rings are amazing,” she said. “They’re perfect.”

For dessert, we shared an amazing coconut Sunday with chocolate sauce and caramel and salty nuts on the bottom. I loved it. So did Lauren:

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As a resident of Chelsea, I’m glad Cookshop exists. I like it better than some of the other West Chelsea staples–The Red Cat, for example. It has a fun atmosphere and pretty terrific food. And if you unbottle this perfect weather, even a disappointing duck breast will leave you smiling.

Cookshop. 156 10th Ave- At 20th St. 212 924-4440 [This address listing was an experiment to make my review more professional. What do you think?]

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