50 Commerce Street

Open for dinner Monday-Saturday from 5:30 to 11pm. Sunday brunch begins on November 9, from 11:00 to 4:00pm. For reservations, call 212-524-2301.

Great Things Come In Small Packages

By Nancy Walman

For those who don’t know it, the quiet, curved street that gently comes to abend at 50 Commerce Street holds a pleasant surprise, a beautiful historic relic of old New York, lovingly restored with a focused attention to detail. For those who knew the address as Blue Mill or Grange Hall, or even those who know it now as Commerce, there are even more pleasant surprises inside: food that continues to live up to expectations, no matter how high the bar is set.

While the atmosphere is purposely casual and convivial, the cuisine is stellar. Yet, it’s not the fussy food one might expect from Chef/Owner Harold Moore, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a veteran of Montrachet, Jean-George’s Mercer Kitchen and Daniel. Instead, Chef Moore and co-owner Tony Zazula (founder and owner of Montrachet) have decided to bring a high level of cooking in an approachable manner to a truly comfortable setting. Through their years of experience, the two owners began to understand what diners today were looking for—a direct and unintimidating dining experience with top-notch food in a comfortable environment and at a reasonable and moderate price.

The menu at Commerce consists of items that are familiar, but not ordinary, and continue to surprise with the brightness and boldness of the flavors, the freshness of the ingredients and the brilliance of the combinations. For example, the fresh marinated hamachi ceviche will brighten your palate with the flavors of yuzu, chili and cilantro.

Even when the dishes are homey, comfort foods, the technique and flavor supersedes the typical preparations. This is a place where everything is done the old-fashioned way. From baking the marvelous varieties of bread in-house (soft pretzels rolls, olive bread, ciabatta, brioche, etc.) to butchering the meat and preparing terrines from scratch, Chef Moore is heavily tied to tradition.

Cooking relies on manual skills, he says, but it ties into memory, too. Every meal at Commerce recalls a memory and a respect for tradition.

The duck and foie gras rillettes terrine with black cherry shallot jam is an unforgettable way to start your meal. The fall vegetable fricassee with truffles and poached egg is almost impossibly delicate.

At Commerce, the focus is on making simple things very well. Hence, the selection of dishes prepared for two evoke comfort food, but elevate it to another level entirely. If possible, go with a group and try either the perfect whole roasted chicken for two served with foie gras bread stuffing and potato mousseline is tender, juicy and delicious or the superb leg of milk fed lamb for two, with a surprising accompaniment of sweet peas and ricotta agnolotti, may be the most tender and delicious lamb you ever tasted (served for 3).

As for the individual entrees, some patrons are already addicted to the spaghetti carbonara with black pepper and coddled egg yolk, while others wouldn’t want to do without the spice roasted lobster with gingerbread and squash. Everyone should be able to find something they like on the Commerce menu. Market specials change weekly, incorporating the freshest seasonal ingredients available.

Desserts are a perfect fit for the menu and the scene. They include a stunning chocolate hazelnut mille feuille with a shiny layer of chocolate on top, with hazelnuts and salty caramel; roasted pineapple cheese cake; familiar desserts to share such as dark chocolate soufflé (with a touch of passion fruit crème anglaise); and a classic apple “tarte tatin” served with a trio of ice creams. And let’s not for get the beautiful cheeses and condiments

Chef Moore serves as mentor to his staff, recreating the experience of how he was trained by Daniel Boulud and other chefs and paying homage to his mentors. Tony Zazula brings over 30 years of experience as a restaurateur to the table with the same fresh enthusiasm he had when he first started out. Zazula oversaw the entire restoration, creating a space that gleams like new while evoking the history of the landmark building. The interior design included installing an original antique Brunswick bar circa 1941, hand-crafted sconces, subway tiling in the bar area, and marble mosaic columns in the dining room, and restoration of the original terrazzo floors. The seating includes booths restored by a carpenter who does theatrical movie sets with chestnut leather, and tables with handmade black walnut wood tops. Recently, two new murals by David Joel in a style reminiscent of Diego Rivera were added to the dining room. They depict the tale of two sisters, “A Common Ground for Sisters’ Story” whose sea captain father bought them the adjoining townhouses across the street from Commerce, with a common garden connecting the two properties in the hope of bringing the feuding sisters together.

Commerce, like Blue Hill, is one of those extraordinary New York restaurants that recall the exuberance and dedication of the perfect Parisian bistro, yet the food is decidedly American, local and pristine. The service is benevolent and the wine list is a joy. A bit hard to find, just tell your taxi to stay on Commerce St. past the Cherry Lane Theater and you’ll be well rewarded.

That’s A Major On The Walman Report. A real must!

Copyright 2009 By Punch In International. All Rights Reserved.


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