Apiary: Chef Scott Bryan Gets It Humming (Closed)

When a talented chef leaves an important restaurant and has difficulty finding a new home, the foodie world wonders, “What’s up with that?” Such was the case with Scott Bryan. Veritas opened in 1998 with Bryan as its executive chef. We adored his style of Contemporary American cuisine and, during his eight-year tenure, we enjoyed many superb meals there. His food wasn’t flashy, but rather, a subtle use of flavor combinations. Although many went to Veritas because of its extraordinary wine list, I don’t drink, so I went just for the food.

Actually, we “discovered” Scott Bryan before his time at Veritas. He was cooking at Luma, a small, simply-decorated, moderately-priced restaurant on the corner of 9th Avenue and 22nd St. I don’t recall what prompted us to go the first time, but that dinner led to two others, all of them exciting. I distinctly recall that the first time we went, both M and I ordered fish for our main course and were totally bowled over by how seriously delicious Bryan’s preparations were. We had rarely had fish that tasted so good. We had fish again the second time, then went on to meats during our third visit. All the food had an elegance we would eventually see again and again in Bryan’s cuisine at Veritas. The owner of Luma, Gino Diaferia, closed it when he decided to team up with Park B. Davis, to open the upscale Veritas, which was to include Mr. Davis’s spectacular wine collection.

Towards the end of Bryan’s eight years at Veritas, it seemed to me he lost his enthusiasm because the menu didn’t change much, at which point, we stopped going there. After leaving, he did a short, temporary stint at a restaurant in Virginia. There was talk of his becoming chef of this or that new restaurant, but nothing ever came of it. Last year, it was announced he would be taking over the kitchen at Lever House; however, in the midst of doing a preparatory stage, he shocked the New York food world by walking out and away from the deal. Then, he disappeared.

Suddenly, a few months ago, he was back! Apiary opened sometime in ’08 but didn’t register much with me even though it was only about 10 blocks from our apartment. Apparently, it wasn’t doing too well because the chef was eventually let go, and Bryan was hired to right the tilting (sinking?) ship. If superb cuisine was what was needed, I knew they had chosen wisely. It wasn’t long before we made the short walk to Apiary on a Sunday evening in early February to check things out for ourselves.

One of the criticisms I read on the food forums is that Apiary is in the wrong location for the kind of restaurant it is striving to be. That is, the area is NYU student central (a major dorm is located on the corner of 3rd & 10th), students are not this restaurant’s natural clientele, and the appropriate diners from adjoining neighborhoods, like Gramercy Park, were not going “travel” to eat here. Well, from speaking with our server, Erik, it appears that hiring Bryan has put the kibosh on that theory. He was astounded at the large numbers of new patrons who told him they had come specifically because of Bryan. What this obviously says is that if a restaurant hires a talented chef with a following, they will follow him no matter where the restaurant is located.

Apiary

After a brisk walk on a very chilly evening, we were really pleased with the appealing warmth of Apiary’s ambiance — very attractive, low-key contemporary decor, tables not too tightly spaced, and just right lighting. There’s a fairly capacious bar area in front, which was not very busy that evening. The dining room at the rear is not too large. When we were seated at 6 p.m., there were only two tables occupied. As the evening progressed and all save two tables were filled, the noise level increased but managed to remain comfortable. However, I have read reports that when there is action in the bar area and the dining room is full, the din can become uncomfortably high.

The clientele tilted decidedly towards twenty- and thirty-somethings. Interestingly, quite a few of those were young Asians. As for the more “mature” population (read that, over 50), M and I, along with two other tables, were it. We did manage not to be the oldest in the room. That honor went to the mother and son seated at the table immediately adjacent to ours. He was probably in his 50’s, and she was most certainly well north of 80. I couldn’t help noticing that she was really enjoying her food. I should be so lucky to both live that long and still have such a healthy appetite.

Apiary

Like many other NYC restaurants during these tough economic times, Apiary is offering a recession (or depression, depending on your current financial circumstances) special menu – a 3-course prix-fixe for $35. I hate it when a restaurant has this kind of special deal with only one option for each course. More than likely, there will be something on it that I don’t like. Happily, at Apiary, there are three options for each course. The a la carte menu was available, but since there were pleasing dishes on the prix-fixe for both of us, we decided to go that route. In fact, I can honestly say that the only item on the menu I would not consider ordering was the skate, a fish I had a very bad experience with many years ago.

Apiary:  Main Course

They say the sign of a first-rate chef is his or her ability to produce a superb roasted chicken, the simplest of simple dishes. I rarely choose chicken in restaurants but I had no hesitation about ordering the Roasted Organic Chicken with Mascarpone Polenta, Wild Mushrooms, and Madeira Jus. In fact, I was really excited to see what Chef Bryan would do with it, and he definitely did not disappoint. The exceedingly crispy skin and the very moist breast meat were perfection personified. The lusciously creamy, rich polenta, along with the tasty mushrooms, reminded me of that same “Wow!” combo we had as an appetizer several years ago at L’Impero. The finishing touch of the Madeira jus added a lovely flavor component.

M was equally satisfied with his choice, the Confit of Duck Leg with Celery Root Purée and French Green Lentils. I tasted the confit and agreed it was delicious.

Apiary:  Main Course

Because it was such a cold night, starting with something hot felt right. So, we skipped the two appealing salads and both ordered the Tuscan White Bean Soup with Black Kale and Asiago. It was prepared in the style of a thick ribollita.

Apiary:  First Course

The beans were cooked perfectly so that they weren’t mushy but retained their firmness without being too al dente. The kale was sufficiently tender and, laced through the soup, provided a slight bitterness which managed not to become overwhelming. As for the Asiago, there was just a subtle hint of it, and no additional cheese was offered at the table. Overall, a hearty, well-balanced, very flavorful dish — just the ticket to ward off winter’s chill.

M did go to the other side of the cold/hot spectrum when it came to dessert by ordering the Trio of Ice Cream and Sorbet. He said the vanilla ice cream was excellent, but the blood orange and strawberry sorbets were a bit too “icy.”

Apiary:  Dessert

Financiers are one of my favorite desserts, so there wasn’t a minute’s doubt that I would order the Cherry Financier with Brandied Cherries and Crème Fraîche. The version here was very nice — cakey without being dry and sufficient cherries shot through it. It rested on what I recall was a pool of cherry sauce. I do wish there had been more than just the two brandied cherries which accompanied it because they were sensational! One tiny glitch. The whipped crème fraîche listed on the menu was mia – something I didn’t realize because I never looked closely at the listing while in the restaurant and only noticed it when I looked at the on-line menu again when we got home.

I should not fail to mention the bread, which was up to the same high standards as at Veritas. There were two kinds, French and Picholine olive. We both chose the latter. Choc-a-bloc with olives, it was wonderfully crusty. Our request for butter instead of dipping oil was promptly met.

M had a glass of Gigondas ($14) and ended the meal with a latte ($4.50).

The cost of the meal before tax and tip was $88.50.

Erik provided us with service which was very cordial, knowledgeable, and professional. There was an unusually long wait between the main course and dessert, but we didn’t mind, and when the desserts finally arrived, it was brought by the hostess, who apologized for the delay.

The cuisine Scott Bryan is cooking at Apiary is more rustic than what he created at Veritas. That Tuscan soup would never have made it onto the menu at Veritas, and I don’t recall him ever serving chicken in any form there. As for the duck, it was always magret (I ordered it a number of times over the years). However, you can see the touches of that more elegant style in, for example, the Madeira sauce with the chicken. Perhaps the best description of his cuisine at Apiary would be “rustically elegant.” But no matter the terminology, one thing is certain – his food is delicious!

With Scott Bryan in charge of the kitchen, I think Apiary is a winner! We’ll definitely be back!

Apiary
60 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10003
Tel.: 212-254-0848
http://www.apiarynyc.com

2 Responses to “Apiary: Chef Scott Bryan Gets It Humming (Closed)”

  1. ulterior epicure Says:

    Let me be the first one to inaugurate your blog!! Congratulations, Wizard of Roz!!! This ain’t Kansas anymore!

  2. thewizardofroz Says:

    u.e., I’m truly honored to have you be the first to respond on my blog. 🙂

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