Luxury Roast Chicken Conquers New York
Photo credit : Melissa Hom; One of the Pennsylvania-bred birds served at Rotisserie Georgette.
Chickens have it rough. Their feet are ridiculous. They have no natural defense against predators. Their clucks sound idiotic. And they are just about the most perfect animal to roast over fire and devour whole. When done right, the combination of crispy, crackly skin and tender meat is a texturally perfect canvas that skilled cooks can flavor any way they like: Add some lemons and herbs; perfume the meat with ginger, garlic, and scallions; give it a dash of smoked paprika; slather it with a sauce of bacon and onions. It all tastes good. And now, the humble chicken has become the new must-have luxury menu item at New York’s most vital new restaurants.
It’s not like the idea of roast chicken is new. It has been served, no doubt, for as long as there have been restaurants. But for too long, a chicken dish was the blandest option at any given restaurant. Here’s where things stood in 1995, when Ruth Reichl reviewed UES bistro L’Absinthe for the Times: “Does the roast chicken need to be quite so forceful a reminder that American chickens don’t have much flavor?”
There were poultry pioneers since then, of course, such as Balthazar's poulet for two, arriving at your table with mashed potatoes and some vegetables. And all talk of New York's roast chicken scene must mention the version served atBarbuto, spatchcocked and roasted in the brick oven. A plate comprising half a bird and a spoonful of Italian salsa verde rings in at a mere $19, and many cite this pollo al forno as the best in the entire city.
But the new chickens that have currently taken up permanent residence on New York’s menus are different. They’re not mere comfort food; they’re grand birds competing for prime menu space with steaks and other luxury large-format dishes. And they all share some similar traits: They will be at the very least roasted (and often given extra kitchen love beyond that), generally served for two people, routinely purchased from the ever-popular “Amish and Mennonite farms” of Pennsylvania, and they are more or less guaranteed to taste very, very good. And in many cases, they are quite literally a different breed of bird than what’s been served in New York previously.
At Dover — the brand-new restaurant from Brooklyn’s Battersby team — the kitchen buys Green Circle chickens, which are a French variety that have been fed scraps from restaurants like Per Se and Gramercy Tavern. The staff then confits the legs in duck fat for three hours, cools them, and dresses them with celery, apples, sherry vinegar, and black truffles. When diners order the chicken, the confit comes out first (served with white mushrooms, celery root, and more sliced truffles). The breasts are roasted on the bone, presented whole at the table, then carved back in the kitchen and plated — served alongside a truffle-and-Comte gratin. This will run you $65.
The $65 price tag is the same for chicken at Kingside, the new midtown spot with a menu from Marc Murphy. Lafayette serves chicken for two fresh from the Rotisol rotisserie that runs $50. Chef Michael Toscano’s redo of theMontmartre menu has a “Coq au vin jaune” for two for $58 (it also comes with egg noodles). At Rotisserie Georgette, owner Georgette Farkas and chef David Malbequi serve two poultry options from their own Rotisol: a $24 plate of “roasted organic Zimmerman farm” chicken for one, or the “poule de luxe” for two — a heritage-breed bird from upstate New York that Malbequi serves with mushroom stuffing and slabs of foie gras. It’s $74.