Magazine article The New Yorker

Atera

Magazine article The New Yorker

Atera

Article excerpt

New York has seen cupcake and fried-chicken fads, but the city's current food idol is the ramp, a limp and unassuming wild onion harvested in early spring. Ramps are featured in several dishes at the forager chef Matthew Lightner's Atera, in Tribeca. Lightner is a Portland import, by way of the world-famous kitchens of Noma, in Denmark, and Mugaritz, in northern Spain. Like Mugaritz, this restaurant takes its name from the Basque: the word atera means "to go out," which suits its wild-food ethos. Lightner and a full-time forager provide Atera with wintergreen, nettles, other plants, and fungi, mainly from upstate New York, and one wall of its dining room has been transformed into a vertical herb garden, overflowing with aromatics like camphor, lavender, and mint. When a curious guest asked about the wall one evening, his server coyly replied, "It's alive."

He's right, in more ways than one. The intimate dining room vibrates with life and warmth, from the friendly service to the hand-thrown ceramic dishes. Diners fearing an experience akin to a "Portlandia" sketch will be pleasantly surprised. Lightner has a fondness for things found on forest floors, but his technical skill is what defines the food, which is showcased up front in a series of amuses inspired by the flavors and textures of snacks: crunchy, salty, sticky, chewy. Thin crackers of savory granola dipped in frozen black sesame butter melt on the tongue into a satisfying grit, and a miniature lobster roll comes on a tiny yeast-flavored meringue. …

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