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Bistro of Korsh ’98 Reviewed

Posted on Thursday, October 11, 2012

Calliope, a bistro on the Lower East Side in New York City, recently received a favorable review in the dining section of the New York Times. Eric Korsh '98 and his wife, Ginevra Iverson, own Calliope and are the chefs.

"Mr. Korsh knows his way around a pig's head, and his têtê de porc has deep flavor with a textbook funkiness," the reviewer writes.

Korsh earned a B.A. in history from Hobart College. While a student, he was a member of the sailing team.

The full article follows.

New York Times
Waiter, How Far to the Eiffel Tower?
Restaurant Review: Calliope in the East Village

Pete Wells • October 2, 2012

The first time I tasted Ginevra Iverson's cooking, I was sure she was French. At the time, she was running the kitchen at Thirstbaràvin, an overachieving wine bar in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and nothing about her menu felt American. Not its concise take-it-or-leave-it length, nor its obvious faith in the power of sorrel and leeks and butter, nor its sensitive takes on the kinds of classics that are scratched in chalk above a zinc bar.

Only someone born in France, I thought, could serve a plate of lamb leg with baked tomatoes that tasted so simple and honest, with no effort to crank the flavors up to American levels.

When the wine bar's owners set me straight (Ms. Iverson is Californian), I learned two lessons. First, that it's foolish to think that only someone born into a culture can understand its cuisine. Second, and of more immediate interest, that Ms. Iverson was a chef I'd happily follow, wherever she comes from and wherever she goes.

In the spring she turned up in the East Village, where she and her husband, Eric Korsh, a chef who was last seen at the Waverly Inn, have taken over a turnkey restaurant formerly called Belcourt. They largely left intact the brasserie bones that New Yorkers living in the Age of McNally call bistro décor: tiles, tin ceilings, scarred mirrors and glass doors. Whether the room is true to the bistro ethos doesn't matter. The menu is, in a way that the city doesn't see often enough.

You'd have to spend a week in Paris to taste rabbit cooked in as many ways as it is served at Calliope. Rabbit kidneys on toast, a special one night, was so traditional it was almost shocking, in the most pleasant way. They were sautéed to the rare side of medium-rare, the uncouth edge of their bitterness softened by a Cognac-and-chicken-stock sauce with a touch of cream and butter. A wrapping of bacon gave rabbit saddle stuffed with tender leek greens and carrots an American note of smoke, but the heart of the dish, another special, was located across the Atlantic.

The star of the cotton-tailed roster, a regular on the menu - and a dish that makes Calliope worth a visit all by itself - is tender braised rabbit legs tossed with pappardelle. All around the city you can find Italian spins on this idea, the sauce a ragù pink with tomatoes and aromatic with rosemary. Calliope's rabbit is unmistakably Gallic. The sauce is built on white wine and shallots; the herbs are the trusty French quartet of chives, chervil, tarragon and parsley, and there's not a tomato in sight.

That dish and others at Calliope made me wonder why bistro cuisine in New York seems to have largely stopped evolving. For decades after World War II, French cuisine flowered here, from formal dining rooms to neighborhood dives. But somehow, as American tastes began to change, Italian restaurants stole the scene, drawing ideas from lesser-known corners of Italy, from the farmers' markets and from ever-better imported ingredients.

Meanwhile, bistro cuisine has fossilized, as chefs thumb through the same dog-eared recipe cards again and again. Steak frites, poulet rôti, moules marinière, pâté de campagne, crème brûlée: the menus might as well be printed on a mimeograph. Some New Yorkers might believe that these by-the-numbers bistros offer a cheap ticket to the Left Bank, but those who have been to Paris recently know that the bistro tradition, never dormant, has been thoroughly rejuvenated by young chefs.

Mr. Korsh and Ms. Iverson don't go nearly as far as, say, Inaki Aizpitarte at his modern bistro Le Chateaubriand. But those who hunger for the soul of bistro cuisine and not just its greatest hits will want to order a plate of Calliope's boiled eggs with mayonnaise all the same. The eggs are just barely set in the center, and the mayonnaise is a sunny, yolk-rich yellow, seasoned boldly with vinegar, lemon juice and mustard. Sprinkled around the plate is a tart house-made celery salt of dried celeriac that I'd like to put on every egg salad I eat from this point on. This is how to keep a classic alive.

The couple, who met while working at Picholine, share kitchen duties. She is responsible for the excellent beef tongue, shaving it into thin leaves that are folded over sweet white onions and an old-school sauce gribiche that's even tangier than that mayonnaise. Mr. Korsh knows his way around a pig's head, and his têtê de porc has deep flavor with a textbook funkiness, though I wished it was sliced more thickly to play up the contrast between firm boiled meat and other, more gelatinous stuff.

Those weren't my only misgivings. The room looks pretty, but all those hard surfaces can make conversation an ordeal. The leeks that surrounded poached lobster in a gorgeous slab of a terrine could have been more flavorful, or maybe the dish was served just a few degrees too cold. And while I have no quarrel with the decision to serve ricotta-chard dumplings in browned butter, such nods to Italy having become almost routine in Paris bistros, Calliope's are dense and flat-footed. In matzo-ball vernacular, these dumplings are sinkers. And the cake that our server one night billed as something like angel food was nearly as earthbound as an emu.

 

 

 


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