The buzz about The Beagle NYC when it opened in May 2011 made any food-appreciator giddy with anticipation. Brought to the East Village by Matt Piacentini of cool Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, I was especially excited to nosh here because I have actually been to his west coast spot and could not help but think how "New York" it was. This little gem had a thoughtful rustic menu and an even more intriguing cocktail list. Responsible for expanding well known 'intoeca liquori's beverage program, it turns out Piacentini's expertise in liquors was the only aspect that traversed the states to this east coast restaurant. Chef Garret Eagleton's fare did not fare so well.
|Mackerel & Aquavit|
With an expectation of excellence, I was unimpressed with the ridiculously overpriced dishes, both in flavor and portion. To that end, the pairing boards ($13-19) are the most interesting part of the menu with a tiny bite expertly coupled with (another tiny) taste of a selected spirit. I had the Mackerel and Aquavit duo: a large wooden board plated with a perfectly cooked square of that fish with a white dollop of creamed pickled onions, exactly three thin crackers and mini glass goblet of that clear smooth spirit. A bite (literally, that's all you get so savor it) with each component is the quintessence of complementary ingredients heightening each other. The pumpernickel notes in the Auquavit are echoed in the seed-studded grainy crackers, a beautiful foil to salty yet smoky fish which flakes among onion curls that are doubly vinegary from the pickling yet smooth and round from the light cream. Give me ten more portions of this and call it meal.
The rest of the spread was disproportionately muted by this pairing. The mundane Warm Pork Salad ($13) was scant on the meat side, with only a few crispy pieces dispersed among mustard greens, pickled onions and shaves of Parmesan. Each mouthful was more greens than anything else that could contribute flavor. More food please.
|Warm Pork Salad|
The "entree"-sized Octopus was indeed cooked well but a laughable portion of only two tentacles over a demure frisse and golden beet salad, which could have been mistaken for a garnish. The tender thick coils had a satisfying meaty chew, but again, did not rise to the expected complexity (or size) its $21 price tag boasted. Even more disappointing was the bland Braised Pork ($24) which could have easily been mistaken for beef. The fist-sized cheek was shreddably soft but had no flavor to substantiate the claim that I was actually eating meat. It was deficient in the sweetness the applesauce should have contributed and the sloppy shredded cabbage felt like an after-thought. I couldn't help but recall its similarity to a mediocre Ukrainian diner dish.
|Chocolate Peanut Tart|
Dessert ($6) was more hopeful with a special Tiramisu which was delightfully light, pillowy liquor-soaked lady fingers blanketed with whipped mascarpone cheese. Less elegant but equally satisfying was the pie-slice of Chocolate Peanut Tart, sweet dark cocoa custard coddled by a salty pretzel crust and punctuated with crunchy whole peanuts, touching every part of the tongue.
While a pleasant last taste, my buds were not convinced the meal was over. I left the restaurant hungry and perplexed: two things that do not encourage a return visit (and may incite anger). I still have not quite come to terms with the quizzical formula of a great hype, positive reviews, double-digit dollars, a notable owner, and previous success yielding this unfortunate conclusion: this restaurant is more interesting on paper than in practice. This Beagle still needs to be house-broken.
162 Avenue A, 10019
All photos by Rebecca Kritzer