Please note that the meal was complimentary. However, the opinions expressed in my blog are 100% my own!
The Upper West Side is an interesting neighborhood that is changing as time passes. It does not have the same appeal as others like Soho, Chelsea or TriBeCa and its crowd is often associated with moviegoers, theatergoers and tourists. It is in this mix of hungry people that we tasted TESSA, a restaurant serving mainly Mediterranean cuisine. Taking its name from the daughter of one of the owners, this place has a fantastic decor that is a mix of rustic, with its exposed whitewashed bricks, and industrial, with the double layered blackened steel security gates that cover the entire ceiling and can be found all over the restaurant, wrapping around the bar for instance.
In the back of the restaurant is a private dining room that is great, not only because it is separated from the main dining room and so more quiet, but also because of the beautiful setting with one of the walls covered with wine bottles.
Downstairs is the open kitchen, where you can see the magic happen and you know what? The magic definitely happened!
Before I talk about the food, let's talk about the beverages. First, I decided to try one of their cocktails called the 349, that number being their address on Amsterdam. It is made of Old Granddad Bourbon, Amaro (an Italian liqueur), honey, fresh lemon and ginger beer. This drink was well balanced and you definitely do not get hit with a strong alcohol taste, making you drink it like milk (sort of). What you definitely get is some sweetness as well as ginger and lemon notes.
Then, during the dinner, I went for a red wine: Luiggi Nervi, Guattinara (Piedmont - Italy), 2008, made with Nebbiolo grapes. It was a very good wine, a bit tart and on the light side.
As we were waiting for the first dishes to come, they brought us some bread with butter smothered with olive oil. I am always looking forward to the bread basket that often indicates how a meal would be. And it was a good start...
The first dish was roasted shishito peppers drizzled with a tomato and espelette salt. You understand now why I wrote that the cuisine is mostly Mediterranean: shishito peppers are East Asian. With their nice green color, they are small, thin walled and on the sweet side, not spicy. They would just be roasted, it would be ok, but the addition of the tomato and espelette salt was a great addition, enhancing the flavor rather than a salty taste.
Then came the homemade burrata served with arugula, cherry tomatoes and olives Niçoise that were thankfully pitted. In fact, it has been a while since I had these olives in the US as you do not find them often, not even in the salade Niçoise that restaurants propose on their menu, often replacing them with any other kind.
The burrata itself was delicious: the mozzarella shell was tender and not too thick and the cream inside delightfully creamy, pairing well with the bitterness of the arugula and the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes.
The next dish was very surprising. It was bruised kale and marcona Caesar salad. It was made with kale, fresh lemon, parmiggiano cheese, focaccia crunch and grated almonds (marcona almonds). I admit that when I heard the word kale, my heard sunk...I know: it is not the first time I am a bit disappointed to see kale on the table and then I discover a wonderful dish. Well, TESSA was no exception: I loved it! Crunchy and earthy, I thought it was a succulent salad. I should mention the presentation that was very nice, the salad being presented like a pancake (sorry, I do not have any other way to put it...).
Another fantastic appetizer is their octopus a la plancha. I was really looking forward to try it as I love octopus. But it is a difficult mollusc to cook, making it tender necessitating some technique. Well, at TESSA, they sure know how to make it tender and with a nice texture, so there is some bite to it. They first steam it and then finish it on the "plancha". It was served with a yellow squash caponata and a green olive tapenade that was perfect with the octopus, adding a nice saltiness to it.
We then had some truffle dishes that are not on the menu, but are often proposed by the restaurant. The fist one was a truffle flammenkuche, or tarte flambee, that is a sort of Alsatian pizza that has a very thin crust. It was good, made with fromage blanc and red onion, topped with some slices of truffle.
But my favorite was the truffle linguine. First the presentation was very appetizing with a nice contrast of colors; second, it had this wonderful truffle smell emanating from the dish. Eating it, I could hear angels singing on my shoulder and I thought I was in heaven. The truffle definitely elevated the dish. I should mention that they have other pasta dishes that can be ordered in appetizer or entree size, an option that allows you to try several dishes and that I love to find on a menu.
Believe it or not, but we still had two more dishes to try...The first one was the branzino, served with ratatouille and a basil and piquillo pepper coulis. The fish was perfectly cooked and moist. However, I did not really like the ratatouille which I prefer more cooked, the vegetables being al dente.
The second dish was the Long Island duck, prepared two ways: the honey spiced breast, and as a smoked sausage. It was served with purple barley, onions and pears. If you love duck, this dish is for you: it was simply delicious, especially the breast that was perfectly cooked, not dry, with the skin that had a nice crispiness and char to it. The sausage was also good, very tasty, with a nice bite, the casing not being too thick. I admit that I did not really care about the barley that had a nice color, but loved the onions and grilled slices of pear.
Last was dessert. Similar to our meal, it was fabulous. We first went for the TESSA tiramisu that was a nice take on the traditional Italian dessert, different because of the different elements they incorporated such as the brownie, white coffee ice cream or figs on top. Well, at least the figs gave the impression this is a healthy dessert made with fruits...
But the most spectacular was the baked Alaska. It was made of chocolate and vanilla nougat ice cream sitting on top of a brownie and topped with a torched meringue, the whole thing served with passion fruit. Not only the presentation was amazing, but it was a succulent dessert, especially the meringue that was thick and dense, not too sweet. In fact the entire dessert was not sweet at all and the presence of the passion fruit helped balance the dish. I also liked these cacao nibs that gave and additional crunch to it.
We had a fantastic meal at TESSA and loved the atmosphere there. This place is definitely a true gem that serves sophisticated dishes that can go from simple to complex and will satisfy any palate, not only the gourmets. Would I go back? Definitely and I already know what I would get...
Enjoy (I did)!
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