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Peter Hoffman, the chef-guru of Savoy fame, recently opened a casual spot in Alphabet City called Back Forty. The restaurant is hosting press dinners this week, so I decided to check it out.

Back Forty serves simple, ingredient-driven food. A couple of the dishes I tried hit high notes, others didn't. Based on this visit, I'd say it's an impressive neighborhood restaurant but perhaps not one worth taking the L train for.

The space is attractive -- it's got a farm motif but it's not overdone. The interior is divided into three rooms (in part because the restaurant spans two buildings) and there's also an outdoor area that's still under construction and will open in the spring. Here are a few photos of the rooms, which I was able to take because the restaurant had zero customers at 6:30pm. However, when we left at 8pm nearly every seat was full and there was a bar crowd to boot. The place definitely runs on an East Village timetable.

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Rustic table setting and BIG cocktails:

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The single best dish of the night was the cranberry bean salad with radicchio, shaved fennel and spice-crusted feta cheese. This was an astounding dish, from the "from the garden" section of the menu (which is where the action is) -- basically a selection of side dishes that can double as appetizers. The cubes of feta are rolled in spices -- cumin and coriander are evident -- and they're the sort of thing you'd stuff yourself silly with if given the chance. The dish comes together beautifully and makes a strong argument for simple, farm-fresh food made with the highest quality ingredients. If only the rest of the dishes lived up to the standard set by the cranberry bean salad, Back Forty would be a destination restaurant. The other dish you see in this photo, green wheat (like bulgur) with mint and yogurt sauce, unfortunately tasted like health food from the 1970s -- overly salty health food.

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Roasted oyster mushrooms with shallots were pretty good -- not a revelation -- but the French fries sprinkled with rosemary salt were a bit limp, too thin for my tastes and I really don't see what rosemary salt brings to the table.

The entree section of the menu is called "the core" and includes rotisserie chicken, a burger made from grass-fed beef, a BLT, pork sausages, a crab roll (New England lobster-roll style) and a whole grilled trout. Simple food that can be delicious when done well. We ordered the burger and half a chicken.

I was prepared for a chicken revelation, because I'd heard that Back Forty gets excellent chickens and spit-roasts them with great skill. Maybe it's a deficiency of my palate, but the chicken tasted ordinary to me. The seasoning was nice but the skin didn't crisp up the way great chicken demands. Maybe the dish works better in the whole-chicken format (those who recommended it to me had it whole). I don't know.

The burger was quite good. Solidly in league with the better burgers in town. Excellent beef flavor, cooked as ordered, superb bun, house-made ketchup provided in a squeeze bottle. Here's a cross section:

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We had two cocktails, one of which, the Back Forty (basically a whiskey sour), was excellent, and the other of which, the Grapefruit Julep, was unbalanced. Also available are a number of interesting beers, and wines including house-label wines from Long Island.

The apple pie was well made, the brownie was dry and the freshly made doughnut (they come three to an order but we just asked for one to try) is going to be a huge seller -- it's great.

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Back Forty

190 Avenue B (near 12th Street)

212.388.1990

http://www.backfortynyc.com/

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Ate here on Saturday night.

Design is spare but pleasant.

Nice cocktail list...all variations on standards. All of the ones we tried were good (except that the Grapefruit Julep was a little too sweet)...especially the Perfect Orchard Manhattan (a perfect Manhattan using an apple brandy) and the Losaida Sling (cachaca, ginger beer and chipotle). small but well-chosen beer list. wine list emphasizes Long Island wines...which I'm generally not a fan of.

completely packed but we managed to get spots at the bar after about 20 minutes. ordered a bunch of plates from the garden and small bites part of the menu...as well as a whole Catskill trout.

the rock shrimp beignets were mostly dough...a huge portion for $7. they should halve the portion in return for actually filling them with shrimp. all the garden dishes were good...if simple. the cauliflower gratin stood out...a standard but well executed classic dish.

the trout was simple and superb. cooked perfectly. crispy skin. just the right notes of acidity. a winner. and a bargain at well under $20.

the food is quite similar to the Savoy/Tasting Room/Blue Hill/Craft concept. (which I enjoy but usually find overpriced for what are ultimately just a collection of good ingredients on a plate)....but at a gentler price point. I wouldn't travel across town for it but I'd definitely always consider it when in the neighborhood and not going to any of the Momofukus.

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I should note that the bartenders use jiggers and shake (when appropriate) for a decent length of time.

it's a measure of how far cocktail culture has come that only a couple years ago it would have been shocking to see that at a restaurant bar.

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  • 8 months later...

We had dinner here Friday night (for the 3rd time since the opening), and I have to say, I think the food is hitting a nice stride. I had issues with our first meal, which I didn't post about since the restaurant had just opened, but now a lot of it is very good, and a great value, to boot.

A starter of onion rings (and I think the last time onion rings were ordered for a starter was, well, a long time ago - around the time malteds were the main course) was great - big, onion-y, crispy and just the right amount of greasy, these were perfect with a couple of organic IPA's. The artichoke fricasee was nice too, lots of green market vegetables supporting the thistle.

For mains, the lobster-blue crab roll wife had was really good - not overdressed (just enough mayo), but my one nitpick with it is the side of fries (see Fat Guy's post above) - with onion rings so good, why can't the fries be some of the best in the city, please? (Going back to our first meal, when the fries were really soggy and basically inedible, and I was told that the chef wanted them that way and was experimenting - well, experiment done - time to figure out how to make your fries good and crispy).

My main was the special fish - at least a 1 pounder from the snapper family, grilled to perfection, stuffed with herbs and garlic, every bit of flesh down to the cheeks (the best part) was juicy and delicious.

For dessert, the blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream - more of a crumble-type top crust, hit the final sweet spot just right.

Along with our last meal here a couple of weeks ago, when we had a very juicy "heritage" pork chop (for $20, take that, you $30 pork chop sellers) as well as a great pork "Milanese," I can't say enough about a place that initially we thought was a disappointment, turning itself around into a pretty darn good restaurant with a great market sensibility. Oh, and the air conditioning really rocks :smile: . Keep it cool, Peter.

As a side note, Back Forty is doing some sort of a crab boil thing for the rest of the summer...believe it's on Wednesday nights - if it's similar to Savoy's clam/lobster bake, should be a good value.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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We had dinner here Friday night (for the 3rd time since the opening), and I have to say, I think the food is hitting a nice stride.  I had issues with our first meal, which I didn't post about since the restaurant had just opened, but now a lot of it is very good, and a great value, to boot.

A starter of onion rings (and I think the last time onion rings were ordered for a starter was, well, a long time ago - around the time malteds were the main course) was great - big, onion-y, crispy and just the right amount of greasy, these were perfect with a couple of organic IPA's.  The artichoke fricasee was nice too, lots of green market vegetables supporting the thistle.

For mains, the lobster-blue crab roll wife had was really good - not overdressed (just enough mayo), but my one nitpick with it is the side of fries (see Fat Guy's post above)  - with onion rings so good, why can't the fries be some of the best in the city, please? (Going back to our first meal, when the fries were really soggy and basically inedible, and I was told that the chef wanted them that way and was experimenting - well, experiment done - time to figure out how to make your fries good and crispy).

My main was the special fish - at least a 1 pounder from the snapper family, grilled to perfection, stuffed with herbs and garlic, every bit of flesh down to the cheeks (the best part) was juicy and delicious.

For dessert, the blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream - more of a crumble-type top crust, hit the final sweet spot just right.

Along with our last meal here a couple of weeks ago, when we had a very juicy "heritage" pork chop (for $20, take that, you $30 pork chop sellers) as well as a great pork "Milanese," I can't say enough about a place that initially we thought was a disappointment, turning itself around into a pretty darn good restaurant with a great market sensibility.  Oh, and the  air conditioning really rocks  :smile: .  Keep it cool, Peter.

As a side note, Back Forty is doing some sort of a crab boil thing for the rest of the summer...believe it's on Wednesday nights - if it's similar to Savoy's clam/lobster bake, should be a good value.

I've been waiting for a report like this Weinoo... You know when you're waiting for a restaurant to ripen before trying it first? This was one that I been sharking since it opened. I'm glad it's

kitchen's hit the stride..I've wanted to go by so badly, but not wanted to exist in disappointment. goodie.

does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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I've been waiting for a report like this Weinoo... You know when you're waiting for a restaurant to ripen before trying it first? This was one that I been sharking since it opened. I'm glad it's

kitchen's hit the stride..I've wanted to go by so badly, but not wanted to exist in disappointment. goodie.

Bring a cardigan, Emma :wink: .

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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The first time I heard about this restaurant was when they hosted a wine and beer tasting early this spring. I didn't stay and eat at the time but came back a few weeks later. I had the burger which was honestly one of the best burgers I've had in a while. I'm not a huge burger fan but I love grass-fed beef and I loved the flavor of this along with their homemade ketchup. Also their tap beer list is really good even though it's small. This is a place I would definitely go back to again.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Last night we reserved at PDT on the early side and needed a place nearby where we could walk in for dinner. We didn't want to make a reservation because we weren't sure how long we'd be at PDT. I was with friends who didn't want to go back to Noodle Bar -- they like to try new things -- so the restaurant database rattling around in my mind generated Back Forty as an option. We walked through Tompkins Square Park and checked out the new dog run, then were able to snag what appeared to be the last empty table at Back Forty just before 8pm.

This meal was far more successful than our earlier meal there. Almost every dish was quite good and delivered in one way or another on the simple, ingredients-driven promise of the restaurant.

The fresh ricotta standing alone is superb, but is even better on account of being paired with honey (also some honey comb), roasted nectarines, assorted berries and tiny crostini. Even better is the unprepossessingly named "market vegetable salad," which contains mustard greens, cherries, beets and a yogurt-dill sauce and positively demanded that I try to replicate it at home. Almost as good is the bean and cherry-tomato salad, whose only flaw is that there aren't enough tomatoes in it ratio-wise. The mushrooms baked in parchment are excellent as are the pork-jowl nuggets. Perhaps because we ordered so gluttonously, the kitchen also sent out some succotash, which turned out to be the mother of all succotash.

Two of our group had the trout, which was I think the best dish on the table. One of us had the lobster-and-crab salad on buttery excellent toasted challah, which puts to shame the lobster salad on a poor-quality hot-dog bun that's prevalent in New England. I had the grass-fed burger again, which I liked again.

The fries are still too limp and still need work.

The blueberry pie (more of a crumble) is worth ordering, but the best dessert we tried was the "stout float." It's a glass of stout with vanilla ice cream, blackberries and blackberry-rum syrup. You have to let it sit and melt a little to enjoy it, but once the ice cream and the stout start to integrate it all really clicks.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The fries are still too limp and still need work.

Jeez, wtf is with the fries here? Can someone teach somebody how to make fries, please?

Or, just take 'em off the damn menu and serve chips or something.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Unimpressive meal at Back Forty last night- I'd much rather spend another $10-20 in that neighborhood and have a meal twice as good. The vegetable salad was fine- nothing exciting. The cherries were a nice touch. I didn't think the yogurt dressing was particularly successful- the salad ended up being pretty bland despite seemingly good ingredients. My trout was a bit overcooked, though the skin could have used more crisping. Overall, not such a great texture. The fregola, mascarpone and guanciale side was very tasty, though the guanciale was undercooked and tasteless. I know something is wrong when I'm eating around the pork in a dish. My dining partner got a bacon cheeseburger- which came out with the most disgustingly undercooked flaccid bacon I've ever seen. I didn't taste the burger, but the meat was visibly lacking in fat. Hopefully she'll post a word or two with her thoughts.

Overall, its a definite neighborhood skip.

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The fregola with corn and marscopone was good - I would have enjoyed the guanciale if it had been cooked. It would have added some contrast to the texture and provided more depth of flavor. But I love the way the corn mimics the size and color of the fregola - that's a combination that I've been enjoying a lot the past few summers at restaurants in the city (Otto and Babbo come to mind).

The burger was dry. I asked for it medium, it came out medium which was good. The color was perfect, but the meat itself was dry and not as flavorful as I'd like. The bacon was so undercooked. Who would do that to heirloom bacon? I guess maybe some people like that - but I really don't. I don't normally send things back - I find that process embarrassing, but I did send this back and they were really nice about it and the bacon returned all crispy, tasty and gorgeous, so I was glad I did that. The cheddar on the burger was nice - I kept on craving more of it to make up for the lack of fat in the burger. I didn't enjoy the bun. I thought it was a little bit chewy and tough on the exterior. I don't indulge in burgers very often and I feel like I sort of wasted the indulgence on this one.

I started off with a side of "purple" broccoli with clams. Pretty good - I thought I was being healthy, ordering broccoli and all, but there may have been a lot of butter in the sauce. I do happen to be truly colorblind, but I don't have a problem distinguishing between green and purple. My broccoli was definitely green.

Donuts for dessert. Nice enough. Not too special. I felt like I wasted my dessert quota on them.

Kirby Cocktail. Meh.

Edited by spaetzle_maker (log)
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the heads on "purple broccoli" (identical in taste to regular broccoli) should have a slightly purplish cast...but that's the only difference. I imagine that it might not be discernable after cooking.

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Overall, its a definite neighborhood skip.

This I don't agree with. While both you and spaetzle had a seemingly disappointing meal here, I've had a number of good meals, at good value, and posted about them above.

Obviously, undercooked bacon and uncooked guanciale are way too bizarre, and I'm glad that spaetzle sent that shit back and that it came out right. I would've actually been asking to speak to the manager or whomever, because that just shouldn't happen.

But grass fed beef cooked to medium is dry, and that's the nature of the beast...so can't blame them for that. And purple broccoli is green...when cooked.

I've bitched about the fries, and will continue to do so...but everything else we've had over our past 2 visits has been high quality ingredients, prepared as described or as requested. Pork chops, whole roasted fish special, onion rings, lobster-crab roll, pork milanese, etc. It's seems that they for sure have some consistency issues, which I hope they iron out.

At this price point, with a little careful ordering, I think a pretty good meal can be put together here.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I wouldn't say that the meal was "bad", but I didn't find it revelatory or even as enjoyable as some other similarly priced options in the neighborhood (Redhead, for instance). My statement about green vs. purple broccoli wasn't a statement that the dish was bad - I actually thought it was "pretty good". But thanks for the info. If purple broccoli is only subtly purple, that's really probably not something I would be able to see. As far as the burger goes, it would have been good if there were some more toppings that can add back moisture into the overall product. That's precisely why I ordered it with cheese, but unfortunately, it didn't come with much cheddar on it. The bacon was extremely good though once it came back crispy. I guess I could have asked for more cheese when I asked for crispy bacon, but then I run the risk of sounding as crotchety as my grandmother. Not that she would eat bacon. Or cheese with a hamburger.

Edited by spaetzle_maker (log)
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As I said above, I think your perception of value here depends how much you think saving $10-20 is worth compromising in terms of cooking technique/overall taste. Our highly mediocre meal simply did not end up being so cheap that I felt like the flaws in the meal were worthwhile. As Spaetzle-maker asserts, I'd rather be eating at Redhead (or Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar or even at the now defunct Seymour Burton). Given that the proteins are utterly unadorned, a $14 burger (no fries!!) should simply look and taste (again, I didn't taste it) better. Likewise with an $18 piece of plain trout. The trout at Redhead (the same price and actually the same size although not a whole trout) also comes with heirloom tomato, white bean puree and tastiness.

Since I didn't order the burger, I didn't note that it was grass fed. If the kitchen recommends it medium rare, they should certainly tell people that. The poor guy next to use ordered his well done- its a wonder he could even swallow it! However, the color of that burger was entirely perfect- it was just not juicy. If they can't get grass fed burgers to be moist, then their burgers are a complete failure. Can't they throw a pat of butter in there? Some egg? Pork fat? Duck fat?

We could have simply had an off meal (the freqola was tasty), but I wouldn't travel that far east just to eat there again.

Edited by Jesikka (log)
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(There have been two comments indicating a preference for Redhead, but we have no topic on Redhead. Maybe someone who has dined there can make the case for Redhead on a new topic. I haven't been there.)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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(There have been two comments indicating a preference for Redhead, but we have no topic on Redhead. Maybe someone who has dined there can make the case for Redhead on a new topic. I haven't been there.)

I've dined at both Redhead and (the now (temporarily?) defunct Seymour Burton).

the people at both were very nice.

but that was before Redhead opened as a real restaurant. don't know anyone who has been there since.

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I haven't sampled their normal menu but Back 40 is hosting a crab boil until the end of August. It's only on Wednesdays and I went their with a party of seven and we all found it to be excellent. $35 a person, including sides. The blue claws were meaty and the service was spot on. It was the closest I've come to in NYC for a Maryland/Jersey Shore style crab boil. There were four heaping servings and we figured we each got around a dozen crabs in total.

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"Wives and such are constantly filling up any refrigerator they have a

claim on, even its ice compartment, with irrelevant rubbish like

food."" - Kingsley Amis

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(There have been two comments indicating a preference for Redhead, but we have no topic on Redhead. Maybe someone who has dined there can make the case for Redhead on a new topic. I haven't been there.)

I've dined at both Redhead and (the now (temporarily?) defunct Seymour Burton).

the people at both were very nice.

but that was before Redhead opened as a real restaurant. don't know anyone who has been there since.

I eat at Redhead once every week or two. They've been doing an excellent job with the new restaurant, though I miss the family style meals for their coziness and ridiculous bargain price (the prices are still excellent). I'm too lazy to start a new topic, though- not sure what to say. Its a great addition to the neighborhood.

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I've really enjoyed the fried chicken (with cornbread) at Redhead. I've only had one cocktail there - a jalapeno infusion. I remember enjoying that cocktail immensely, but am kind of fuzzy on the details aside from the fact that jalapeno was a major flavor component (it was a gin based cocktail).

Currently, they are closed for dinner on Sunday and Monday.

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