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A few weeks back, I heard a few things about Tenpenny, in the Gotham Hotel on East 46th Street. Based on the initial info and the lack of talk in most circles I usually listen to, I actually thought that maybe the minor buzz had been started by friends of the house, in an effort to leverage a good Yelp showing. Certainly that kind of thing happens, and the location in a hotel didn't improve its chances. I didn't know much about the chef, other than the fact that he'd been the Exec Chef at Dylan Prime and Devin Tavern in Tribeca (which seemed neither like condemnation nor exalted status). Still, I figured it was worth a shot, if I happened to be in the area. After all, there isn't much in the way of interesting food of that style at that price point in the neighborhood. Well, today I finally got a chance to eat there, and the good news is that the buzz is deserved. The place isn't going to change the face of the fine dining scene in NYC, but boy is it a pleasant surprise. The food is all very skillfully prepared, employs really good quality fresh ingredients, and employs just enough creativity to make you wonder how it has flown under the foodie radar so far. It's also a very fair deal for that level of cooking and that part of town.

The room is small and not that remarkable, but quite pleasant. With brick walls and no carpeting, there's a lively noise level even when the room isn't crowded, which it wasn't (it was about half full). If you're looking for a quiet romantic dinner, this isn't the place...it's more of a gastropub feel, which I think is what they're going for. The staff is super-nice, and very eager to please. But on to the food.

In addition to appetizers and mains, the menu also includes a few other sections. They have cheese and charcuterie plates on offer, but I didn't get to try those this trip. The selections looked interesting enough to be worth a go. There were also nuts, snacks and an assortment of interesting crostini that I didn't get to sample. But what I did get to sample were pork belly tots. Basically small (tater tot sized) round croquettes with a shreded pork belly filling placed in a bowl of hard cider reduction sauce. I'm a sucker for almost any kind of croquette, but these were really well executed and worth having. Rich and savory, the six we got was just the right amount (although presented with 25 of them, I still probably would have managed to polish them off). We then shared a scallop appetizer with chanterelles and crisp scallions, which were very nice, but nothing I haven't had elsewhere at good restaurants. We also had the pistou soup, which was really first rate, with great balanced flavors, and super fresh vegetables cooked perfectly. But the real appetizer surprise was a dish labelled (deceptively harmlessly) as a "spring vegetable plate". Rather than just a run of the mill veggie plate, the chef had taken a variety of market vegetables (including fresh peas, fava beans, carrots and various others) and prepared them in a wide variety of ways served together. Some were barely cooked, some were shaved, some were dried, some were powdered. It was quite special, with each flavor distinct, but all of them working together. It was served with lemon oil, a lemon mayo and "ranch powder", and was a really well-conceived dish. The ranch powder totally worked. It was like using the crumbs from Cool Ranch Doritos in place of salt...in a good way.

I followed it up with potato gnocchi with lobster, truffle and sunchoke. Exactly as it sounded, the dish was well done, with a nice sear on the very light/tender gnocchi, and lobster chunks with exclusively knuckle meat (my fave part!).

I didn't get a chance to sample as many things as I would have liked, as I had places to go, but definitely plan on going back for a more thorough meal. In addition to the a la carte menu, they offer a 6-course tasting of the chef's selection for about 70 bucks, as well as a 10-course dinner for about $125. They also offer something called "A Drunken Taste", which is described as "7 courses with lots of beverages" for $115. I'll be going back for that one, as the cocktails looked really good as well (didn't get to try them due to athletic obligations following my meal). Clearly, there's a talented hand in the kitchen here, and a sense of humor as well.

It's not fine dining, but it's an interesting fusion of gastropub, creativity and really good ingredients. And given the location, it's one of the best options in the area, and a very fair deal. I'll be interested to hear if others have similar experiences there.

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