Brief Relief: A place to relax in Midtown Manhattan

19 Mar

After a long week in the office, I treated myself to some stiff drinks and tasty bites at Respite, a restaurant and bar that opened on East 50th Street last fall. It’s hard to find a classy yet cozy lounge that’s not overrun with businessmen and frat-boy types in bustling Midtown. On a Friday night, the crowd comprised a good mix of regulars from the neighborhood and couples on dates.

I started with a WhistlePig Manhattan, mixing WhistlePig Straight Rye whiskey from Vermont, Barbadillo dry oloroso Sherry, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and simple syrup. The smooth rye mixed the nutty Sherry made for a very easy-drinking cocktail.

For an appetizer, I tried a duo of raw seafood. The chilled oyster floated in Sriracha mignonette and basil caviar, topped with a tiny scoop of mango sorbet. It was briny, sweet and spicy all at once. The scallop ceviche, served in a spoon with papaya-ginger purée, pickled butternut squash, jicama and macadamia nuts, was bright and crunchy.

The bar at Respite focuses on boutique spirits, with a heavy emphasis on gin and rums—don’t expect to find any flavored vodkas here—and the cocktail list features both classic and contemporary concoctions, with a daily special using seasonal ingredients like blood orange.

New head bartender Sam Davis has recently added a slew of spring cocktails to the menu to complement signature mainstays like the Scurvy Bastard, created by man-of-all-trades Edward Kennelly. It’s a tangy blend of gin, hibiscus lemonade and St-Germain elderflower liqueur. They’re also experimenting with spherical ice containing orchids and other garnishes.

My next course comprised butternut squash soup with a chesnut-ricotta agnolotti, pepitas, golden raisins and shallots, paired with Sly Fox 113 IPA, which is brewed in Pennsylvania. The spicy, savory soup, with bursts of sweetness from the raisins, evoked the Middle East, and the floral bitterness of the beer contrasted the soup’s richness.

I followed that up with a Thyme Out off the new spring cocktail list. The drink mixes Bootlegger vodka from New York’s Prohibition Distillery, St-Germain, muddled thyme and mint, and fresh lime and grapefruit juices, garnished with a lime wheel and thyme sprig. It was nicely balanced and aromatic.

The cuisine at Respite draws from all parts of the world, fusing a variety of Asian, Mexican and Mediterranean flavors. House specials include the Berkshire pork belly with seared foie gras, caramelized pickled ramps and macadamia rice crepe and the rice-encrusted snapper with peekytoe crab, kalonji-stuffed Poblano pepper and yellow curry. I opted for the lamb pita slider with caramelized onions, pickled carrots and tzatziki, a Greek cucumber-yogurt sauce. The soft pita, crunchy carrots and juicy lamb burger worked perfectly together, and the accompanying house-made taro root chips were crispy and lightly salted.

I finished my meal with another new drink, the Blueberry Hill, made with Cold River vodka from Maine Distilleries, bruised blueberries and mint, and fresh lemon juice, garnished with a skewer of sugar-coated blueberries.

The refreshing and fragrant cocktail paired nicely with the coconut marscapone panna cotta served atop a Champagne-poached Asian pear medallion, swimming a saffron-lemongrass broth speckled with basil caviar. The sweet and creamy dessert was a delicious denouement.

With an eclectic array of drinks and dishes and a soothing atmosphere, escaping to Respite could definitely become a habit.

© Amber Drea and New York Drinkie, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of images and text without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be used, provided that clear credit is given to Amber Drea and New York Drinkie with links directing to the original content.

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