December 17, 2013


A recent rainy Friday night found me at Serpico, a new-ish collaboration between the infamous Stephen Starr and ex-Momofuku chef Peter Serpico.  The squat stone structure seems a little out of place on noisy and eclectic South Street, but it gives way to a large welcoming dining room complete with open kitchen.  We were sent to the "bar" (a makeshift counter) for a few minutes before our seats opened up at the counter overlooking the action. I really enjoyed watching the chefs (including Mr. Serpico himself) and the expediter put on their nightly show.

The menu is heavy on the small plates, so my friend and I decided to split four of them.  We're both suckers for poultry liver, so the duck liver mousse was a no-brainer ($10).  While the portion was on the small side, the extremely smooth texture of the mousse, the sweet-tart dollops of pomegranate puree and a section of crusty grilled bread made for a satisfying start to the meal.  Serpico also provides an impossibly thin piece of crispy sesame "cracker" to get the tastebuds warmed up.

 The deep fried duck leg ($13) seems to be here to stay, surviving several changes of menus.  We have no idea how Peter pulls this off, but apparently it involves meat glue, and we're not even mad.  The incredible smoky sweet meat complete with crispy skin is perfectly accented by a little hoisin sauce, lightly pickled cukes, and a compressed Martin's potato roll.  A side of pickled veggies and sriracha dipping sauce basically provided all of my favorite things.  Other apps we enjoyed included a tangy sunchoke salad and a pasta dish highlighted by bits of crispy chicken skin.

 Entree options seemed slightly less inspired, but the kimchi and tomato stew sounded like an interesting twist on a bouillabaisse ($24).  Stuffed full of mussels, clams, squid, and chunks of flaky monkfish, the funky tomato-based broth certainly had an extra dimension of flavor than your traditional seafood stew.  However, the entree portions are quite generous, and after awhile the flavors dulled and everything became a little bit one-note.

The duck  breast ($21) was incredibly well-cooked, again maintaining that incredibly flavorful skin that covered the velvety piece of meat.  However, that was essentially the extent of what I liked- the sweet potato was plain and the chopped cabbage overly vinegared. My friend popped that green thing in his mouth, chewed, swallowed, and immediately admitted, "I maybe wasn't supposed to eat that."

 We lingered at the counter as things got quieter and the chefs wrapped up their stations, choosing to enjoy a cup of green tea and dessert.  The green tea was served in a "traditional" manner, using a finely ground green tea powder, hot water, and a little brush-whisk.  For a little sweetness, we shared the goat cheese sorbet, a refreshing combination of a buttermilk-like sorbet, crumbled shortbread, tiny balls of Asian pear, and sprigs of fresh mint.

We sat at the counter for almost three hours, slowly enjoying the food, company, and watching the chefs do their thing.  Although we ended up paying a fair amount, I really felt like the whole experience was worth it.  Next time, we'll go even heavier on the small plates!

604 South Street