The New York City Restaurant Week menu at Butter Midtown displayed a treasure trove of textures and a flourish of welcomed color, like watercolors on a studded canvas. It was a journey of aesthetics and consistencies battling it out—dissonant, jarring, evocative, subtle and sensuous.
On jade green ringed bread plates, fluffy golden parker house rolls, crusted with flaked sea salt, sat high and domed, only outshined by smooth rounds of sweet and herbed butter. Both bread and spread were sweet, but the crisp flaky outer layer of the roll and staccato of salt countered the airy insides and the creamy butter. Rougher slices of baguette with heavy singed crusts deserved the herb-studded variety, chewy and aromatic.
A cube of chopped pale fluke was encircled by negative space and an emerald line chasing itself around the plate. The appetizer felt like an absence of color and life, only awakened by rich magenta blood orange pieces and thin slices of prickly green English cucumbers whose skin echoed the emerald ring. The raw fish and blood orange were cut to the same size, mimicking texture and slippery appeal, while the cucumber added an almost imperceptible crunch, varying the mood and tripping the tongue.
Four plump ravioli, over-garnished, rested snugly in a shallow bowl; a tangle of toppings disguising the meat filled pockets and a pool of buttery sauces. The bowl’s rim, decorated with a red brown floral motif like at grandma’s, matched the julienne candy striped beets perfectly, again connecting plate to dish. The freshness of the beet was crisp like raw vegetable, but the buttered breadcrumbs crunched like oven-toasted happiness, while the pasta was soft, bursting with stringy tender meat. Bright green chile pesto added heat and a thick feeling in the mouth contradicting the garlicky sauce collecting at the bottom of the bowl.
Again, a distracting decorated plate highlighted its contents, allowing dessert to visually blend in with its surroundings and transcend flavor. The springy slick custard of the crème caramel, glided through teeth, while the ruby red pomegranate seeds got stuck and stumbled. Crunchy almond brittle echoed the dance of the seeds, but it was the syrupy sweet kumquat rind that caused a stutter: stop, put down the fork, cut the candied peel and savor.
The experience was about texture— the way each element played with its compatriots and each layer added to the textual architecture of the dish, the way the mouth perceived moments and memorized them, the way texture can trump taste and produce something satiating and musical.