99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Alma

photo by Anne Fishbein

Since Bon Appetit named Alma the best new restaurant in America, a few things have changed. Where it used to be fairly easy to get a seat, it’s now damn near impossible, and while the offerings used to be à la carte, it’s now tasting menu only, with $65 and $110 options. What hasn’t changed is Ari Taymor’s approach to cooking, a kind of naturalist modernism that hinges on simple platings of unexpected ingredient combinations. The young chef takes his cues from the seasons, from the restaurant’s garden, and from his own inspiration, which is at once both restrained and wildly creative. A celery root soup, served in heavy earth-tone pottery, comes with whipped lardo, apple and pine. Young turnips served alongside slow-roasted beef exhibit a wildly floral vegetal funk. First-of-the-season asparagus comes with smoky breadcrumbs and grapefruit, topped with an orange orb: a cured egg yolk. This may be one of the most pared-back eateries in the country serving only a tasting menu — Taymor and his business partner, Ashleigh Parsons, famously opened the restaurant on the gloomy end of Broadway downtown two weeks after signing the lease, and the space still feels as if they just walked in off the street into a blank space and started cooking. But it’s that feeling in part that makes Alma so special, the sense that you’ve stumbled onto something makeshift and wonderful.

-- Besha Rodell