The Strong Buzz


December 26, 2005

A plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies sits in the bay window of Home restaurant. Thirteen years ago, when David Page and his wife Barbara Shinn opened their snug restaurant, they would stand out on the sidewalk and use the cookies as bait to lure diners inside. These days, they still make the cookies, but they remain inside the bay window and people (like me) grab one on the way out. There's no need to bait diners to come in any more.

Page and Shinn met in San Francisco in 1988. He was starting out as a chef at a restaurant called Dakota Bar and Grill. Barbara was a bartending nearby. She stopped in after going to the theater one night to have a drink. She was alone. Page was getting off his shift and having a beer at the bar. He sat down next to her. They have been together ever since, moving to New York and opening Home in 1992. A few years later they purchased a vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island where they raise merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and sauvignon blanc for their award winning wines (all served at their restaurant, along with an exclusive East Coast list.) They are now working on building a bed and breakfast on their Mattituck vineyard property that should be open by summer 2007.

I have known David and Barbara for a few years now. Jamie and I spend summers on the North Fork, and Jamie worked on their vineyard with them three years ago, so we have all gotten to know eachother over the years. (Wine brings people together.) But the thing is, I had never eaten at their restaurant. I had heard great things about the food, but (insert violins) I was often to busy trying new restaurants to get over there for dinner. It's been on my list for years now. But recently, David mentioned his new executive chef-Ian Bowden-who had worked with Bill Telepan at Judson Grill and at Payard. He was very proud of his food. And Jamie had raved. And so last week, with the transit strike in full force, we walked over to Home for dinner.

Home feels like a sweet little diner tucked into some quaint New England village with a leafy town square, a general store, and a big old clock that strikes every hour with deep chimes. It is narrow, almost like a railcar, with butter-colored wainscoting, barnyard flooring, and old black and whites of the Page and Shinn families hung on the walls. Towards the back you'll find a partially open kitchen, and a charming patio-garden lit with twinkling white lights and warmed with heaters. (Diners who eat out there in the winter receive Polar Bear Diner Club buttons.) The place makes you feels like Mom is in the kitchen cooking. You feel wholesome at Home. (A rare feeling, at least for me.) And the food, exclusively sourced from local farmers and fisherman, keeps things that way.

The menu is comfortingly Americana. Dishes follow the seasons and evoke notions of cast iron frying pans and gingham dishtowels. There is a slight Southern-style to the cuisine-cornmeal fried oysters, roasted chicken, pulled pork, hasty cornmeal pudding, slow-smoked prime rib roast-and while it might be easy to describe it as comfort food (especially because the price points are gentle), the food here has a finesse to it that makes it less like flannel pajamas, and more like cool clean cotton.

Take the Heirloom beet salad ($8)-coins of gorgeous roasted beets in sunset hues-orange, yellow, and red-livened up with juicy orange segments, and a fluff of frisee, topped with a few crispy wafers of Asiago cheese. Striking contrasting chords of salt and sweet, soft and crunchy, it is a perfect salad.

The slow smoked duck ($9) is one of those dishes that you eat and immediately know you want to order it again the next time you come back. It's like a great first date. You know you want another one. The crepes are delicate and dosa-like, fashioned from quinoa flour, and filled up with shredded and pulled smoked duck, with a compote of diced quince and a dollop of crème fraiche seasoned with a bit of thyme. We fought over the last bite. Alison, a good friend of Jamie's who I used to really like, won. Not sure I am inviting her out again.

Cornmeal fried oysters were hot, plump and crispy ($10), bedded on a roasted squash and topped with a zippy apple slaw heated up with jalepenos and sweetened with a drizzle of amber honey.

Ian sent us a little amuse bouche of confited duck gizzards with Seckel pears, cippolini onions, chanterelles and a few toasted pistachios. People, let me just say that confited duck gizzards are amazing. New bar snack calling!

We were also bowled over by Ian's Southern fried quail, a special that night that was served with mashed potatoes and sautéed greens and a small pitcher of giblet gravy that was so good I would have happily had it on its own, by the spoonful. Why couldn't I have grown up in a family that served gravy like this? (More therapy is clearly needed.) And that quail! So tender, moist, and rich, cloaked in a sweet and crunchy buttermilk crust. I was officially impressed. The food was familiar, but it was also spectacular.

Sadly, we were not as wowed by the rabbit ($21), a dish in two parts. One part was off the charts the other was a bit rubbery. The pan roasted rabbit loin was the disappointment. It tasted a bit like overcooked chicken. But we really didn't mind because it was served with a fantastic spiced rabbit sausage fashioned into a hamburger patty that is tucked into a fluffy country biscuit with sauce made from fig mustard. It's okay to drool. I recommend that you skip the loin and just have yourself this rabbit burger.

But we were very pleased with the entirety of the shellfish pan roast ($22) which was beautifully done-creamy but quite light, filled with buttery braised parsnips, potatoes and silky hunks of fish.

For dessert, there's a daily pie special. We had an old-fashioned quince and apple slice that was so good and so homey that it was surely was cooled on a windowsill somewhere. Ian's carrot cake is also quite remarkable. I could not stop eating it. It is as spiced as it is sweet, layered modestly in cream cheese icing.

Home is a not new and flashy. It is not a lab for any blazing culinary techniques. For thirteen years, it has been a place that serves straight up, soul-satisfying American fare that is anchored in the seasons, supported by local ingredients. And then there's the most important part-a plate of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies in the Bay window.

Home is located at 20 Cornelia Street, 212-243-9579.

Andrea Strong