Sure Bette: New Leaf Cafe in New York

Bette Midler’s bet on the now 4-year-old New Leaf CafÃ?©, the restaurant her environmental non-profit, New York Restoration Project, created in a charming 1930’s country cottage-style stone building, has more than paid off. The eatery, under the seasoned palette and artistic eye of Chef James Bellichi, formerly of Grammercy Tavern, has won a culinary trifecta. Last month the bistro-style eatery earned a spot in the premiere North American publication of the prestigious Michelin 2006 Restaurant and Hotel guide (one of only two restaurants above 96th Street to do so), adding to growing accolades, including continued high marks in the Zagat’s guides and rave reviews from proud Northern Manhattanites who love to show off their neighborhood to family and out-of-town friends by bringing them here for a meal and the view.

And as if its idyllic location, amongst gardens and tailored lawns in Fort Tryon Park, just a short stroll from the Cloisters museum, and the fact that profits go to upkeep of Northern Manhattan’s crowned park were not reward enough, the food is quite good, service is friendly and knowledgeable and the ambiance delightful.

The Sunday evening we visited was unexpectedly crowded with after-concert guests from the Cloisters, so the mood was lively with chatter and big band jazz playing in the background.

The dark woodwork, soothing green walls and vaulted high ceilings make for romantic dining lit by candles and amber-hued art paper sconces and hanging light fixtures that double as interesting organic sculpture.

Of the three appetizers we sampled, our favorite was the fried haricot verts, lightly battered, tempura-style green beans served with a lemon garlic aoli for dipping. Fried quickly at high heat in a light oil, the beans maintained their bright green color and appealing fresh crunch. They seemed a healthy and fun alternative to French fries.

Always suckers for goat cheese we devoured our Coach Farm Croquette served with roasted baby beets, tiny orange sections, truffle vinaigrette, and a beet reduction.

I’ve never cared for risottos, but Bellichi made me a fan; his featured local pumpkin and autumn vegetables, including red onions and zucchini. The sauce was creamy and infused with the pungent flavors of fontina and parmesan cheeses to balance a dish that could have been too sweet otherwise. The best bites included roasted pumpkin seeds, caramelized red onion and a bit of the crispy, nut-flavored, pumpkin skin.

The Cod Two Ways was three layers of heavenly. I’d eaten it on an earlier visit, and I enjoyed it as much this time as the last. A thick loin of the white fish was roasted to light, flaky, succulence inside, a thin golden crust outside. It levitated above a flavorful brandade cloud, a puree of the fish with olive oil and garlic. And all that floated in a confit of zucchini, black olives and herbs, a fresh green tasting mix including tarragon, dill, Italian parsley and celery leaves.

By dessert we were stuffed but managed to partake of two warm confections-the Apple-Almond Tart served with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream and Warm Molten Chocolate Cake served with whipped cream and brandied cherries. Both would please any sweet tooth.

The restaurant also offers a well-rounded wine list and full bar including a nice selection of dessert wines, brandies and ports.

Bet on New Leaf Caf�© for very good, moderately priced bistro fare, friendly, knowledgeable service and terrific ambiance and scenery.

New Leaf Caf�©
1 Margaret Corbin Drive
Fort Tryon Park
Tuesday-Saturday open 12:00 noon – 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Sunday open 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
The Bar is open at least until 11:00 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday
Thursdays live jazz 8:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Closed Monday
Currently taking reservations for New Year’s Eve

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