The egg has been called nature’s perfect shape. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon, does it? Did you know that for just $2.99 you can buy a nifty, pocket-sized egg ‘‘cuber”? All you have to do is push a peeled, cooked egg into the plastic container and screw down the lid. Within seconds, lo and behold, a square egg! What could be simpler?
There are no square eggs at Uovo, a restaurant that recently opened in the East Village (the name means “egg” in Italian). The egg on the wonderful roast garlic soup, laced with spicy crumbled Portuguese sausage, is soft-poached. And a plain fried egg tops a plate of pencil asparagus served as a first course. And that’s about it as far as eggs on the menu are concerned, literally speaking. Instead, for Uovo’s chef and owner, Matthew Hamilton, the egg—unsquared, of course—is more of an icon. “It symbolizes simplicity, a beginning. And it’s consistently perfect.”
A still life of an oeuf sur le plat, a brown egg casting shadows on a white plate, dominates the dining room (it looks like an oil painting by an Old Master but is in fact a digital photograph by Daniel Blaufuks). The spacious room has bare brick walls, dark wood and dark green paint. Tables are spread with brown paper and set with votive candles. There’s a small bar in the back under a shelf bearing bright jars of pickles. Scrawled on a blackboard along a passageway to the kitchen, next to a list of specials and drinks, is an injunction reading “Gentleman, please remove your hats.” (In this neighborhood, the reference is presumably to baseball caps.)
The restaurant’s elegant dark green awnings stand out on this nondescript block where Avenue B meets 11th Street, and the doors fold back onto the sidewalk to accommodate outdoor seating when the weather is reasonable. The night I visited, the doors were closed against the heat, and my companions and I sat down inside by one of the windows. All around the room, the bottom halves of the glass windowpanes are covered with a neat, impeccable handwriting, executed with a brush in varnished black oil paint. It’s a short story by Tonino Guerra, a screenwriter for Fellini. It was inscribed on the windows by the previous owner over three days.
A small bowl of toasted green pumpkin seeds sprinkled with paprika was brought to the table, and we ate them all, accompanying them with a glass of delicious white sangria, made with white port, white wine and fruit, as we looked at the menu.
Mr. Hamilton, who grew up in the country in upstate New York, turns out food that’s inventive and gutsy—rustic cooking with Mediterranean accents—and he keeps it simple. He likes garlic, anchovies, bitter greens and strong, fruity olive oils (he worked on a Tuscan farm where he planted, harvested and pressed olive oil). He previously cooked at Zuni Café in San Francisco and later at the highly acclaimed Prune in the East Village.
His almond soup, a Spanish dish, is a masterpiece: chilled, creamy and grainy, made with pulverized almonds, breadcrumbs and enough garlic to knock out a horse. It’s laced with sherry vinegar, and fresh grape juice is added at the end along with swirled-in drops of olive oil. A salad of bitter greens—watercress and dandelion leaves—is topped with warm, pounded-oil-packed anchovies. Slivers of tender lamb’s tongue are served with wild mache (also called lamb’s lettuce) and tangy pecorino gran cru, an Italian sheep cheese.
One of my favorite main courses is the tender rabbit leg, braised with rabbit sausage, bluefoot mushrooms and chanterelles sautéed with white wine and summer savory. It’s terrific. So is the suckling pig with citrus honey (but I missed the crackling, which the honey burns when it cooks, rendering the skin inedible). A crisp jicama slaw cuts the richness of the pork. On the side you can order a dish of peppery grilled corn “sukqutahhash” or stewed peppers with red almond romesco sauce and cipollini (Italian onions).
I’ve always found monkfish dull, and Uovo’s version, alas, is no exception, even though the fish was perfectly fresh—and enlivened by a rich tarragon broth with favas and fresh cranberry beans. But I loved a special of the day, skate with remoulade sauce, beautifully cooked with a crispy skin, served with strips of pickled yellow summer squash.
A light, citrusy wine with the unpronounceable name of Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli from the Basque country (say “ch” for each “tx” and you’ll have a passable approximation) made for the perfect summer drink to complement this food. It’s poured from a height into tumblers so that it bubbles.
Desserts include a fig tart made with a sabayon folded with mascarpone and whipped cream on a light pastry shell, and a ginger pudding made with fresh ginger and served with ginger syrup. There is also an amazing, melting goat cheese from the Bay Area called Humboldt Fog, over which Mr. Hamilton drizzles a syrup made with reduced Solera sherry. “It’s like a piece of cheesecake, but it’s a piece of cheese,” our waitress said. I took the rest home and had it for lunch the next day. Perfect. And so simple.
Those for whom simple and perfect are not enough can order an egg cuber from http://www.thegadgetsource.co
Follow Moira Hodgson via RSS.