New Leaf amounts to a true getaway for Manhattan dwellers, and it’s an easy walk from the A train’s 190th Street subway stop. (Don’t tremble—it’s only a half-hour from Times Square.) Perched on the highest elevation in Manhattan, the restaurant and its expansive outdoor dining area afford diners the city’s most spectacular view of the Hudson River. It’s the perfect coda to follow a visit to the magnificent nearby Cloisters or after a long and leisurely walk through lovely Fort Tryon Park, in which New Leaf is happily situated.
The restaurant is set in and around a 1930 solid stone structure that Bette Midler’s nonprofit New York Restoration Project acquired and opened in 2001. Proceeds from the restaurant support the group’s noble mission to revitalize the city’s parks and outdoor spaces. Appropriately appointed like the lodge that it is, New Leaf has a homey, quite spacious rough-and-tumble environment, all woody and glimmering with a rare amber light.
Specialty cocktails are particularly amusing. The Black Cherry Cosmopolitan employs Cointreau, black cherry-infused vodka and an ample squeeze of lime to make you pucker up. Tequila, Triple Sec, lime and candied blackberries compose the substantial Blackberry Margarita, and for a change, there’s a pronounced tequila backstory. Too many Margaritas work too hard to hide the tequila flavor. And “Smashing Pumpkin” is an invigorating amalgamation of cranberry-infused vodka, pumpkin liqueur (new to me), lemon and orange juices and simple syrup to quiet matters.
A year and a half ago, lucky New Leaf acquired the culinary genius of Scott Q. Campbell in the summer of 2007. Campbell’s illustrious career has included acclaimed stints in the kitchens of the Oak Room at the Plaza, Union Square Café, Windows on the World, Le Cirque, Vince & Eddie’s and the eponymous SQC. Among the most amiable chefs I’ve ever met, his mastery of market-driven New American cuisine makes him the perfect fit for the ultra-American New Leaf.
Campbell’s tender lump crab cake is not to be missed. Crabby and loose and buttery, the cake is set on a fire-roasted tomatillo compote and engulfed by a tangy baby cilantro salad.
Crunchy fried calamari arrive in a paper cone with mint cilantro chutney on the side—a most welcome departure from the usual tomato glop. The chutney gives the calamari real dimension.
“Colossal Crabmeat Cocktail” certainly lives up to its boastful name. It’s a generous heap of lump crab chunks sided by a sliced ripe avocado and a big dab of chipotle-laced mayonnaise.
A pair of giant seared sea scallops is happily plated with shredded braised oxtail, baby turnips and chanterelle mushrooms. The pairing of scallops with oxtail may seem unlikely, but they bring out the best in each other.
“Upstate autumn squash” risotto has deep pumpkin notes, coaxed forth by chunks of caramelized pumpkin around the rim of the bowl. Mushrooms and thumbelina carrots belong and so does a good jot of veal jus. It’s autumn in a bowl.
A duck steak fillet flaunts its crunchy skin. The flesh is perfectly cooked to medium-rare and it’s as juicy as a late-July peach. Large-grain fregola nearly the size of peas are stewed with fresh cranberries, and bitter broccoli rabe finishes the dish.
Pastry chef Jared Nero follows Campbell’s culinary bravura with pleasures of his own. His mint chocolate mousse bombe—more of a cake than a mousse—is every bit as rich and sumptuous as it sounds, topped with a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream. A figgy Autumn cobbler is sided by vanilla ice cream garnished with a mint sprig, all surrounded by warm roasted figs.
To dine at New Leaf is to revel in rustic splendor, with Campbell’s always-marvelous cookery complementing the experience with gusto.
New Leaf Restaurant and Bar
Fort Tryon Park
1 Margaret Corbin Drive
Entrées: $23 to $32
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