What I mean is that while the quality of food at Lincoln is on par with the very top tier of restaurants in NYC, what makes it a truly astonishing restaurant is the number of customers. When we went last night, they did 200 covers on what they called "a slow night". The previous night, they did 300 covers. It's easy to have Michelin inspectors fawn over your 10+ canapes and dishes when you're doing 12 to 18 covers a night, but to produce this quality of food for this many people nightly is remarkable. Even more mind blowing is the fact that the open kitchen is not particularly huge, and that they don't have an army of people for their kitchen staff. One fish cook, one meat cook, two pasta cooks, two garde manger, and two saucier/garnish, with head chef Benno and his sous chef running the pass.
Atmosphere: Lincoln is a beautiful, elegant restaurant with extremely tall ceilings. We were seated in one of the dining rooms where the majestic floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the Juilliard dorms from our view. The lighting is dim without being dark, and the four of us sat at a very comfortable semi-circular banquette. There was a lot of space between tables.
Service: I had emailed the dining room manager Misha prior to our visit about dietary restrictions and everything was taken care of smoothly. He seemed genuinely interested in our passion for the food, and was very friendly. In fact, all the servers were friendly and engaging, with warm smiles. Water and wine glasses were refilled promptly, and while I did ask for more bread once, I did not have to ask for it again.
Food: After looking through the a la carte menu, we decided to opt for a chef's choice tasting menu. The chef was also able to specifically feature any dish that caught our eye from the menu. I pride myself on being able to pick the tastiest dishes off a menu, but this time I had to admit that the chef's choices were probably better than what I would have chosen from the menu.
IL GIORNO DOPO - DIMMI LIQUORE, COCCHI AMERICANO, LEMON JUICE, SPLASH OF ST GEORGE ABSINTHE VERTE I had arrived early and decided to have a drink at the bar. This was exactly along the lines of what I requested. Something vibrant but with a touch of sweetness to get the taste buds going.
Our wine for the evening was the FONTANAFREDDA ‘Vigna La Villa’ 2001 BAROLO D.O.C.G.
MUSHROOM CROSTINI Our amuse for the evening was packed with mushroom flavor.
OLIVE TAPENADE CROSTINI This was for our friend who couldn't eat mushrooms.
Our bread service for the evening featured wheat, rustic Italian white, focaccia brushed with lardo, rosemary, and pepper, and grissini (breadsticks) perked up with chili flakes. The grissini were the most popular, with the heat from the chili flakes making them quite addictive. More important for me was that they were not overly salted like ones I've had at other places. The lardo flavor on the focaccia was not particularly noticeable, which was a little disappointing.
OLIVE OIL with LEMON and WHITE BEAN PUREE with DRIED OLIVE BITS For us to have with our bread. We enjoyed both, although personally I would have preferred the white bean dip to have been a little thicker for the purposes of eating with the grissini.
CRUDO DI TONNO - BLUEFIN TUNA, HEIRLOOM TOMATOES, CELERY, LAMPASCIONI A wonderful dish where, to me, the tuna wasn't even the star. The tuna itself was very good, but more spectacularly it worked beautifully as a fatty, melty, wrap harmonizing the strong celery, onion, and nutty tomato flavors. At first I didn't even think the tuna was necessary, but then I realized that there wasn't much else that could have brought it all together like it did.
INSALATA DI BARBABIETOLE - SALUMERIA BIELLESE BRESAOLA, BEETS, GOAT CHEESE, WALNUTS, WATERCRESS Another dish featuring an amazing job of harmonizing flavors and textures. The sweetness of the beets, the earthiness of the walnut and watercress, the saltiness of the goat cheese and bresaola. The crunch of the walnut, the creaminess of the goat cheese, the tender beets, and the paper thin bresaola. All those things came together, made more incredible by the fact that the individual components are quite strong in their flavors. The thin slice of bresaola really worked here, and was certainly not something I would have thought of beforehand.
MALFATTI DI BIETOLA DA FOGLIA - BEET GREEN GNOCCHI, POPPY SEEDS, ORANGE The only way for me to describe this dish was that it was like a top class dim sum dumpling. The skin was thin and delicate, soft but with give, revealing a packed filling of chopped beet greens that had an almost spinach-like taste. The cheese and butter sauce gave it a nice creaminess and warmth that coated each bite.
AGNOLOTTI DI POLENTA E CODA DI BUE - ANSON MILLS YELLOW POLENTA, RED WINE BRAISED OXTAIL, SPIGARELLO, BEEF SUGO We had specifically requested that this dish be part of the tasting menu. The oxtail was cooked perfectly with strands of wonderful meat in a rich wine and beef jus. I had never heard of spigarello before this dish. It had a slight broccoli taste without the bitterness of broccoli rabe, while the leafy texture paired well with the strands of oxtail meat. We did not feel that the pasta was as successful, however. Using polenta as the pasta filling did not allow either texture to stand out, and the polenta flavor wasn't strong enough to stand toe to toe with the rich oxtail. I think a sweet corn filling for the pasta would have been perfect.
RIGATONI WITH TOMATO SAUCE For our friend who wanted something lighter, he was served something very simple. Perhaps too simple, but the tomato sauce was indeed light and fresh without being overly sweet or acidic or overpowered with herbs. The pasta was cooked perfectly.
MELANZANE ALLA PARMIGIANA We decided to order some sides to go with our main course. The eggplant parmigiana was a sizeable portion that was flavorful and well executed. At the same time, like the rigatoni, it seemed rather pedestrian.
GNOCCHI DI PATATE The gnocchi were soft and pillowy, and came with a rich, thin, creamy sauce.
FUNGHI MISTI A collection of four mushrooms bursting with flavor and warmed by the saute butter. All the mushrooms had a perfect, tender texture similar to that of a perfectly cooked shrimp.
AGNELLO - LAMB LOIN CHOP, FAIRY TALE EGGPLANT, ARTICHOKES, SUGO D'AGNELLO This was an incredible main course. A couple of us thought that it was the best lamb we've ever had. Phenomenal flavor and the most amazing cooking job. Cutting a cross-section of the meat revealed a perfectly consistent gradation of color and texture from the outside char to a mostly pink inside to a small rare center. The meat was juicy throughout and there were a couple of pieces of fat lining the outer edge of the lamb chop. The fat was tender and flavorful, but not necessary if that's not your thing.
For the other three of us, we were eagerly anticipating what would be revealed under the lid.
MAIALE PER DUE - RAVEN & BOAR FARM'S WHEY FED SUCKLING PIG, CRANBERRY BEANS, PEPERONATA, PORK SAUCE The pork shoulder for two is slow cooked and confited with duck fat. The skin is crispy, the meat is fork tender, and the rendered fat is soft and silky. The bean stew is a tasty accompaniment, with a decided spiciness that worked well with the fat and porcine flavor.
SORBETTI For a predessert, we were offered sorbets. Concord grape for the gentlemen, cantaloupe for the ladies. Very refreshing.
BUTTERMILK PANNA COTTA - STRAWBERRIES, RASPBERRIES, BLACKBERRIES, MOSCATO GELEE For the ladies, a fruit-based dessert. I do not know if this is a normal policy to give different desserts to men and women, and I wonder what some customers might think of this.
TORTA CAPRESE - CHOCOLATE AND COFFEE BUDINO, MIRTO HUCKLEBERRY COULIS, CHOCOLATE TORTA, CARDAMOM, COFFEE GELATO My favorite part of this was the coffee gelato, which felt more like ice cream to me, served with cocoa nibs.
Petit fours with chocolate caramels and biscotti.
After the meal, we walked by the open kitchen and got to chat with chef Benno. We discussed the difference between his food here versus his food at Per Se. "When you do 10-12 courses, you can be more subtle. When you only do 5 or 6, you have to pack more of a punch in each course, and the portions are bigger." That's exactly it. His same great flavors are louder here. At first I was worried that 5 courses plus dessert wouldn't be enough for me, but I was completely and happily full by the end. Although I did eat slightly more of the pork and had some of the lamb.
Go to Lincoln and marvel at the refined compositions of antipasti and salads. Then delight in the delicate pastas and be sated by the generous portions of perfectly cooked mains. Benno's vision was to create a restaurant where one could both have a quick meal before the show as well as celebrate a special occasion with a long spectacular meal, and I think he's succeeded.