Black Tree

Black Tree, located at 131 Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side, is one of those tucked away places that I’ve walked by a million times and never really noticed. This week though, it finally caught my eye, and luckily so. I ducked in to take a look at their menu, which, incidentally, was centered completely around duck; one of my favorite meats. I left, salivating, and convinced a couple of friends to join me there for dinner the very next night.

Carelessly, I failed to make a reservation, and when we arrived the restaurant was teeming with happy diners. The host let me know that the wait for three could be anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, so I gave my name and number and sulked down the block. Too hungry to wait the estimated time, I resigned to instead settle for my go-to BBQ spot in the LES, Georgia’s. But a mere five minutes later, just as we walked into Georgia’s (which was also full) I received a call letting me know that there was a table available for us. We rushed back and were seated immediately.

Our charming server knelt at the side of our table, and informed us that the food at Black Tree focuses on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, and their menu changes weekly, to be built around whatever protein they receive from their farmers and choose to feature.

The decor is eclectic and homey, with worn wooden tables, exposed brick walls, and loose photographs tucked into gold-framed odd-shaped mirrors which hang haphazardly. As a Johnny Cash song came on, my comrade exclaimed “I feel like I’m in Nevada!” and he was right; there’s something about this place that feels as if you’ve been transported to the Wild West. There should be a swinging saloon door and a cowboy clicking his spurs.

We surveyed the menu, which consisted of dish after dish of enticing, innovative nouveau American inventions. After much deliberation we decided upon a few dishes to share: the Kale Salad, with chopped kale, caesar, aged cheese, and crumbled egg; the Skillet Mushroom, with Loins Mane, white wine, butter, garlic, chili, and day lilies; the Tacos, with leg meat, pepper fresh mix, buffalo yogurt, and cilantro; and the Duck Bahn-Mi, with duck breast, rillettes, liver mousse, spicy aioli, and house pickles. And, of course; wine, wine, wine.

The tacos came first. They were rich, dripping with savory rendered duck fat, and topped with the pepper fresh mix, the relish type quality of which added the brightness and tang that one hopes for in a taco. They came in an order of two, but we asked for three so that each of us could try one and they happily obliged.

Next, the Skillet Mushroom arrived. It was sizzling in a miniature cast-iron, served with beautiful, edible nasturtium flowers (a trend which would be repeated in the next several dishes). It was rustic and buttery, offset by the tiny hint of spice from the flowers. Delicious.

Then, the Kale Salad. Even though they have been a little played out recently, I’m a sucker for a good hearty green salad. It was certainly tasty, and a welcome palate cleanser after two heavy dishes, though perhaps not quite as exciting. However, I do think it was an essential component to completing a balanced meal.

Last, the Duck Bahn-Mi. This was what dreams are made of. The bread, from Capudo Bakery, was crunchy but not hard, chewy but not dense. Pure perfection. The flavors exploded with each bite; simultaneously full-bodied, fresh, savory, and spicy. The duck meat was beyond tender, almost melting when it touched my tongue. After every bite I sat, willing myself to acknowledge and remember just how incredible it tasted. A star was born.

After we finished our food (and we finished every, last, little, bite, down to the crumb), we were presented with what our server called a “Black Tree dessert!” on the house. It was Black Lotus pickle-back shots, which we drank without protest.

The ambience, service, and food at Black Tree were all extraordinarily above average, and the rotating menu means that each week there is something new to try. Furthermore, all said and done the bill came out to about 30 dollars per person, including tax and tip, which is more than reasonable for a meal of such a high caliber. I know where I’m going on my next date; Black Tree is worth visiting, and absolutely worth returning to. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.