Thursday, November 12, 2009

Taxidermy, Josh Hartnett, and Artichoke Dip

...Those are just three of the awesome things you can find on any given night (give or take a Hartnett) at the hush-hush (only on the outside) Freeman's. Located at the end of Freeman's Alley, on the north side of Rivington between Bowery and Chrystie, Freeman's is a laid back, rugged, taxidermist's dream of an American restaurant, kind of like an inn, with seasonal takes on American classics, like roasted chicken, Colorado lamb, and mac 'n cheese.

This place, with an of-a-different-era hunting lodge chic feel on the inside and stringed white lights and potted plants on the outside, has come recommended to me by many of my friends of all tastes and interests. It's been around since 2004, and I'm sadly just going to it now. Even though it's been around for 5 years (that's ions in New York restaurant years), Freeman's is still one of the "it" New York places to go to where the cool kids can hang out, drink their famous cocktails, and nosh on hearty grub around dark wooden tables.

No wonder I love this place: it's co-owned by Taavo Somer, who is part owner of my beloved Rusty Knot (and also co-owner of Freeman's Sporting Club, a men's clothing and barber store right next to Freeman's Alley on Rivington).

So my lovely date, Lisa (and her AWESOME porcupine ring) , and I made the anticipatory journey down the short alley. Talk about nondescript. This place is so arbitrary and hidden, anybody who doesn't know about Freeman's could walk by it their whole lives and not know what's going on down there...

As expected by an intentionally clandestine place like Freeman's, the wait on a Wednesday night @ 8 pm was 45 minutes to an hour. Lisa told me that the hostesses were quite discerning and were rumored to let people in not on a first-come first-served basis, but based on who they like. That's totally lame (am I surprised? No), but for what it's worth, we got our table in 35 minutes!

It's like the bleedingly cool leading the bleedingly cool in there. All the in-the-know, and stylish scenesters in attendance....including Josh Hartnett, just a hop, skip, and a table away. We chatted. Exchanged numbers. We're hanging out tonight, actually ;)

I'd say Lisa and I, along with a dozen others, were the only non-European-borne diners in there that night. Not like that was a problem: we had the pleasure of sitting next to two devilishly handsome Brits, who proceeded to ask our waitress where Death & Co. was after they paid for their meal....Man I should have offered to show them the way to 6th street myself....but I was there, forks blazing, to try the grub.

And disappoint it did not.

This place has the best artichoke dip in the city, bar none. It's famed for their artichoke dip, and I took care to notice that nearly half the tables I checked out had an order of it on their tabletops. If there's ever a reason to go to Freeman's, the artichoke dip is it.

Hot, just out of the oven, creamy artichoke dip served in a ramekin, along with fresh, crispy, olive oil-ed bread. It was truly divine. The dip had a freshly-baked top layer -- and situated right beneath was a luscious and rich artichoke dip that achieved the right balance of artichoke and cream. It's like a fancy, high quality version of spinach and artichoke dip you find at chain restaurants like T.G.I.Friday's.

Next was the shaved Brussels sprouts salad, with pears, what looked like grilled baby carrot slices, and a red onion lemon vinaigrette. It was big in taste, but kind of meager in size. In our case, this was fine because I was completely full from the artichoke dip by the time my entree came, but I guess that's the appropriate, healthy, and sane way (and size) to start a meal.

Not like Brussels sprouts aren't filling....

This was a divine side of Brussels sprouts sauteed with olive oil and caramelized onions. I'm a new convert to the sprouts....Lisa was actually the one who first turned me on to them (she makes hers with olive oil, garlic salt and maple syrup...don't knock it 'till you try it--the maple syrup caramelizes on the surface of the leaf...I'm telling you it's bonkers). I haven't had them at too many restaurants, but this was by far the best Brussels sprouts dish I've had so far. I look forward to a long and fulfilling life with Brussels sprouts.

That long and fulfilling life may not actually happen after I (partially) consumed my entree....

Three cheese macaroni. Note this is an entree, not a side. About three spoonfuls in I had the realization that I was essentially eating creamed foods for dinner....cream and artichoke followed by cream and elbow noodles (and lotsa, lotsa cheese).

The bread crumbs on top were delicious. It was not the best mac 'n cheese I've had (it's certainly no S'MAC), but, on the flip side, it also wasn't too greasy like other mac 'n was just heavy on the cheese -- three of them ;) I'm not sure what the three cheeses were, and I was too busy focusing on finishing my bowl to ask....which I failed in doing...

Now, I'll tell you: I didn't try any of the meat entrees (the mac and cheese seduced me so) so I can't speak too much about the real food, but the obnoxious seating system automatically drops it down a notch in terms of Freeman's as an overall restaurant. But a dinner replete with creamy goodness, elk heads, and eye candy, all in a hidden space evocative of a hunting lodge? That's what it's allll about. See ya soon, Josh. ;)

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

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