New York has no shortage of chefs who have made their names elsewhere before invading the Big Apple with an ambitious project or two. This year, one of the major newcomers is German-born chef Günter Seeger, who was a big deal in Atlanta before making the move to open his eponymous restaurant in West Village. One common theme behind chef Seeger’s reputation seems to be “polarizing.” While he has earned praise from the dining world for the precise and sophisticated cooking using fresh ingredients, he has also gain notoriety for his stern demeanor that seems to have driven away a lot of fans at the same time. Before I visited the restaurant with my girlfriend on a recent weekend, I’ve heard more than one rumblings from restaurant critics (especially from critic Steve Cuozzo in New York Post) of how pretentious and unwelcoming the restaurant was. Well, for me the quality of food is really what drives my review so I could really care less so long as any deficiency in atmosphere or service doesn’t give me or my girlfriend throw up afterwards. In fact, the meal that we had at Günter Seeger was quite outstanding.
The ten-course tasting menu (at $148 per person) showcases a diverse range of ingredients and cooking techniques. Sturgeon mousse with blue potato chips and caviar did more than enough to heighten my expectations for what the kitchen had in store, with the delicate flavor of ingredients combined to make an exceptional starter. Other dishes such as Nantucket bay scallops covered in watermelon radish or Norwich farm egg with bottarga inside were delicious too. Sometimes, it was elegant simplicity that really paid off. I never expected to find such joy from an simple assortment of romaine salad with blood orange that seems like a run-of-the-mill salad dish but the freshness of the ingredients was what made this dish a memorable one.
Not all dishes were perfect. While I liked the potato salad underneath it, I felt the cured halibut with trout roe was a little bit on the fishy side in terms of flavor. While the tiny langoustine inside a bowl of hot rose tea that you can scoop up and dip on the yuzu sauce seemed pretty impressive in display, the langoustine could’ve been softened a little bit and I didn’t get how the rose tea was contributing to the dish. On the other hand, I had no problem declaring the rabbit schnitzel with creamed spinach and black truffle the best dish of the night. Other than adding a bit of salt on top that I thought was unnecessary, the schnitzel was impeccably cooked and the combination of the meat with spinach was such a joy to my (as well my girlfriend’s) palate that we couldn’t stop raving about the beauty of this dish.
Compared to some of the truly outstanding savory dishes, the desserts felt a little bit more pedestrian. After some cheese and refreshing apple sorbet duo, buttermilk steam cake with yogurt sorbet was supposed to be the highlight of the dessert, but I honestly don’t remember anything about it other than the cute plating. Either way, I saw that the kitchen had a lofty vision on how to prepare food and more often than not consistently executed that vision. For all the chat about how aloof chef Seeger is in person, what I witnessed was austere beauty of the dishes that may feel intimidating at first but once you truly understand the master craftsmanship that the kitchen strives for, you will feel more at ease being part of an awesome culinary expedition.
Getting a reservation at Günter Seeger wasn’t that difficult, and I was very shocked that there were several empty tables on a Saturday night throughout. I get that the restaurant may not be the most approachable place in a city that has a lot of crowd-pleasing comfort food establishments, but it just didn’t seem fair that the kitchen’s vision was not getting the critical mass of audience. Contrary to whatever the restaurant critics said, I thought the service was mostly attentive and friendly without an air of pretentiousness and the minimalist dining room felt quite appropriate for a special occasion dinner. There is a full bar with German-heavy wine selections (one side note: the restaurant could bring in more affordable wines at double, not triple, digit price range). I wish Günter Seeger gets more love in the New York dining circle; for all the talk about the polarizing man helming the kitchen, it is a welcome addition to the fine dining roster in the city that has a very opinionated yet compelling point of view.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
Address: 641 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
Telephone: (646) 657-0045