The official total has yet to be tallied, but suffice it to say that the New York restaurant scene was especially hard hit by the COVID pandemic. Yet for as many dining destinations as were felled by the epidemic, equally many remain standing. I am happy to report that Hortus NYC numbers itself among those that have weathered the storm.
Hortus has undergone some changes since I last reviewed it in 2019. For one thing, the kitchen has a new head chef in the person of Lenny Moon, who cut his teeth behind the stove at the two-Michelin starred Jungsik, in TriBeCa. For another, the menu has undergone a revamping that reflects the new chef’s vision.
Among the new first courses is octopus that has been cooked crisp, paired with pickled beets and a wasabi aïoli that is best used sparingly till you have judged your tolerance. A generous dollop of sea urchin shares star billing with lobster tail that has been battered with rice and deep-fried, its black coloration deriving from squid ink. A creamy yuzu harissa completes the production.
“Dry-aged” is an attribute normally associated with beef, but here the method is used cleverly to magnify the flavor of duck breast. Overlapping slices of the tender, pink meat are glazed with a sweet and spicy dong po sauce and arranged over a creamy celeriac purée tinged with coconut. Donabe, which means “clay pot” in Japanese, is a one-pot dinner of rice and ingredients that can range from plain to fancy. Here the donabe gravitates toward the latter end of the spectrum with assorted wild mushrooms, cured egg yolk, and black truffle shavings. If you’re really feeling expansive, you can augment the savory dish with nicely charred hanger streak or sea urchin.
At this juncture, you can dine once again in the main dining room — a clubby space with hunter green walls and a stamped-tin ceiling — as well as in an outdoor garden at the rear of the room lined with space heaters, should the temperature call for them. You can also arrange home delivery of the food at no extra charge.
Price range at dinner: Raw bar, $14 to $55; starters, $16 to $30; main courses, $26 to $38; desserts, $7 to $8.
Hortus NYC, 271 Fifth Avenue (bet. 29th and 30th Sts.), 646-858-3784, is open Monday through Saturday for lunch, and seven days for dinner.