Cooks & Soldiers first appeared on my radar one night when they appeared on OpenTable, with a reservation available in West Midtown. I had never heard of them and had no idea where they were. And I honestly don’t believe that they were actually open the first time that I saw them there. On the name, from their web site:
The name Cooks & Soldiers is inspired by the annual Tamborrada festival of San Sebastian in January. At midnight on January 20th the mayor raises the flag of San Sebastián in the Konstituzio Plaza, and for 24 hours, the entire city is awash with the sound of drums. The adults, dressed as cooks and soldiers, march in different companies across various parts of the city.
From the Castellucci Hospitality Group (who also own Sugo, the Iberian Pig and Double Zero), Cooks & Soldiers has opened on the street floor of the Elan development at the corner of 14th and Howell Mill.
We arrived just after they opened at 5:00 (that was the only spot open for a reservation other than 9:30 on-line) to an empty restaurant that steadily filled up during our meal. The view above is from the 14th street side of the restaurant, looking north and the view below is the window to the kitchen, which makes up the east wall of the restaurant. The kitchen has a wheel operated hearth at the left end of the window, very similar to the setup at King & Duke, where much of the cooking occurs.
The menu features food from the Basque area of northern Spain and southern France, with a focus on foods from Navarre. The menu is comprised of pintxos (small snacks or tapas – some served on toast, other as small plates) and asadors (meats cooked on hot coals).
For this meal, we had one of the best servers that we’ve had in many meals – Joe. Joe was informative without making us feel like idiots or talking down to us and attentive without being cloying. On top of that, he had a mellifluous voice that made us want to ask him to read us a story. He explained the menu and walked us through the options. We chose to start with two of the pinxtos tradicionales:
- Hongos y Setas – Coal roasted mushrooms, goat cheese crème fraîche, black truffle (on the right); and
- Caña y Frutas – Apple, brûléed queso de Cabra, mango, blackberry (on the left).
I can’t speak to the quality of the mushroom starter (because it contained mushrooms!), but the fruit toast was fantastic. The cheese and fruit mixed perfectly. What a nice way to start. For the dinner itself, we chose to share one of the asadors. Joe told us that the dishes from the grill were perfect for two to share. Except for the Chuleton – a one kilogram bone-in ribeye that was probably too much for two. Too much for two? Challenge accepted.
It was served with a green salad, which I passed along to the other side of the table. It was mixed greens with red onions and a vinaigrette – simple but tasty. We also chose to add a side, to share: Butternut squash, topped with bleu cheese, walnuts and bacon.
I’m not a butternut squash guy, but I was willing to try it, mainly due to the addition of bacon (and the fact that I’d likely eat the majority of the steak). But this was very good – the savory of the thick cut bacon mixed with the sweet of the squash in a really good taste mix.
On to the Chuleton, which we ordered medium. This would let the outside pieces reach Jo’s desired cooked temperature and leave the center nice and pink. This was one fantastic steak. And we left nothing but the bone. It was served with a Tempranillo bordelaise. Tempranillo is a black grape variety grown on the Iberian peninsula and this sauce was a perfect complement to the ribeye.
We completed the challenge, leaving nothing but the bone, which I refrained from gnawing on, only because we were in a nice restaurant. We really didn’t have room for dessert, but we chose to try their Fruity Pebbles, which were made with cereal milk croquetas, toasted marshmallow and a citrus berry reduction.
We talked with Joe about the dessert and he said that they made the croquettes by soaking Fruity Pebbles in milk, then pouring the milk off, whipping into a cream and deep frying it. Taking one of the croquettes, cutting it with your fork, then grabbing a bite of the toasted marshmallow and a few Fruity Pebbles, then dipping it in the fruit reduction, made for a bite that was much better than the sum of its parts.
This was a very enjoyable dinner and a place that we’ll definitely visit again – we were sorely tempted by the grilled tuna hot pot but will have to make a return visit to try it.