1 Margaret Corbin Drive
Fort Tryon Park
New York, NY 10040

Two hundred years after we fought a losing battle against a mercenary army on the hills of what is now Fort Tryon Park, New Yorkers realised that they were fighting a losing battle against disrepair. Not about to lose twice, forces rallied again and took the high ground. Twenty years later, one result is the reclaimed Fort Tryon Park. The Cloisters is here, as is the restaurant, the New Leaf Cafe, founded and run by one of the park's benefactors, the New York Restoration Project.

If you've ever been to colonial Virginia, you'll understand what I mean when I say that the New Leaf cafe oozes a colonial feeling. The building in which the restaurant sits was built in the 1930s, but reminds me of the kind of place that a Revolutionary War general might take up residence in, with it's high wooden ceilings and stone walls. The menu, with the exception of one oddball sashimi appetizer, is pretty much straight-up traditional American with the occasional twist. Even the smokehouse smell of the place takes you into another time. And, of course, it doesn't hurt that you're in the most remote place Manhattan has to offer, surrounded by acres of trees on a winding, narrow road high above the bustling never-sleeping city.

That said, the New Leaf Cafe ain't quiet. Immediately upon walking in, a live jazz band was playing and I had to yell my name to the hostess so she could check me off the reservation list. Even though Bro and Shrink and I were thankfully seated in the quieter rear dining area, we still practically had to yell across the table to talk to each other. New Leaf makes TGI Fridays look reserved. And that's good. This isn't some stodgy place you take grandma.

Once we ordered our drinks (some oatmeal stouts and a raspberry lambic), a waiter appeared with raisin bread and butter. It was great bread, but the bread guy never appeared again. A single tear. Anyway.

Bro and Shrink shared the Crispy Calamari appetizer: deep fried calamari with a mint cilantro chutney. I really liked stealing them off the plate. They were extremely light and tender. And while I don't think of dipping calamari in cilantro, it worked very well and added to the lightness of the dish. Bro and Shrink felt that it was too salty, and while I didn't think that the salting was excessive, they absolutely used the word excessive. My appetizer was the Homemade Ricotta Cheese Ravioli. Since I was eating off their plate, I guess it was only fair that Bro and Shrink each took one of my raviolis, which were universally praised. They were extremely tender without being doughy. The heirloom tomato and olive oil sauce that they were in added to a sharp tanginess that I just loved. Order this.

People with limited palates be forewarned: this is not a vegetarian-friendly restaurant unless you like eating your friend's side dishes or don't much mind hunger pangs. The menu is very small and eclectic. The only entree you could pick from (there's no pasta here) is the Daily Market Vegetable Plate. I have no idea what that is, I didn't ask, and it doesn't even have a description on the menu, so...

Bro ordered the Duet of Pork. This dish, pictured below, is sort of a quartet of pork, or maybe two duets of pork. There were two main pork dishes, each with two cuts from that wonderful, magical animal. Pork loin wrapped in bacon and pork belly topped with pork rind, served alongside baby turnips and a celeriac puree in an apple cider reduction. Okay, obviously the pork wrapped in bacon tasted good, but I just can't get into the pork rind thing. Even the thought of chowing down on crunchy fat makes me feel guilty. As for the belly, it wasn't what I was expecting at all. First off, it's very fatty. In fact, it's practically all fat. But it tastes like meat that just dissolves the instant it hits your tongue. Very good, and according to the waiter, smoked there at the restaurant. That smokiness takes you right back to redcoat days. Though it's not something I'd recommend a steady diet of unless you're on Atkins or looking for a way to boost your sagging cholesterol level.

Shrink went with the Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon, which was served medium rare with risotto, trumpet mushrooms and morel mushrooms. This was my least favorite dish of the evening. I can't really explain why since I don't think it was cooked poorly. I guess it was just the most bland of everything we ordered. Still, she liked it and there was nothing left for the waiter to have to clean up at the end of the meal. So what do I know? I went for the Free Range Chicken, a huge, crispy-skinned breast peppered with hunks of kosher salt and served with a walnut-fig wild rice, whole mushrooms and a mix of blackberries and blueberries. For once, I feel like I got the best entree. First, I couldn't believe the size. Most other restaurants of this caliber would have given half as much, and actually, I couldn't finish it. But everything was delicious and complimented that traditional American feeling.

Like the dinner menu, the dessert menu is equally small, and really made up mostly of dinner drinks. Not really the type to load up on the booze before driving home, I got a coffee. So did Shrink. Bro got a Darjeeling tea. He followed it up with the Molton Chocolate Cake with ice cream and half of a poached pear. Everyone liked the cake and the ice cream. No one really cared for the poached pear. I split the New York Cheesecake with Shrink. It was creamy, smooth, and topped with a blackberry compote, then dusted quite generously with powdered sugar. Good stuff.

Two appetizers, three entrees, three beers, two desserts, two coffees and a tea, plus tax and tip wound up costing us $190.27.

Oh yeah, the view...

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