New Leaf Cafe

1 Margaret Corbin Drive (in Fort Tryon Park)
New York, New York

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Appetizers $8-13, Entrees ($23-32) at time of posting
Ambiance- Cozy, historic cottage
Cuisine- New American
Hits- Beautifully executed, seasonal comfort foods; warm, friendly service; artistic plating (use of color, garnishes, spacing, symmetry, and shape)
Misses- Although Chef Scott Campbell uses fresh, local, natural ingredients, I’d love to see a menu that proclaims itself organic, sustainable, and humane.
My fiance, Rich, and I had the opportunity to try the New Leaf Cafe via a generous gift certificate from friends.  Otherwise, we might have missed this incredible little gem tucked gently away near the historic Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park.  Discovered by Bette Midler and restored from its degenerated concession-stand status by the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), New Leaf Cafe has the same gray-stone-and-sloped-roof architecture familiar to New Yorkers from the Bronx Zoo and public park restrooms.  But that’s where the similarity ends.  The NYRP has maintained the small building’s New York authenticity but made the interior an inviting respite from the city’s hustle and bustle.
We arrived on a cold, rainy night.  The amber cityscape was softened through the warmth-fogged, rain-splattered windows, and the ambience was this cozy, tucked-in-bed feeling.  It was almost like being in your own living room (only much nicer and with a better view) with a roaring fire blazing and cold winds whipping outside.
It wasn’t early, but it was a Thursday night, so we had the place largely to ourselves.  Our waitress was friendly and bubbly with a good sense of the menu and helpful recommendations.
We started with a crisp calamari appetizer with an oh-so-smooth, yogurt-based, mint, cilantro, lime chutney served prettily in a paper cone.  The flavor profile was perfect with deliciously combined flavors.  Although fried, the calamari was light and not oily.
Rich was kind enough to indulge me the rock shrimp appetizer.  Recently diagnosed as mildly shellfish-allergic, I am constantly testing the limits of this allergy (Epi-Pen in hand) to see what I can get away with.  Rock shrimp are my favorite of all allergy-forbidden-foods, and I’m pleased to say that I was able to eat a few of these flash-fried temptations without consequence.  (Although Rich did pull the plate away from me to save me from myself.)  The shrimp came with an Asian cucumber salad: very thinly sliced cucumber, ribbons of fishy-tasting seaweed salad (a fish sauce, perhaps?), peanut sauce, and sprinkled with sesame seeds and nutty bull’s blood greens.  (Bull’s blood, which has the same color but a much milder flavor than radicchio, also has a delicious, edible beet root.)
After some debate, Rich has a crisp duck steak served rare with a crisp, delicious strip of fat.  It tasted almost like a richness of a beef steak, although there was no mistaking the duck flavor.  The plate was round and bold with beech mushrooms, perfect rounds of housemade ravioli, and garnished with a rosemary sprig.
I had the roasted, free-range chicken with wild, black rice and seasonal berries.  Overall, it was surprisingly sweet (much sweeter than I’d expected) with sunflower seeds, grapes, currants, and a few heat-softened blackberries and raspberries.  The salt on the perfectly-crisped, fatty chicken skin was delicious.  There is nothing I love more than natural, local meat served au jus with the flavors allowed to be themselves without pretense or excessive seasoning.  The meat underneath was tender, juicy, perfect chicken breast.  It was the ultimate comfort food.  The wild rice, hidden under the chicken, had substantial bite, and the berries were an interesting addition.
Although I was totally too full, I relented to dessert.  Rich had a pineapple cheese cake with coconut sorbet and topped with a buttery crisp that, although delicious, I wouldn’t have ordered; it was just too summery for my palate on this autumn evening.
To top off my heavy meal, I went with a heavy dessert: a warm, crisp-edged muffin of brioche bread pudding with rum raisin ice cream.  It was sooooo comforting, although I somehow doubt I would have been so comforted if I totaled up the calories I had just eaten.
The cafe is best described by my friend Caroline’s word: “snuggly.”  Tucked away in its own little corner of the world, New Leaf is cozy, warm, and romantic.  The cuisine is stick-to-your-bones gourmet, a bit pricey for an everyday dinner, but still quite reasonable and well-worth the cost of the check.

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