Russet is like stepping into a slice of laid-back California cool. No one is in a rush. No silverware clatters against plates as it’s cleared and relaid after each course. None of the floor staff has changed in the three months the BYO has been open (nearly unheard of). The air is serene; even the kitchen is silent. But chef Andrew Wood’s food most definitely is not. When a slice of pickled ramp - dragged first through olive oil speckled with “mortared herbs,” then wrapped in a delicate shard of house-cured lonza - first hit our tongue, we could have sworn we heard trumpets. Or maybe it was a sax.
This is one of those dishes that gives credence to the fad-like frenzy over the short-season ingredient; lets you see where the excitement came from in the first place. Equal parts tangy and garlicky, the ramp was only enhanced by the meat - a much less fatty cousin of prosciutto. Cut thin enough to see through, the salty, cured loin melted in the mouth to the essence of pork flavor. Leaves of marinated celery completed the taste trifecta, adding notes of bitterness.
Truth be told, it was tough to choose a favorite from the meal, which included bites of handmade tortellini laced with strawberries in a rich butter sauce (a dish that tasted like something a Greek grandma might make) and a hearty and more flavorful than expected breast of chicken, served with leg attached (claw and all), surrounded by jus-soaked peas, greens and turnips. From that first lonza onward, nothing was too heavy, leaving plenty of room for a strawberry-mascarpone-strudel dessert. The menu changes daily at Russet, set just west of Broad in a Spruce Street brownstone, but we doubt you’ll be disappointed (215-546-1521).