In New York City you expect good restaurants, but not necessarily green ones. I was lucky enough to be traipsing around the Big Apple recently with several old and dear friends. One of them happens to live near Gusto Organics, the 6th Avenue Manhattan eatery that claims to be the first and only completely organic NYC restaurant. And when they say completely, they mean it. Everything in the restaurant is organic, from the mushrooms on the bruschetta, to the candles on the tables and the cotton in the servers’ uniforms. The restaurant’s founder, Argentinian Alberto Gonzalez, has racked up green kudos galore for his all-organic concept, making appearances on CBS and CNN. When I strolled by, the breezy outdoor seating area was lined with boxes of organic herbs and I saw that Gusto had just launched a line of high-end organic baby food.
But while their dedication to organic is admirable, more than a few people who had eaten at the restaurant found Gusto’s entrees to be pricey and lacking punch. Risotto for $19? Only if it’s top notch. Several online reviewers noted that the grilled veggies in the pizzas and pastas were healthy but bland. “If you don’t mind paying $9 for a salad with only three ingredients, then I recommend this place,” one reviewer wrote.
Since picking the right restaurant is critical to having a fantastic weekend in New York, my friends and I skipped Gusto in all its green glory. We ended up at a Brooklyn joint, Flatbush Farm, that I thought was the perfect blend of earthy eco-friendly and New York City sophisticated. It’s on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, which is pretty far from any actual farms. (Their “garden” is now open, but by garden they mean a large-ish concrete back patio with soft twinkling lights.) Yes, a good deal of their veggies and meats are organic and raised on farms in Vermont and upstate New York. And yes, they advocate local, seasonal eating and are official pals with Slow Food USA. But plenty on the menu is not certified organic and that’s all right with me. The plain fact is, their food was really good. And walking in, even with a name like Flatbush Farm, the restaurant doesn’t hit you over the head with its farm-to-table philosophy. The atmosphere is swank but not too formal, earth-friendly without being righteous. There are plenty of fancy menu items, like oysters and filet mignon, but also un-snooty ones, like a ploughman’s platter and beer and broccoli soup. Yes, my heaping plate of free-range roast chicken and kale was $22, but it was heaping. And delicious. The lesson in all this seemed to be that, in New York City (and everywhere, really) when you go organic, it still has to be good.