I’m on the quest to find phenomenal roasted chicken in NYC. For me, chicken is not high on my list, but after some questing I found my chicken match at Locanda Verde. My friends and I used to always joke, Frank Bruni / Sam Sifton must be on the payroll for Purdue Farms because without fail they will recommend the chicken at any restaurant they review! Being the adventurous eater that I am, I have typically shunned chicken in my eating habits in search of more interesting proteins. Chicken is boring, its almost universal. However, a recent health kick inspired by my friend Patrick reminding me “you can always be thinner, look better,” has me re-evaluating my chicken aversion. Boy have I been missing out!
If chicken tasted like bacon …
My first foray into chicken eating was the rotisserie chicken counter at Whole Foods. I was initially skeptical as the chickens were just sitting out under intense heat lamps sweating in their own juices. My fears of an overcooked/ dry meat were quickly confirmed as I dug into the chicken at home. The white breast meat was stringy, tough, and flavorless. The only somewhat reasonably tasty portions of the chicken were meat immediately surrounding the bones that had managed to retain even a semblance of moisture. My chicken journey was not off to a good start.
Journeying through Tribeca for some roasted chicken
The next iteration of my chicken quest came when I went to Petit Abeille; one of my favorite local eateries (can’t beat the half off beer Mondays, and half-off wine Tuesdays!). Typically, I go straight for the burger or mussels with fries but this time I ordered the “All Natural Roasted Chicken.” The meal turned out satisfying, yet somewhat unspectacular. The chicken was simply seasoned and had a nice tasty skin which could have been crispier. However, the meat carried some decent flavor and retained some moisture although there was still a stringy texture. Overall, it was a nice complementary to my bottle of La Chouffe but not a star. Similar experiences played out as I ordered the roast chicken at other Tribeca bistros – the Odeon, Landmarc, Greenwich Grill, etc (one would actually be hard pressed to find a restaurant that DID NOT serve roast chicken). The meals were all satisfying but did not have the pop that made anything memorable.
Locanda Verde’s Fire-Roasted Garlic Chicken is the bee’s knees
Then I randomly struck gold. On a quiet Monday evening, I walked into Locande Verde and was lucky enough to secure a table. (Don’t forget to get the sheep’s milk ricotta, our write-up here.) With a resigned sigh, I ordered the roast chicken for two to split with my friend…healthy eating had not been much fun thus far. Imagine my shock when I was served what was not only the best roast chicken I have ever eaten, but also one of my top 10 most memorable dishes ever. It was a meal so splendid that it elevated memories of previous chicken meals and made me crave the meat. The chicken came out upon a trey with an assortment of roasted vegetables all heaped in an abundance of garlic and rosemary. After taking a bite of the white breast meat I was completely blown away by the flavor and texture and could not believe I was eating chicken! The skin was crispy and infused with intense savory flavor like bacon. The meat beneath the skin was succulently moist with a dense supple texture. If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn I was eating…ham! I don’t know how he did it, but Andrew Carmelini was able to transform a lean white meat into something resembling its much fattier cousin. Others are raving about this unbelievable chicken dish, like the Black Book.
Andrew Carmelini’s flavor bird has inspired me
Roasted chicken is one of the simplest dishes to prepare. When you Google “roast chicken recipe” there are about 2.5 million hits. Many of which are an iteration of simply: season chicken, stick chicken in oven, come back in an hour, finito. Yet as my dining experience thus far demonstrates, it is very difficult to make it pop. But when it does, the results are extraordinary. Andrew Carmelini, you have inspired me. Stayed tuned for my attempt to roast my own chicken as well as search out other chefs who have mastered this intricate roast.