Pushing the Needle: Pines Are on the Menu

EM14-LowRes4Everyone, regardless of creed, enjoys the stands of pines that pop up on city sidewalks every December. The fresh forest scent soothes the fevered New York mind, and puts even confirmed atheists in the mood to trim a Christmas tree.

Except Phillip Kirschen-Clark. Last December, it made him want to cook one.

“I was coming from Dean & DeLuca,” recalls the chef at the East Village, Dutch-and-Danish-influenced restaurant Vandaag.  “I had just bought some squabs and vegetables. I was walking by, smelling these trees, thinking, ‘Ah, it smells so lovely.’ I was initially planning on using some rosemary with the squab. But I just reached out and grabbed a handful of pine needles. I roasted (the birds) on a bed of those, and chopped them up and mixed them with risotto farce to go inside the squab. Beautiful.” The needle idea was evergreen enough that Kirschen-Clark incorporated pine into several dishes at Vandaag. A pickled oyster is accompanied by a consomme made of cucumber vinegar and the liquid the oyster was poached in, and is garnished with pine oil and pickled pine buds. A hybrid Lola duck for two is de-legged, allowed to dry for two to three days, brushed with pine oil, and roasted, the legs confited with pine sprigs and duck fat. It is served with braised mustard greens and potatoes, and a sauce made of duck scrap, pine buds and juniper berries.

You can take your pine-scented meal all the way to dessert by ordering a house-made vanilla ice cream cone infused with juniper berries and pine needles, and sprinkled with candied pine nuts. It’s as cooling and piney a cone as you’ll find.

Vandaag’s mixologist Katie Stipe has answered Kirschen-Clark’s woodsy bill of fare with a couple cocktails. Already on the opening menu was the light and refreshing Bohemian Spritz, a blend of Gruner Veltliner, Vermouth Blanc, St.-Germain, Zirbenz Pine Liqueur, sparkling wine and grapefruit zest. More recently Stipe came up with the puckishly named Fir Lining, a spin on the Tantris Sidecar, a creation of Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club. It includes Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau de Vie (it and the Zirbenz are the only major pine liquors readily available on the American market), Velvet Falernum, lemon juice, a little pineapple juice and green Chartreuse. The base liquor is Genevieve genever-style gin, which has been steeped in pine needles. True to the drink’s name, the glass’s rim is lined in a powder made of sugar and pine powder.

How’s all this taste? Well, as Kirschen-Clark puts it, “Christmassy.”

Photo credit: Michael Harlan Turkell. 

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