Nebraska-born Matthew Lightners route to Atera has been long and circuitous: from a decade cooking up and down the West Coast, to a revelatory year and a half at Mugaritz, the obligatory stage at Noma, and two years transforming Portland, Oregons Castagna into what some consider the citys most exciting avant-garde kitchen. Atera (to go out in the Basque dialect) replaces the short-lived Compose, but retains its prix fixe, tasting-menu format (now $150 for ten courses, plus $90 optional beverage pairing).
While waiting for the seventeen-seat space to be renovated and a development kitchen built downstairs, Lightner, 31, enlisted Maine forager Evan Strusinski to help source some of the regions wild foods, a hallmark of the chefs style. In Portland, says Lightner, all these burly guys with their pants cut off, wearing tie-dyed T-shirts, would be knocking on your door every five minutes. Lower Manhattan is another story. But that hasnt hampered his efforts to apply modern and traditional techniques to ingredients like wild ginger, birch sap, and the parsley root he candies and folds into freeze-dried banana ice cream, a banana split for the modernist palate. Here, a preview of some of his elegant, nature-inspired compositions.
Atera, 77 Worth St., nr. Broadway; 212-226-1444