With a new executive chef, Stephen Lee, running the kitchen at Bin 5, we had to get in to check out the new menu. That, plus we were long overdue for some perfectly crafted cocktails by my favorite bartender (not to mention the owner of the restaurant), Danny Ippolito.
I told Danny we would be stopping by, and he went out of his way to make the meal extra special for us, as usual. By now, he knows Jason and I and our taste in food pretty well. So he took the liberty of arranging a tasting menu – aka my favorite thing – for us. He explained that the restaurant is trying to go “back to the basics,” with some more Italian inspired foods – ya gotta give people what they want, and it is Staten Island after all…
Our tasting started out with a bowl of chicken liver mousse and some toasted bread. Typically you’re brought either a fresh hummus, bruschetta, tapenade, or other “safer” snack at the start of your meal at Bin 5, but Danny knows we like the weird stuff, so I was ecstatic when this happened. It was actually an apple chicken liver mousse, which made it a little lighter and less irony than most I’ve tried. Kind of like a chicken liver applesauce. I was obsessed with it and cleaned the bowl with the spoon. If you’re scared of trying liver, this would definitely be a good starter option.
Cocktails at Bin 5 are always pure perfection. Danny mixed up these variations on classic cocktails:
On the right is the Green Point, a spin on a Manhattan with yellow chartreuse, sweet vermouth and bourbon. It’s somehow strong and subtle at the same time. The chartreuse doesn’t take over, there’s a healthy burn as it goes down, and there’s a warm spiciness to it at the end of each sip.
On the right is an Oaxaca Old Fashioned. Oaxaca is a mescal; in fact most mescal is made in Oaxaca, Mexico. So think super smokey and flavorful.
To really kick the meal off, we started with a golden beet salad. This salad is comprised of smoked goat cheese, peaches, golden beets, and arugula and dressed in a light simple lemony vinaigrette. The flavor combination made me have an instant flashback to an old dish from Alor Cafe: a smoked goat and beet dumpling. So it was a nostalgic and wonderful moment when I had my first bite, and I really enjoyed the whole thing. The arugula gave the perfect peppery taste and the light dressing allowed each ingredient to pack its punch of flavor. It could have used just a tiny sprinkle of salt, but then again… I tend to like my food super salty.
Next up was the lobster roll with a lemon tarragon aioli, buttered brioche bun, and lavender picked fresh from the garden. Here, we had some issues. To me, a lobster roll is actually so simple that it’s really, really difficult. You need big chunks of nice fresh lobster, an obnoxiously buttery roll, and a light mayo aioli. This dish has potential, but needs some adjusting, in my opinion. The lobster meat shouldn’t be chopped up so finely. I did get a few nice healthy chunks, but for the most part, it was practically shredded like a tuna fish sandwich. Having the meat so small makes it really easy to overdress it, which definitely happened here. And the bun had moments of perfect butteriness. But for the most part, I think they played it safe with how much butter they used. I know: what I want here is gross. But I want delicious buttery grease on my fingers when I’m done eating a lobster roll. It just feels right. Lastly, and this is a highly biased opinion, but the best lobster rolls I’ve tried have either no or very little celery. I personally despise celery; it’s actually the only food I can barely stomach. So I know this is unfair. But there was a ton of celery, and the crunch of that took away from the sandwich. The lavender was a cool idea to make this dish unique, but I honestly didn’t taste it at all. Don’t get me wrong, this dish was good, but it could have been a lot better. The paper thin house made potato chips on the side were completely wonderful.
Next was the Cioppino (I really wish my computer would stop autocorrecting it to chopping). A Cioppino is a fish stew, and this one was comprised of mussels, calamari, and clams. It was mighty, mighty tasty. The sauce itself was thick, just a tiny bit spicy, and made from a lobster stock which made it incredibly flavorful – more of a soup than a sauce. Make sure you dip the bread in early on to soften up and absorb all of the oceany goodness in this bowl.
Our next round of drinks was a classic Manhattan for Jason and a Last Word for myself. The Manhattan at Bin 5 is made with Blanton’s bourbon (yum), and is one of the most stand out cocktails from Danny. And the Last Word (gin, Luxardo maraschino liquor, green chartreuse, and lime) is my official favorite drink for summer 2016. I know I keep harping on it, but seriously… if you consider yourself a cocktail person, Danny makes the best drinks on Staten Island hands down, and could easily stand up to some of the best “mixologists” or bartenders all across NYC.
The pasta course was Cavatelli with a basil pesto sauce, mushrooms, and caciocavallo cheese. Caciocavallo cheese is my future brother-in-law, Vito’s (off the boat Italian) favorite cheese; aside from the fact that I think he really likes to say (yell) the word “caciocavallo”… it’s a really delicious cheese. This dish was awesome. The house made cavatelli was impressively consistent, something that Jason and I can now more fully appreciate as we’ve made several attempts at cavatelli ourselves. It was cooked al dente consistently through the entire dish. The mushroom was unusual with the pesto, but worked. And the pesto itself, which can easily break and be either too creamy or too oily, was a perfectly emulsified balance of the two.
Next was the meat/fish entree: we had fried cod on artichoke and mushroom risotto and filet mignon with a horseradish crema and red wine reduction. The cod was super simple in a classic batter. It was cooked exactly right… a tiny bit opaque in the center. I think it needed a squeeze of acid to liven it up. The mushroom artichoke risotto was perfect, but heavy for the summer. The filet mignon was good. The red wine reduction was completely packed with flavor, which livened up the meat, and the horseradish cream was awesome. Danny instantly came to the table to apologize for the doneness of my meat, as he knows I like my steak so rare it’s almost blue, and this was served medium. Since we didn’t actually order and give our preference for doneness, I don’t hold it against them – the chef was simply sending out whatever he thought we’d wanted, and I appreciate Danny’s attention to the detail to even notice. Had the steak been rarer I probably would have loved it a lot more. For me, filet mignon gets chewier, dryer, and tougher when it’s cooked past rare, and I feel like this did start to dry out a bit.
After our glorious meal, there was obviously still room for dessert. Always room for dessert at Bin 5 – it’s a rule. The blurriness of the photo is a representation of how we were seeing at this point, as we were pretty happily wasted by the end of the meal. We did the red wine chocolate torta (AHA! the red wine is the secret ingredient; they never wrote that on the menu before!) and the all time favorite pistachio walnut cake. These desserts are house made from Danny’s family’s recipes and I am in love with them. The chocolate torta is indulgent and fudgey but also salty. I could eat an obscene amount of it. And the pistachio walnut cake is light and fluffy and just so heavenly. I could eat an obscene amount of this one, too. I like to ask Danny if they have “anything weird?” for an after dinner drink, and Bin 5 where I’ve discovered all sorts of fun amaros. This evening’s after dinner drink was my favorite so far: Averna. It is much sweeter and gentler compared to many of the other’s I’ve tried, like Fernet Branca or Cynar.
Bin 5 always impresses Jason and I, and they keep their four star Baconboozer rating, though I’m confident that with a few minor menu adjustments they could make it up to a five. The cocktails are really so unfairly perfect; you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t stop in for a drink, at the very least. And the desserts are wildly good, too. Everything in between ranges from good (the lobster roll and filet mignon) to really great (the smoked beet salad, cioppino, and the cod), to completely and unusually perfect (the cavatelli, and the chicken liver mousse). And most importantly the intimacy of the space is unbeatable. Danny runs around like a chicken without his head making sure that every single table gets some love. We always leave feeling like we just left our very good friends’ house. God only knows what they think of us, and our wild eating/drinking capacity…