BY BRADLEY HAWKS
The walls of the restaurant beyond the white gallery are covered in reclaimed wood with headlights dangling from the ceiling above the bar that is lined with candy apple red vintage bucket stools. Dangling from distressed wooden beams adorning the walls, paintings from a local artist are carefully displayed throughout the room. After all, the restaurant has its own curator. I stifle a chuckle at the timing of the song playing overhead. It’s Belinda Carlisle crooning, “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”
“Welcome to Crescent Grill,” greets the hostess with a sincere, warm smile. Her uncles — brothers Dan and Shaun Dougherty — share ownership of the restaurant, and they both greet me soon thereafter. As a couple enters just behind me, Dan greets them by name. Shocked, the young woman replies with an enthusiastic, “Now that is impressive.”
“We want everybody to enjoy the food, and just because it is fresh and organic doesn’t mean it needs to be over-the-moon expensive,” says Shaun of his menu. “And we don’t buy from anyone unless I have visited their farm and witnessed their practices firsthand.” As he finishes the last sentence, his iPhone buzzes with a text message from one of the farms. “It’s just a text from John at Cascuns about my order this week,” he explains. He also grinds his own meat and sources his own cheese.
Dan was the first brother to make the move to New York City from Pennsylvania in 1982, fresh from college. Shaun, too, fell in love with New York, and eventually moved out to join his brother. “I have always thought that this city is exactly what this country is meant to be — so many ethnicities and religions living — for the most part — in peace.”
The journey for the brothers has not been without its challenges, but they now have a liquor license and an executive chef besides Shaun. “It was hard to step back and let someone else take over,” admits Shaun, “but our chef does a killer job.”
Milton Enriquez grew up by Kaufman Astoria Studios. “I love cooking New American cuisine,” explains the chef, “because it allows the use of global ingredients and loads of creativity.”
His asparagus appetizer features a log cabin of green spears over pickled maitake mushrooms, with a creamy egg that has been poached over low heat, that gently breaks over crunchy Serrano ham. A risotto of crisp English peas is studded with tender shreds of duck confit, bound together with Parmigiano Reggiano.
Entrees include butter-poached lobster, coconut curried diver sea scallops, and a phenomenal $29 prix fixe that includes options like a rustic strozzapreti pasta with summer squash and fresh mozzarella. One of the most exceptional bites I tasted is the sublime Magret duck resting on a bed of spring garlic, baby turnips, fiddlehead ferns, and an addictive strawberry paint smeared in a teardrop across the plate. “We can still offer fiddleheads, even though their season just ended,” explains the chef. “I always pickle my seasonal vegetables near the end, so we can make them last a little longer — and everyone will be calling me soon to borrow some.”
“Simplicity makes good things,” smiles the chef as I am presented with dessert. A pistachio wafer has been placed atop a silicon mold filled with pistachio mousse. Once the mousse has set, it is flipped onto a plate, and the dome is coated with dark chocolate and crushed Sicilian pistachios, then adorned with a candied vanilla bean, miniature cubes of amaretto gelee, and a quenelle of pistachio ice cream. The mousse is more velvety than any I have tasted, and I literally go nuts over the dessert. The desserts are courtesy of the pastry chef, Blanca Castro, and I will definitely return for more.
As if the evening had not already surpassed all expectations, I was met at the door by a car waiting to take me home. Crescent Grill actually offers its own complimentary shuttle service if you live within their pickup zone. From door to door and back again, it is one of the most enjoyable evenings I have spent in Astoria. Crescent Grill is now near the top of places I would highly recommend.