Fire and spice
Lowood offers fine dining without the pretense
Lowood’s detailed yet playful approach to New American cuisine sets them apart from the pack.
The fire crackles and hisses as a wave of warmth and an incense of smoky meats waft over guests sitting at the chef’s table surrounding the open kitchen at Lowood, the latest addition to the East Village restaurant scene.
Where most kitchens are considered “back of house,” Lowood’s is front and center. Executive chef Ian Van Anglen has given life to many kitchens and menus during his long stint in Tulsa, and he’s most recently responsible for curating the most exciting bar menu in town over at Hodge’s Bend. But with Lowood, the menu and the experience are a culmination of his work.
“We wanted to bring big city fine dining like you see in New York, Chicago, or LA, but totally without the pretention,” says Van Anglen. “People don’t need to be scared of it and we are super down-to-Earth. And if you have a question, just ask your server because we have an incredibly smart and well-versed staff.”
The kitchen is filed with utilitarian, almost steampunk-inspired implements. An old school, manual meat slicer with a giant hunk of cured meat stands at the ready at the corner of the chef’s table. An industrial pasta extruder lies in wait for the next day’s fresh pastas. But it’s the Argentine wood-fired grill that creates all the drama.
The chefs manipulate the two aluminum crankwheels above the levitating grill filled with meat. This allows the chefs to adjust the height of the cooking surface to the ever-changing mood of the fire below. It is the ultimate in controlling the tempestuous wood-fire with its flames licking at the dissipating grease from above.
All the charisma isn’t restricted to the kitchen. Four certified sommeliers are on staff, and on any given night, as many as two will be roaming the floor, cradling bottles like precious cargo as they float from table to table. The well-rounded wine list reflects the well-tuned eye, a treat to oenophiles and wine-curious types alike.
The mood of Lowood is jovial. Guests along the 20-seat chef’s table interact with one another, and are chatted up by the chefs and wait staff. It almost has a colloquial diner feel.
The antique space, which was formerly a terrazzo tile manufacturer and showroom, is still brimming with deco charm. Simple banquettes with tabletop seating line the outer walls, framing a large dining space with rugged wooden tables. The unfinished elements add a cozy, non-pretentious air, which gives breath to Lowood’s approach to dining.
If the kitchen is the pounding, utilitarian heart of Lowood, the menu is its philosophical soul. Created by a guy who “worked with a lot of Italian chefs and really likes pasta,” the Lowood menu boasts intriguing selections from beginning to end. And if you want to start the meal with a bang, you can’t overlook the Black Arancini.
“We’ve created a monster with that,” said Van Anglen “I have always found arancini super boring, so I wanted to do something that was really different.”
Van Anglen’s black arancini is a dramatic and much-needed departure from arancini ancestors. The dish arrives with four matte black orbs atop a lagoon of grass-hued Italian verde. Charcoal activated house-made rye breadcrumbs create the mantle, while the interior is bubbling with molten compound shrimp scampi butter. The rice is infused with squid ink, giving it an equally goth-like appearance with a delicate bite, while the verde sauce brings a welcome brightness.
As I savor my arancini, Van Anglen pulls a truffle larger than a softball out of a bag, marveling at its size and the possibilities. Lowood has truffles flown in regularly from Italy, and nowhere do they shine more than on the luxurious gnocchi with fontina cream sauce. Gnocchi is one of Van Anglen’s specialties, and his are extraordinary. These “pillows of love” are feather-light and the canopy of truffle makes the dish downright transcendent.
Fresh pasta options will change regularly, but the playful bucatini and reginette—pasta shaped like diminutive lasagna noodles—really slurps up the sauce. After 9pm, folks can get a steamy bowl of fresh bucatini or reginette for only $8. The meat dishes are greatly enhanced with a smoky kiss from the wood fire, like the fennel-flecked Porchetta. But a well-rounded selection of vegetables dishes, like the hen of the woods mushroom dish, also benefit from the added sizzle.
Lowood’s detailed yet playful approach to New American cuisine is sure to bring in those who who want a satisfying, inventive meal but without all the pomp and circumstance. Lowood is open Monday through Saturday 5pm – 11pm and is still putting together its bar menu, which will be especially targeted to those who work in the industry. Lowood also has a sprawling outdoor space, replete with two fireplaces and bocce ball, which is sure to be a hot spot as the temperatures finally cool.