I Just Ate At The Most Amazing Restaurant In The World

Atera stone

Photo: Henry Blodget

A few weeks ago, I learned that one of my co-founders at Business Insider, Dwight Merriman, had gone into the restaurant business.Dwight’s also the founder of DoubleClick, Gilt Grouple, 10gen, and a bunch of other companies. So he’s no stranger to startups.

I didn’t know anything about Dwight’s restaurant.

All I’d heard was that the food was unusual.

Specifically, our third co-founder at Business Insider, Kevin Ryan, had joked that eating at Dwight’s restaurant was “like eating moss.”

Well, “moss” sounded cool, and I like to support my friends’ startup efforts. So I asked Dwight if he could squeeze my wife and me in.

Dwight pinged his wife Jodi, who it turns out is the boss.

Jodi squeezed us in.

I was envisioning eating a quick meal of “moss” (perhaps followed by a supplementary bowl of cereal) and making a minor contribution to Dwight and Jodi’s local startup.

Much to my surprise, it turns out that Dwight and Jodi’s little restaurant, Atera, is one of the most amazing restaurants in the world.

Atera is on Worth Street, in Manhattan, a few blocks from the Brooklyn Bridge. It only seats about 20 people.

The seating is built around the kitchen, so you watch everything the chefs and waiters do. Part of what they do is explain what you're about to eat, which is extremely helpful.

Atera's owner Jodi Richard and GM Eamon Rockey found Atera's chef, Matthew Lightner, in Portland, Oregon, after flying all around the country eating people's food. Matt had been named one of the best new chefs in America in 2010. Some of the conservative folks in Portland, however, were apparently a bit freaked out by his food.

(When you do the kind of stuff to food that Lightner does to food, you need a test kitchen. You also need a humongous pantry, like this.)

And that pantry, as you might imagine, is stuffed full of, well, unusual ingredients.

It's 9pm now, and Atera's full. Everyone's watching Matt and his team work their magic in the kitchen. And the food is starting to arrive...

The food isn't the only stuff at Atera that is home made. All the plates and bowls are, too. And the boxes. And the table. And the light fixtures. And the lights.

Careful not to break your teeth.

By 930pm, we were done with the snacks. We were also done with the Riesling. So Alex had popped over with a bottle of Montrachet. And dinner started to arrive. Starting with yogurt, nuts, freeze-dried fruit, and a beet. This was not the last beet we would see.

Long Island fluke, with barbecued onion, coriander, and fennel seed.

Then a rest course: A slice of homemade bread with homemade butter from some special cow.

Between every course, by the way, the waiters swapped out our utensils, arriving with new ones in a box like this. If you're going to eat squid flake, there's no sense in diluting it with fluke after-taste.

And those fish eggs were also delicious.

Squab with pickled wild onion.

It was while eating the squab, I think, which came with pear skins (those curly things) that I concluded that my contribution to Dwight and Jodi's little local startup was not going to be minor at all, especially considering the Montrachet and Riesling.

A yam. I don't know what on earth Matt Lightner did to that brown powder, but it melted into a delicious brown syrup when the fork touched it.

Lamb collar with--get this--root beer foam. And hickory nuts. And wild mustard greens.

But it broke open when I spooned it, revealing the bergamot sorbet.

Then the waiter chopped it up and passed it over. Amazing.

And now it was time to find out how much of a contribution I was going to make to Dwight and Jodi's local startup. The information arrived in an envelope.

... along with a menu of most of the things we had just eaten. I will remember the menu forever. Along with the evening. And the contribution...

There's a saying about certain things in life that, if you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it. That's probably the attitude you should bring to Atera.

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