77 Worth St., New York
Telephone: (212) 226-1444
Open: Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost: Tasting menu $165; beverage pairings $105-$170
Tribeca, the downtown New York neighborhood with cobblestone streets and converted lofts, may not be the most obvious setting for a restaurant highlighting rare, foraged ingredients. But when chef Matthew Lightner, late of Castagna in Portland, Ore., moved east to open Atera, that is where he landed. All that concrete outside juxtaposed with the blood-pumping, hunter-gatherer cuisine within only serves to elevate this primal, occasionally avant-garde dining experience.
With poured concrete, warm wood and live ferns and moss, the decor of this tiny, one-room space recalls a natural history museum diorama. Thirteen barstools perch over the counters of a runwaylike staging area for the open kitchen, while a sole table for six is annexed to a remote corner of the room.
The required tasting menu tops 22 courses. Lightner's cooking swings between exquisite dishes composed around far-out ingredients—lichen or ashes—with the occasional, less-memorable dip into the mental acrobatics of high-concept cuisine. The success of a bowl of "ramen," with noodles made from squid, rests on the visual trick alone, while a plate of seared duck heart served with baby fall vegetables fires on all cylinders.
A note about that duck heart: With no substitutions, this restaurant is not for the lily-livered. But the bold flavors—lamb tartare, beef marrow—offer ample rewards for the brave.
Beverage director Scott Cameron curates an excellent wine program, providing a thick binder of more than 1,000 selections such as Domaine Huët Vouvray Clos de Bourg Sec 2009 ($70) and Soter Pinot Noir Willamette Valley North Valley 2008 ($70). But you'd also do well to order the thoughtful pairing menu. The high point of the night, sea urchin topped with smoked tomato granita, was intriguing on its own, but extraordinary with the Camille Savès Champagne Bouzy Carte Blanche, which played against the brininess of the sea urchin and the temperature of the ice.