Long Island residents don’t need to head to Manhattan to savor chef Tom Colicchio’s food now that Small Batch is in their midst. The Garden City restaurant, with its farmhouse chic ambience, open kitchen with wood-fire grill, and menu that, as Colicchio puts it, “has something for everyone,” hits all the right notes.
“I really believe our future as a company is out of major cities,” Colicchio says. Garden City checked all the boxes when he began considering opening a new restaurant—his first in two years. “We knew that the residents of Garden City and the surrounding area are familiar with our Manhattan restaurants.” (Those restaurants are Craft, Riverpark, and Temple Court.) The population density is right for restauranteurs and Colicchio says customers in the area are “looking for something unique when it comes to dining.” And, he notes, the rents are much more favorable than those in New York City.
“People here are looking for something other than a chain experience,” Colicchio says. He notes that, when he’s on the floor at Small Batch, customers come over to thank him for opening on Long Island. “The diners here are sophisticated and want something unique in their restaurants.” To that end, the menu runs the gamut from salads, to pasta, to a 40 oz. bone-in ribeye. Colicchio is proud of the wine list, with 100 wines priced at under $100. “The entire list is well-priced and well-thought out.”
The food, cocktails and wine we enjoyed was uniformly delicious. In anticipation of summer I enjoyed a Bee Sting—with bourbon, ginger and cardamom-honey. For appetizers we had two of Colicchio’s personal favorites, the grilled octopus and the whipped ricotta toast. We tried the honeynut squash agnolitti and for entrees the Roasted Cod and Braised Chicken Thighs. For dessert there was an apple tarte tatin. Every dish melds its ingredients together to make something exciting.
Small Batch is billed as having “approachable excellence” and Colicchio says that is part of a trend that has been happening for some time. He points to Gramercy Tavern, which he co-founded, as being one of the restaurants that took the idea of fine dining & knocked it back little bit. “We’re taking all the pretense out of dining,” Colicchio says. The atmosphere at the restaurant is relaxed and casual, but Colicchio notes that professional service and attention to detail in the food are not sacrificed. “I told my staff we weren’t dumbing anything down when it came to our brand.”
That was quite evident on a recently packed Saturday evening. Although the restaurant opened four months ago, it ran with the air of a more seasoned place. Colicchio brought over Kurt Brown, his general manager at Craft, as GM at Small Batch, and he and the staff are the definition of friendly and professional service. “We spent a lot of time training our staff; we want them to anticipate customers’ needs and give them great service.”
The name Small Batch came out of the fact that “everything is made with care and integrity,” Colicchio says. He notes that it also is a nod to the smaller farms where they purchase produce and to their liquor brands. Colicchio, who has a home on the North Fork, is a proponent of buying local and says now that he has a presence on Long Island a number of area farmers drop off at Small Batch on their way to city markets. Colicchio admits he’s “eagerly waiting for the first peas and asparagus of spring.” The menu will reflect seasonality first in specials, as Colicchio doesn’t believe in changing menus all at once.
Asking a chef to name his favorite dish at a restaurant is a little like asking parents who is their favorite child. In addition to the above-mentioned octopus and ricotta toast, Colicchio says he also is a big fan of the clam and white bean pasta, the smokiness and simple marinade of the grilled chicken, and the “really seasonal” Long Island duck with a confit of squash and figs.
Colicchio laughingly notes he’s had people come into the restaurant and note they thought it was going to be fancier and more of a special occasion place. “I want people to feel good coming here whether they’re having a burger at the bar and watching a game or are sitting at a table enjoying a bottle of wine and one of our specials.”