An Instagram personal message took Nicholas DeRosa by surprise in early 2018. It was from chef Ryan DePersio, who said he had looked up DeRosa’s résumé and wanted to interview him to be the new chef de cuisine at DePersio’s American bistro, the Kitchen Step, in Jersey City.
“I’d never heard of Ryan,” says DeRosa, 31. “I’d been so busy working in kitchens all these years, I hadn’t had the chance to study New Jersey’s restaurant scene.”
DePersio, 41, is one of the state’s leading chefs. In addition to the Kitchen Step, opened in 2016, he is the creative force behind Fascino in Montclair; Battello, a popular wedding site, recently reopened on the Jersey City waterfront; and a Battello-like operation in Brielle. Under DePersio’s control, the Step, as it’s called, early on earned three stars from NJM, as well as a loyal following in its downtown neighborhood. For DeRosa—who had held chef de cuisine positions at the Harvest Group restaurants Huntley Taverne, Grato and Addams Tavern, “it was my chance to have creative freedom.”
Two recent meals tell me DeRosa, in charge since April of last year, has done some good things with fine local and regional ingredients while keeping prices affordable. He is best at small plates. Charred, sweet baby bok choy tangled nicely with julienned Asian pear in a ginger-laced mirin glaze with pickled shitakes. We happily tore through a bowl of confited duck wings coated with sesame seeds and found a bonus at the bottom of the bowl: a nest of lacy turnip noodles in a luscious blend of drippings and yolk from a six-minute egg.
Crisp florets of chicken-fried broccoli made a love match with al dente farro in a sassy orange-teriyaki dressing that I’d like to try to clone at home. Kale salad with candied walnuts, smoked gouda, mint and farro, a DePersio creation, was terrific.
But several dishes fell short. A “snack” of harshly spicy buffalo sunchokes (a riff on buffalo chicken) was simply klutzy. Each little knob was as firm as an undercooked potato. They were such a challenge to cut, I half feared mine would scoot off my plate.
A small plate of Wellfleet oysters broiled on the half shell arrived flaccid in a tepid bath of liquified bone marrow with a dissonant sprinkle of chopped cashews. (On the menu, it’s unclear how DeRosa differentiates “snacks” from “small plates.” They are equally portioned and comparably priced.)
DeRosa’s pork cheeks and polenta (from Castle Valley Mills in Pennsylvania) is a small plate that aims, he says, for “warmth and soul.” Too bad the cheeks themselves—morsels known for their fatty succulence—were dry, with a splash of cold beet molasses chilling the dish.
The temperature problem arose again with an entrée of rosy slices of duck breast from Crescent Farm on Long Island. After two luscious, warm bites, they quickly cooled and tightened, becoming a workout to chew.
Big plates were DeRosa’s weakest. They included a whopping cube of pressed pork shoulder, off-puttingly fatty and dry at the same time; a strangely translucent and gelatinous chunk of King Ora salmon; and dayboat shrimp that seemed boiled to flavorless oblivion in a brick-red kimchi brodo. We planned to taste DeRosa’s purple sweet-potato gnocchi, but they were sold out by around 8 pm. We found refuge in our medium-rare RD burger (yes, that stands for Ryan DePersio), served on a brioche bun with an oozy cap of aged cheddar, caramelized onions and rasher of crisp, house-made bacon.
DeRosa so far makes his own desserts. He does a lovely job with an individual carrot cake, warm and moist, with a rosette of toasted marshmallow. Other sweets, like a blondie that tasted underbaked, need work. The same can be said for the current state of the Step.Click here to leave a comment
Price Details:Appetizers, $9-$17; entrées, $17-$28; desserts, $9-$10
Ambience:Casual and hip
Wine list:Playful cocktails; well-priced wine list with 60 by the glass