How early is too early to devour a lobe of foie gras? It's never too early at Bunny, The Micro Bakery (technically, it opens at 7 a.m.). Here, chef and owner Iliana Regan offers "accessible" versions of the fine dining fare that earned her a Michelin star at Elizabeth.
"The concept of Bunny was to take things that people love [at Elizabeth] and put it in an everyday setting," Regan says. "Aside from the mushroom tea that I've been making since I had my underground dinners, I think it's one of the purest representations of us." She's referring to the foie gras toast that has been flooding Instagram since Bunny opened in late January.
It all started with Regan's affinity for owls—the majestic creature that acted as a symbol for the farm-to-table movement and also became a symbol for the Lincoln Square restaurant. After it opened in 2013, guests began gifting her owls, from ceramic figurines to owl-shaped ice molds that Regan decided to use for foie gras service. The foie is cured and set into the mold, and sold in sets of two for $20 as a supplement to the tasting menu. Each pair of owls is served with rounds of house-made brioche and seasonal jam.
"It's something that people often expect on tasting menus. I'm sure there are people who would argue with that statement, but I think that there's this trinity of fine dining: Foie gras, caviar and truffles," Regan says. "I have continually gone back to foie gras here and there for different reasons; just because I actually do enjoy it, and I think its one of those things that is very satisfying to have with brioche, something tart and sweet."
Foie is the only member of the trinity that made it onto the menu at Bunny, as the dish is a representation of both its fine dining roots and both spaces' commitments to scratch ingredients. As she juggles running both the bakery and restaurant, Regan's days start at 4 a.m., when she arrives at the bakery to make brioche donuts, brioche bread as well as sourdough boules. She stays at the bakery, preparing orders of seaweed sourdough toast with salmon poke and beef tartare toad-in-the-hole, until 2 or 3 p.m. before jetting off for an hour-long nap and returning for dinner service at Elizabeth.
"At least seven out of ten customers that come in put their food down and get out their phones."
However, opening a bakery was never in Regan's plans. "It was more of a thing for me that developed into an obsession and love; when I started to get involved with naturally leavened breads, I just fell in love with it," she says. This evolved into her now famous donuts, which took a year to perfect, as well as the bread—a simple recipe that includes high-gluten flour, bread starter, buttermilk, yeast, local eggs and lots of butter baked in a 425-degree oven. The jam recipe is also simple, relying on local berries or imported red raspberries with a bit of sugar, red wine vinegar and salt to result in a more tart than sweet spread.
Each order of foie gras toast gets the same level of attention. Starting with a slice of freshly baked bread that is seared in a skillet with a bit of butter rather than toasted to result in caramelized crust with a custardy center, Regan compares it to French toast without the egg bath. It is dressed in jam and one foie gras owl that takes a quick trip under the Searzall. From there, expect the toast to make an appearance on the bakery's front table for a quick photo shoot before being devoured.
"I would say at least seven out of ten customers that come in put their food down and get out their phones—that's been really pretty awesome for unintentional customer-driven marketing," Regan says.
Even customers who have never tried foie gras are driven towards the adorable toast. Regan compares it to the Hot Doug's phenomenon of people lining up down the blocks to get a duck sausage topped with foie. It's a way for customers who can't afford a $100 tasting menu to take a bite out of the gourmet life.