La Villette

Note: La Villette closed in October 2014. The space is quickly approaching “cursed” status (having also hosted another flop, 10 Downing), though there is nothing wrong with the location other than poorly executed concepts. As of January 2015, the space is home to an American market restaurant called Café Clover.


La Villette opened in late October, on the edge of the West Village. It offers a solid but sleepy incarnation of French Provençal cuisine. There’s nothing wrong with a restaurant like this—I wish my neighborhood had one. But there’s a distinct lack of dishes that set the pulse racing, and the execution isn’t so exemplary that it demands attention on its own.

On the face of it, this ought to be an ideal location, on a busy corner lot, close to several subway stations. But a number of restaurants on this block have struggled, including La Villette’s predecessor, the appropriately named 10 Downing.

If you’re the owners of La Villette, perhaps the best news of the year is that one of the fall hits, El Toro Blanco (which replaced another failure, Sam Bahri’s Steakhouse), just opened down the block. El Toro was packed at 7 pm on a recent Wednesday evening.

Perhaps La Villette will get some of the spillover crowd, eventually. Or perhaps not. We found La Villette’s dining room mostly empty. I don’t believe they seated more than five tables while we were there, although the bar was mostly full.

The layout of the old 10 Downing space hasn’t changed, but it has been re-decorated like a typical French bistro, with subway tile, old French movie posters, and distressed mirrors. The dining room seats 85, with another 60 outdoors in good weather. That’s a lot of chairs to fill, a challenge that 10 Downing seldom met.

The current menu is not available online. The restaurant emailed me a menu about a month ago, but as of our visit it had already been pared down. That’s never a good sign. On the message boards (Yelp, etc.), there’s a smattering of unrealistically fawning message board reviews that are obvious shills.

On top of the food (mostly good), my Old Fashioned cocktail was well prepared. The wine list, though not extensive, is mostly French, offers fair value, and goes well with the food. The warm bread service (served with olive oil, not butter) a great start.


A Tomato Watermelon salad ($12; above left) was just fine, although December is a strange month in which to be serving it. I’d heartily recommend the Puff Pastry Tomato Tart ($9; above right), one of the better renditions of that dish.


Mussels are offered in two sizes, and each size with either of two sauces (White Wine or Tomato, i.e., Provençale). My girlfriend ordered the Provençale ($19; above left), which had her nodding with approval. I didn’t try the mussels, but the fries (below left) were wonderful.

La Villette sources its beef from the Ottomanelli Brothers, with three cuts offered: a ribeye, filet mignon, or veal filet mignon. I was modestly displeased with the Veal Filet ($32; above right), which was drowned in a humdrum shower of mushrooms and frisée.


Despite my carping, we weren’t ready for the meal to end, so we ordered the Cheese Plate ($20; above right), a good selection for this type of restaurant.

Although the dining room was mostly empty, the kitchen was quite slow, and the meal took over two hours. The table next to us received inordinate attention: an older guy with a trophy date and three cell phones. If you’re into people-watching, it wasn’t bad entertainment. We received what was, I suppose, the more usual service, which aside from the kitchen’s slow pace, was as friendly and proper as it ought to be.

I’m sorry if that comes across as too negative. We actually liked our visit to La Villette. We probably won’t rush back, not for any drawbacks of the place as presently conceived, but because French cuisine of this middling quality is available at many other places.

La Villette (10 Downing Street at Sixth Avenue, West Village)

Food: Provençal, generally well prepared, if a bit lacking in excitement
Service: Solid, friendly, reliable, but a bit slow
Ambiance: A typical brasserie, with subway tile and old French movie posters

Why? This is the kind of French restaurant every neighborhood should have.




Most restaurant names these days are hopelessly cryptic: Atera, Battersby, Reynards, The Goodwin, Governor, and so on. They could be anything. What are you to make of a Murray Hill restaurant called Resto? The name, shorthand for “restaurant,” leaves all options open.

How refreshing, then, that the folks behind Resto opened The Cannibal next door. Aside from the blankety-blank steakhouse, has ever a restaurant declared its meaty intentions more openly? Aside from a few token salads and side dishes, The Cannibal is a tribute to carnivory in all its forms—okay, all but one.

The early marketing billed The Cannibal as half-grocery, half-restaurant. One year in, the grocery angle has been phased out. There’s no mention of it on the website, and owner Christian Pappanicholas has brought in high-powered restaurant talent: Momofuku alum Cory Lane in the front-of-house, chef Preston Clark running the kitchens both here and at Resto next door. The menu seems more mature than when I looked at it a year ago.

There’s an overwhelming choice of some 300 beers, with which you can wash down a wide variety of pâtés and terrines, sausages, tartares, hams, salumi, and cheeses. I suspect most of the patrons are there for snacking: there are only six true entrées, three of which are offered only for two, and the menu warns that they take 45 minutes to prepare. (To see the current menu, click on the photo at right, which expands to a larger image.)

Broadly, the choices are divided into Charcuterie ($11–16), Small Plates ($6–13), Meat dishes ($14–20 for one, $60–65 for two), Cheeses (choose 3 to 7 for $12–19) and Sides ($5 each). The proportion of the menu that interests me: just about all of it.


The Poulard in Mourning ($13; above left) is a terrific chicken terrine made with a mushroom and leek purée. Spicy Merguez sausages ($11; above right) with yellow curry come on a bed of wheatberry and golden raisins.

Roasted Lamb Neck & Rib (above) is a $60 dish for two. With side dishes and appetizers, a party of four could share it. You get half a lamb neck and a quarter of the rib cage. I’ve never seen such a dish. We ate a bit over half of it, and were stuffed. The lamb was roasted perfectly, rubbed with a spicy Calabrian chile salsa verde.

The setting is casual, with all seating at the bar or at communal tables (on stools that aren’t very comfortable). The sound system is cranked up. Action flicks play on a couple of wide-screen TVs. Reservations aren’t taken for small parties, but seats turn over quickly. We had no trouble getting seated immediately at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday evening. The place was mostly full, but not packed.

Casual vibe notwithstanding, the servers behind the bar are knowledgeable and attentive. Need help navigating that list of 300 beers? I certainly did. Their advice was spot-on. The Cannibal isn’t the solution to every dining need, but oh my! What it does, it does exceedingly well.

The Cannibal (113 E. 29th Street between Park & Lexington Avenues, Murray Hill)

Food: Carnivory, every which way you can imagine
Service: Excellent for such a casual setting
Ambiance: A bar and long communal tables; a bit loud; hard metal stools



Pera Soho


When Pera, the midtown Mediterranean restaurant, opened a Soho branch last year, it didn’t get a lot of critical attention. (A Dining Brief from Julia Moskin of The Times was about it.) Most people probably assumed: same menu, 50 blocks south.

It turns out they’re not quite the same, and I like the Pera Soho menu better. The uptown menu is longer (always a minus in my book), more monotonous, and skewed more expensive. Pera Soho doesn’t have as many redundant meat dishes, and there are ample options for vegetarians.

I liked Pera midtown when we visited in 2009, but I felt that some of the dishes were phoned in. The food at Pera Soho struck me as more varied and better prepared. My endorsement comes with one huge caveat: we dined at the publicist’s invitation and did not pay for our meal. The dishes we tried were the chef’s selection.

Pera styles itself a “Mediterranean Brasserie,” and I had remembered it as mostly Greek. That was a mistake, but one I suspect the owners want people to make. The cuisine is actually Turkish, a genre that doesn’t have much traction in Manhattan. By labeling it generically “Mediterranean,” the restaurant attracts diners who might not want to commit to the unfamiliar cuisine of one nation.

The menu is divided into several categories: small plates and mezes ($6–15), appetizers and salads ($9–16), main courses ($18–30), and side dishes ($7–8). There’s a separate menu category called “Signature ‘Shashlik’ Steaks” ($25–33), comprising meat on skewers with vegetables and rice pilaf. The heading is a stretch, as one of the so-called “steaks” is chicken.

A tasting menu is $48, and this may be the best way to experience Pera Soho. There’s also a $29 prix fixe (with wines half-price) on Sundays, although it doesn’t showcase the best dishes. On Wednesdays, there’s an extra menu with seafood specials (we had several of these), which can be ordered à la carte or as a $39 prix fixe.


After warm bread (above left), we started with rich lobster relish crostini (above right).

A dull ceviche was the centerpiece of a seafood platter (above), but we enjoyed dipping lobster and shrimp in a horseradish and aioli sauce.


Phyllo rolls (above left) were excellent, as was a simple house-made pasta with mushrooms (above right).


Simplicity ruled too in a wonderful poached sea bass (above left) with root vegetables, carrot, and olive oil. On this showing the Wednesday seafood menu ought to be extended to the other six days of the week.

Lamb Shashlik (above right) is one of those “steaks”. The lamb is marinated for two days, then cooked on a skewer and served on a bed of bulgur rice. “I love this dish” was my girlfriend’s summary, and I can’t add more.


Both desserts blew the doors off: Panna Cotta with kiwi and pineapple (above left), and a Turkish classic, the Kunefe (above right), a pastry of phyllo, butter and honey, topped with a clump of kajmak cheese. The Times’ Moskin called it the best rendition of the dish she’d had in New York. It was new to me, but I’d certainly have it again.

The interior is smartly decorated, though perhaps over-done in this casual era. A partially-enclosed outdoor garden seems to be popular: even on a chilly evening, it was decked out in soft lighting, and tables were set, though we saw no one take advantage of them. At 7pm on a Wednesday, the bar was busier than the dining room.

As always, caveats apply when one dines as a guest of the house, but we found quite a bit more to Pera Soho than we expected.

Pera Soho (54 Thompson Street at Broome Street, Soho)



Note: Whym closed in late 2013.


Whym is “A Restaurant,” as both the outdoor sign and the credit card receipt remind you. I’m glad they cleared it up. Just in case you wandered in, and thought it was a shoe store.

Actually, there’s no chance of confusion. Whym is exactly what it appears to be: a comfortable, informal, stylish New American dining spot. It’s in a good location, within walking distance of Lincoln Center, and on the edge of gentrifying Hell’s Kitchen.

Open since 2006, Whym sits blissfully outside the culinary conversation, devoid of any media attention. It’s one of those acceptable, functional restaurants that the city is full of, neither objectionable nor especially praiseworthy.

For a family dinner before a show, Whym fulfilled its purpose. Most of the food was good, or good enough, and a family of five got out for $264 before tip (that was with two of us not drinking alcohol).

The cuisine at Whym is in the upscale comfort food idiom, with prices that all end in “.95”. I thought they only did that in the suburbs. Appetizers, soups and salads are $6.95–12.95, entrées $14.95–27.95, side dishes $6.95–8.95, desserts $7.95–9.95. There’s a good selection of vegan and gluten-free dishes.


Artichokes ($11.95; above left) were panko-crusted and pan-fried, tasting a bit like a vegetarian fried calamari. The arugula leaves that come with it were dry, and needed some dressing. I heard murmurs of approval from the crew that tasted the Butternut Squash Ravioli ($11.95; above center), but I didn’t try it. Pulled Duck Sliders ($12.95; above right) had a satisfying tang, but shouldn’t have contained bones.


Wild Mushroom Cavatelli ($20.95; above left) could have used some salt and were a shade too mild, the table said. But Thai Linguini ($22.95; above center) got the seal of approval from those who tried it. Maple Blackened Salmon ($23.95; above right) was just fine.


There was a Duck Breast special with sweet potato ($24.95; above left), which my son loved. I didn’t expect a Pork Chop ($25.95; above center) to be pounded flat. For almost the most expensive item on the menu, this undistinguished specimen was a disappointment. I was much more fond of the garlic-scallion mashed potatoes underneath it.

A side dish of so-called Sexy Mushrooms ($7.95; above right) was just a side of mushrooms (three kinds) with almonds in a mascarpone cheese sauce: a good dish, but the sexy angle entirely eluded us.


A trio of sorbets ($8.95; above left) included plum, coconut, and mango-banana flavors. The S’mores-wich ($9.95; above right) was by unanimous agreement the best thing on the menu, a terrific dessert with chocolate ganache, graham cracker crust, and melted marshmallows.

The space is arguably over-decorated, but the booths are comfortable, and the space is not loud. It was about two-thirds full on a Saturday evening. The service, like the prices, felt suburban, but was certainly good enough.

Whym (889 Ninth Avenue, north of 58th Street, Hell’s Kitchen)

Food: New American comfort food, unadventurous but mostly successful
Service: Like an upscale suburban place
Ambiance: Comfortable, modern, and not loud

Why: A deservedly below-the-radar spot, good enough for a family outing



How can you not just smile and be pleased at the success of a restaurant like Cómodo?

It grew out weekly dinners that the newlywed owners, Felipe Donnelly and Tamy Rofe, hosted in their TriBeCa apartment, starting in early 2010. Soon it was a full-fledged supper club called Worth Kitchen. By 2011 the health department caught on, and they had to close shop.

But a full-fledged restaurant was always the goal, and with a little help from Kickstarter, they finally have one—and in a lovely location, too, on the edge of Soho in the former Salt space. It’s a typical downtown dining room, with exposed brick walls, a bustling bar, and closely-spaced bare wood tables.

In a well-run restaurant, there are hundreds of things that just happen in the background, and the average diner never notices them until they’re not done right. At Cómodo, you never get the sense that the owners were amateurs a year ago. For a couple that was throwing once-a-week home dinner parties, Donnelly and Rofe have made the transition with remarkable ease.

The cuisine is Latin American, not exactly fancy, but a step up from comfort food. I gather it changes regularly. As of last week, there are seven appetizers ($10–17), six entrées ($17–28) and three desserts ($7–11).

I neglected to photograph the bread service, which came to the table warm, in a little paper bag, with soft butter that contained spackling of toasted almonds and sea salt. The overall effect was like a Ritz cracker.


A Brussels Sprout Caesar Salad ($10; above left), shaped like an over-size hockey puck, was the least successful dish we tried, as a garlic parmesan dressing obscured the flavor of the Brussels sprouts, and we didn’t detect much of a Caesar salad flavor either. (It looked better than the over-exposed photo shows.)

Roasted Cauliflower Gratin ($12; above right) was quite a bit more successful, sort of like a macaroni and cheese, with cauliflower replacing the macaroni.


Braised Berkshire Pork Shoulder ($24; above left) was excellent, and a much heartier portion than the photo suggests. It came with trumpet mushrooms, greens, and a huge helping of mashed potatoes (above center) with a surprisingly smoky flavor.

Duck Breast ($28; above right) was pretty good, but I hardly touched a wedge-shaped serving of quinoa sprinkled with butternut squash and smoked mozzarella. Next to the regal duck, it felt like a humble afterthought.


Flourless Chocolate Cake with passion fruit sauce ($11; above left) brought the meal to a strong conclusion, along with a small plate of petits fours (above right).

Aside from one minor glitch—really, not worth mentioning—service was better than you’d expect at such a casual spot. We didn’t sample the wine list, but they make a terrific Sangria. You won’t go wrong if you stick with that.

The restaurant was practically empty at 7:00 pm on a Wednesday evening, but by 8:00 it was nearly full. Aside from a Hungry City piece in The Times over a month ago, there hasn’t been much press coverage, so they must be getting good word-of-mouth. As of today, you can add me to the fanclub.

Cómodo (58 MacDougal Street between King & Houston Streets, Soho)

Food: Hearty, upscale Latin American cuisine
Service: Surprisingly polished
Ambance: A crowded, but not oppressively loud, downtown dining room

Why? Food a shade below destination level, but in another year it might get there


De Santos

De Santos is one of those West Village restaurants built to look like it has been there forever. The building is an 1800s townhouse (and former speakeasy) that the likes of Janis Joplin, Edward Albee, and Bob Dylan once called home. Jimi Hendrix played in the downstairs lounge (now called the Janis room); Warhol hung out there, or so they say.

All of that pre-dates the restaurant, which opened in 2008 with an Italian theme, since revised. The current chef, as of about a year ago, is Angel Vela, a Pastis and Waverly Inn vet. He serves a mid-priced contemporary American menu, with starters and salads $12–16 and entrées $18–29.

Technically, De Santos is a mini-chain with three Latin American owners and outposts now and/or forthcoming in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, Rio, and Buenos Aires. But the chef here seems to cook his own menu, and I can’t imagine a space quite like this one in any other city.

The dining room has a vintage rustic look, with a bit of taxidermy here and there. The main dining room seats 80, with another 40 on an enclosed patio and 40 more downstairs. An outdoor garden was closed when I visited. They serve weekend brunch and dinner every night till 11:00 pm or midnight, although the bar stays open until 2 or 3 am.

I visited with the publicist and didn’t pay for my meal. There were four of us at the table, which allowed us to sample a wide swath of the menu. Prices shown below are from the menu on the website.


We started with the Garden Salad ($15; above right), which offered a thick pile of arugula, avocado, and feta cheese, with balsamic dressing.


The chef’s main weakness is that he uses too much truffle oil. Fortunately, it was barely detectable in the so-called Truffle and Lobster Macaroni and Cheese ($22; above left), an excellent dish. We also loved the luscious Tuna Tartare ($16; above right) with avocado and soy ginger vinaigrette.


Roasted Salmon ($26; above left), with dill sauce and Greek salad, was quite a bit better than restaurant salmon usually is. But scallops (above right; not listed on the menu) were ruined by a heavy-handed shower of truffle oil.


A New York Strip with Béarnaise sauce ($26; above left) was surprisingly good for a non-steakhouse restaurant, but the fries would have been far better without—you guessed it—truffle oil. The Grilled Pork Chop ($24; above right), with couscous, sautéed greens and mustard sauce, is a winner, and far larger than the photo does justice to. For the price, it may be the best dish on the menu.


I was worn out by now, or rather my stomach was, but the desserts seemed pretty good: Crêpes with dulce de leche and toasted almond ice cream ($8; above left) and Chocolate Lava Cake with strawberry sauce ($10; above right).

The restaurant was not very busy when we started, at around 7 pm, but the bar and main dining room had mostly filled up by about 9 pm on a weeknight. Obviously, I can’t comment on the service, as we were known to the house.

If you visit De Santos, a couple could easly share the Lobster Mac & Cheese, the Pork Chop, and a dessert. You’d go home happy and your wallet wouldn’t be much lighter. De Santos is an attractive place, well worth dropping in if you’re in the area.

De Santos (139 W. 10th St. between Greenwich Ave. & Waverly Pl., West Village)



I’ve long since given up on making it to all of the great Brooklyn restaurants I read about. Most of them don’t fit into my schedule, are too far away, don’t take reservations—or all of the above.

Char No. 4 is one of those places: mention whiskey, and you have my attention. But I haven’t made it over there, and I’m not sure I ever will. Thank goodness there’s Maysville, a new restaurant from the same owners. It takes reservations and I can walk there after work. Sounds good so far.

The two restaurants are similar: Southern cuisine, with more whiskeys in stock than you’ll try in a lifetime. The owners wisely hired a separate chef, rather than trying to run two places with the same staff. Kyle Knall, an Alabama native and former Gramercy Tavern sous chef, runs the kitchen here.

The menu is concice: raw and chilled seafood platters, plus half-a-dozen appetizers ($12–16) and an equal number of entrées ($23–28). It’s largely free of clichés. There’s nary a fried chicken or barbecue rib platter in sight, though they’d surely be best-sellers if the chef offered them.

In fact, although I wouldn’t call the meny edgy, there’s really no bail-out dish for the unadventurous customer that most Manhattan restaurants have to accommodate. If you check back in six months and there’s still no basic green salad or cedar-plank salmon on the menu, then you’ll know the strategy has worked.

The bread service consists of small cornbread muffins (above left). Three of us shared an appetizer, the Brussels Sprouts ($12; below right) with crisp pig ears, quail eggs, lemon and buttermilk dressing. This dish was so good, we were still talking about it three days later.


Coincidentally, all three of us ordered fish entrées. I tried a bit of each one, and they were all just about perfect, especially at these prices. I’d order any one of them again: the Striped Bass ($26; above right) with mushrooms, squash, and crab; the Grilled Sturgeon ($27; below left) with roasted cauliflower, capers, and veal jus; and the Whole Smoked Trout ($24; below right) with watercress, charred red onions, and pickled mushrooms.

(If we’re being picky, I could have done with a bit less of the watercress leaves, which smothered the trout. They were easily shoved to the side, but I didn’t need that many of them.)


The meal rounded off with a bit of peanut butter candy (right).

I arrived before my guests to find the bar packed, probably with an after-work crowd. It thinned out considerably at about 8:00 pm, so we decided to eat at the bar, where service was just fine. I drank only cocktails, mostly re-interpretations of bourbon-based classics.

The name, by the way, is inspired by Maysville, Kentucky, which is said to be the birthplace (or one of many birthplaces) of American bourbon. The restaurant would probably be a destination for its bottle spirits alone, even if the food menu were no more than potato chips.

When you add a chef who knows what he’s doing, you’ve got a winner.

Maysville (17 W. 26th Street between Sixth Avenue & Broadway, Flatiron District)

Food: Southern-inspired, not at all cliché, and very well done
Service: Professional, competent, and friendly
Ambiance: Smart casual, dominated by a 60-foot bottle wall behind the bar

Why? Every dish we tried was excellent; plus a first-rate whiskey list


Pig and Khao

Pig and Khao is the first solo venture for Top Chef alumna Leah Cohen, who is better known for shagging fellow cheftestant Hosea Rosenberg than for her performance on the show.

Cohen is actually a better chef than that. A CIA grad and former chef de partie at Eleven Madison Park, she opened Centro Vinoteca in the West Village with Anne Burrell, and was later promoted to executive chef. She left the restaurant in late 2009 and spent a year in Asia.

This new restaurant, in the old Falai space, is a partnership with Fatty Crew, the outfit behind the various “Fatty” restaurants (Crab, ’Cue). The food may be Cohen’s, but there’s Fatty DNA all over the place, from the casual no-reservations vibe, to the cocktail program and even the china.

The cuisine is nominally Filipino (as is Cohen on her mother’s side), though like most “Fatty” restaurants, it’s a mash-up of so many different Asian and American culininary styles that it really isn’t authentically anything.

The whole menu, including the cocktail and wine list, fits on a single sheet of paper. It’s dominated by small plates ($9–15), with just three proper entrées ($24–28), a few sides ($4–8), and a couple of desserts ($8). Cocktails are inexpensive ($10); along with beers, they vastly outnumber the wines (just five choices).

But none of this is necessarily a drawback. Especially at a new restaurant, I’d rather choose from a dozen items the chef thinks she can nail than from many dozens she can’t.

Sizzling Sisig ($12; above) is a legitimate Filipino dish, with chillies and pork face. The whole egg on top may be Cohen’s idea, as it’s not mentioned in any of the online recipies I checked. It’s served on a cast-iron skillet, still frying as you eat it. This is one of my favorite dishes of the year.


Curry Lamb Ribs ($24; above) are grilled at a low heat for many hours. They pull off the bone easily, then you wrap them in whole wheat pancakes with beets and yogurt. This is another terrific dish.

I visited quite early on a Friday evening—I was practically the first customer—so I was well taken care of. Cohen was in the house, but working mostly downstairs in the prep kitchen. She did make two brief appearances, wearing a thin red t-shirt with the words “Pleasure Dispenser” printed across her chest.

The space is attractively remodeled, and more casual than in the Falai days. It isn’t a large restaurant, especially with the backyard garden closed in colder weather. For a solo diner, a seat at the chef’s counter is the way to go.

The two dishes I ordered may be the best ones: I had the advantage of reading early reviews and heeding their recommendations. We’ll have to see if the chef has more arrows like that in her quiver.

Pig and Khao (68 Clinton St. between Rivington & Stanton Sts, Lower East Side)

Food: Flipino cuisine, liberally interpreted
Service: Casual, but just fine for what it is
Ambiance: Right out of the Fatty playbook

Why? A couple of excellent dishes, but menu and beverage program need to grow 


Center Bar

When chef Michael Lomonoco signed the contract to open Porter House New York at the Time-Warner Center, he agreed not to open any other restaurants for a certain number of years—five, I believe. It was a substantial commitment, especially in a genre (the steakhouse) that doesn’t offer much compass for originality.

That commitment finally expired, but Lomonoco’s second effort remains close to home: Center Bar, a lounge and small-plates restaurant on the fourth floor of the Time-Warner Center, just steps away from Porter House.

The photo above, taken from the website, shows Center Bar in broad daylight when no one is around. The one below shows Center Bar as you’re likely to find it in the early evening—say, at 7:30 pm on a Friday. It’s an after-work, shopping, tourist, and perhaps pre-concert crowd, but not many of the latter. Reservations aren’t accepted, but we waited only about 20 minutes for a table.

The design team has done the best they can with the space. Admirably, in fact. But unlike Per Se and Masa, located on the same floor, you can’t go inside and forget where you are. There’s no escaping that you’re in a shopping mall, albeit a very upscale one.

The menu consists entirely of small plates suitable for sharing. Aside from caviar ($95; American sturgeon with blini), the plates range from $11–21, and a party of two will need four to six of these to make a full meal. There’s also charcuterie ($5 for one; $22 for a platter) and cheese ($5 for one, $24 for a platter).


The Foie Gras Parfait ($18; above left) was excellent. A few tiny Lincoln log-shaped pices of toast were nowhere near enough, but the staff quickly produced more, when asked. A Red Romaine Salad ($14; above right) was competently done, but we found only two of the promised anchovies.


Halibut ($17; above left) is an especially good deal, nearly entrée sized, served with tapenade, lentils and a Moroccan spice dust. I’m not sure if the Wagyu beef ($21; above left) is worth it. Although rich and tender, as Wagyu should be, you get only five small slivers of meat, which comes out to $5.20 a bite.

The house cocktails are decent, though on the expensive side, ranging from $15–22. I would avoid the Maxim ($19) with Ketel One vodka and wasabi-caviar stuffed olives, which came with no caviar that I could detect. (Earlier, the staff delivered the wrong cocktail, for which I wasn’t charged.) The wine list is minimal, but I suspect they have use of the Porter House wine list, for high rollers who may wish to indulge.

Aside from the cocktail snafu, the staff are on top of things in Center Bar’s early days, but your server may disappear for long intervals. There was no attempt at upselling and the plates came out in a reasonable sequence, neither of which you can count on at a “small plate” restaurants.

The food here is generally competent. It will probably stay that way and might even get better, if the experience of Porter House is any guide. At the price, you have plenty of better options for a full meal in the neighborhood. I’d visit again for a drink and a snack.

Center Bar (10 Columbus Circle, Time-Warner Center, Fourth Floor)

Food: Small plates, attractive and usually pretty good
Service: Generally good, but perhaps more servers are needed at busy times
Ambiance: An upscale hotel lobby, transplanted to a shopping mall

Why? A lot better than your average shopping mall




Note: Jesús Núñez has left Barraca and its sister restaurant, Melibea. Alex Ureña has replaced him.


I was a big fan of Gastroarte, chef Jesús Núñez’s avant-garde Spanish restaurant near Lincoln Center. But his work there was too edgy for the neighborhood, and critics found his cooking uneven. Earlier this month, Núñez re-surfaced at Barraca, where he doesn’t challenge diners as much—and if he did, would probably find a more receptive audience.

It’s your typical attractive downtown space, with dark wood tables, bright blue seats, wood pillars, timber beams, and exposed brick. Miraculously, on a Friday evening it was not as loud as such places usually are, even though the 80-seat dining room was nearly full.

The menu fits on one sheet of paper, featuring a dozen tapas ($6–12), a similar number of salads and vegetable dishes ($6–12), cheeses and charcuterie ($12–32), six varieties of paella ($19–27), just a few entrées ($23–30), and four desserts ($7–9).

The paellas take about 25 minutes, and in the meantime the server suggested six tapas to share. I’d say that’s on the high side, unless you’re quite hungry; we ordered four.


The tapas are the chef’s best work: the Croquetas ($9; above left; top); Esparragos (White Asparagus) with anchovies and vegetable vinaigrette ($7; above left; bottom); Albondigas, or meatballs, in a vegetable sauce ($10; above middle); and a spicy Setas Alajillo, a stew of sautéed mushrooms in a garlic sauce with pork sausage ($10; above right).

Paellas are served for a minimum of two people, but the kitchen will prepare different varieties of paella in a large skillet with a cast-iron divider between the two halves. (I’ve seen some photos with the skillet divided in three.)

We tried the Paella Roja de Carabineros (several varieties of shrimp and prawns in a shrimp stock) and the Paella de Tierra (chicken, rabbit, pork belly, pork ribs, string beans and fava beans), $27 and $23 respectively. We found both too salty and greasy, and the rice at the bottom lacked the right crusty crunch. In the Paella de Tierra, the various meats were mostly indistinguishable, aside from the pork belly, which stood out (as it always does).

The Coca de Chocolate ($9; above) was one of the more unusual desserts we’ve had in a while, a crisped tortilla covered in chocolate, topped with berries and cream. We’d certainly order this again.

The wine list is not extensive at this point, but we did well with a 2006 Rioja Riserva for $46. Service was fine, and if only the chef could get the paellas in order, this place would be just about perfect. Still, there is much to enjoy here, and I suspect it will only get better.

Barraca (81 Greenwich Avenue at Bank Street, West Village)

Food: Inventive tapas and paellas, mostly well prepared (especially the former)
Service: Casual and just fine for what it is
Ambiance: Attractive garden-variety West Village casual