Note: Click here for a later review of 5 Ninth.
Frank Bruni’s one-star review of 5 Ninth did not leave me with any eagerness to visit. That all changes when you receive an invitation, and your host is paying the bill. That’s what happened one night last December.
The building’s facade conceals its intentions. It occupies an eighteenth-century townhouse that has seen better days. Amid the glitz of the meatpacking district, it’s the building that time forgot. Only the brass #5 on the door tells you that you’re in the right place. (My companion, who is not a New Yorker, had to ask at three different storefronts nearby before he was directed to the right one.)
It’s a narrow building, and therein lies part of the problem. The entire ground floor is the bar. Dinner seating is up a treacherous staircase (we saw one patron take a scary tumble during dinner). Most of the tables seat only two; all of them are small. No one takes your coat; your server just directs you to hooks on the wall.
The menu at the website isn’t much use. It doesn’t show prices, and most of the offerings have changed anyway. Prices have also gone up. The Bruni review stated that entrées are $25-32. When I visited, they were $30-34. (I don’t recall seeing any mains below $30, but if there were any, it was only one or two.) There was no amuse bouche, and at these prices I think there should be.
Dinner starts slow at 5 Ninth. It was nearly empty when we arrived (6:30pm), but nearly full by the time we left (8:30 or 8:45). An empty restaurant is no guarantee of efficient service. A basket of bread was deposited on our table, along with a heavenly homemade whipped butter, but without bread plates or spreading knives. We thought that perhaps this was part of the meatpacking ethos—who needs plates when you can eat off the table?—but bread plates finally arrived after we’d had two slices apiece. Not that this bread was even worth the effort, as it was crumbly and stale.
For starters, my companion and I were both attracted to the sardines. We each received two whole fish, quite a bit larger than usual, grilled crisp and just a bit spicy. Separating the meat from the bones required a bit of labor, although well worth it. We kept the same knives that we had used to spread the butter. I’m sure the staff would have replaced them had we asked…but you shouldn’t have to ask.
For the main course, my companion had the goat, which looked wonderful (it resembled duck breast, but I forgot to ask how it tasted). I ordered something called “Mr. Clark’s Pork.” It turns out this dish is named for the farm where chef Zak Pellacio sources his pigs. From the description, you have no idea what you’re getting. It turned out to be heaven for pig lovers: pork loin cooked in its own fat, along with another body part deep fried. This came with what could only have been a potato fritter, grilled flat, with a salsa paste on top.
At the table next to me, a young lady also ordered Mr. Clark’s pork. Unlike me, she didn’t ask the server how the dish was prepared, and she was disappointed to receive a preparation with such a high fat content. It wouldn’t hurt 5 Ninth to be a little less cute with their descriptions.
We skipped dessert, but we were in the mood to finish with some scotch. “Do you have any scotch?” we asked. “Hmmm…I think we have some Laphroig, a McCallans, a Johnnie Walker Blue, and maybe a few others.” Here again, this seems basic. Either the server should know, or the after-dinner drinks should be on the dessert menu. Anyhow, we both chose the Johnnie Walker Blue. I’m a single-malt guy, but this was so smooth that I might just be converted to blends.
5 Ninth has been open since May 2004. Service glitches should have been worked out by December. The artistry of Zak Pellacio’s food deserves better.
5 Ninth (5 Ninth Avenue btwn Gansevoort & Little West 12th Sts, Meatpacking District)
Service: Not Acceptable