Note: Almost two years after I wrote this review, Colors was soldiering on, largely ignored in the restaurant press, and apparently no great success. A New York Times article suggested that it was struggling to survive. My award of a star was overly generous; the colleagues I dined with later said it was the worst restaurant recommendation I’d ever made.
Since then, there have been multiple closings and re-openings. Most recently, Colors closed in 2012 and re-opened in 2014 after a re-vamp. The original concept of a cooperative, with recipes suggests by the employees’ family backgrounds, has been abandoned. The new chef is Colt Taylor (One if by Land, Two if by Sea), with chef de cuisine Aaron Stein (Manzo, Perla).
Colors is a restaurant you want to root for. It’s a cooperative run by former employees of Windows on the World at the World Trade Center. According to the manifesto on the website:
COLORS’ mission is to build a worker-owned cooperative restaurant dedicated to food quality, service excellence and employee welfare.
Chef Raymond Mohan and his kitchen team offer a global menu inspired by the diversity of the staff and their family recipes reinterpreted for New York diners. COLORS is committed to sustainable agriculture, purchasing locally grown foods and sourcing free trade vendors whenever possible. The winelist spotlights small wineries and producers from emerging regions, featuring great values from around the world.
I dined at Colors on Wednesday evening with two colleagues. It is an attractive space, even if the international theme hits you over the head (you can’t look anywhere without seeing a map). There are white tablecloths. The staff, in general, are highly professional and smartly dressed.
The bread service was as good as, or better than, many three-star restaurants I’ve been to. The menu is a mongrel, with dishes composed from many cuisines and styles, and no recognizable theme uniting them. Among the entrees, for example, you’ll find steak, goat curry, and a Japanese bento box. The offerings are said to be “inspired by favorite family recipes” (i.e., of the staff).
To start, I ordered the Colors House Cured Duck Breast ($13). The menu says it’s “Citrus flavored, hardwood smoked, served on raisin bread with porcini jelly.” The porcini jelly tasted more like a horseradish spread. The duck, an ample portion for an appetizer, came stacked on three small slices of bread. It was a little unwieldy to pick up and eat, but the rewards were ample.
One of my colleagues had an oyster appetizer that looked wonderful, while the other had a tuna appetizer that he described as “okay.” He didn’t finish it, so I would guess his response fell well short of rapture.
None of the entrees really caught our fancy, so all three of us wimped out, and ordered the NY Strip (around $33). It came with chimichurri sauce, potato confit, watercress and blue cheese salad—or so the menu said; I couldn’t really detect any blue cheese. The online menu shows a “Grass-Fed Ribeye,” and I don’t know why it’s been replaced. It’s hard to go seriously wrong with a steak, but at such a restaurant the strip is predictably going to fall short of what the better steakhouses have to offer.
The restaurant was nowhere near full. I suspect they are hanging on for dear life. There have been no professional reviews yet, aside from Frank Bruni’s Diner’s Journal preview right after the place opened. I suspect the critics are giving Colors a bit more time to get its act together—a kindness extended to a restaurant one desperately wants to succeed. Rather than deliver a potential death blow with lukewarm reviews, it seems the critics have steered clear, a courtesy they wouldn’t extend to most other restaurants.
Colors offers a pleasant experience in comfortable surroundings, but I won’t rush back.
Colors (417 Lafayette St. between Astor Place & E. 4th St., NoHo)