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Etats-Unis is an informal 30-seat restaurant on the Upper East Side—and the unexpected recipient of a Michelin star. It is one of the most accessible and least pretentious restaurants to have been accorded that honor.
The restaurant opened in 1991. After a less-than-ecstatic Diner’s Journal write-up from Bryan Miller in 1992, it received two stars in the Times from Ruth Reichl in 1993. Remarkably for a restaurant of its age, not much seems to have changed.
Despite the French name, the cooking at Etats-Unis isn’t moored to any geographic region. It is hearty comfort food that could vaguely be described as New American. The menu changes daily, based on available seasonal ingredients, with only five appetizers and an equal number of entrees on offer. Portions are quite large, and generally rich in high-calorie ingredients.
The wine list is reasonably priced, and I was gratified to see a large selection of half-bottles, an option far more restaurants should offer.
I started with grilled scallops ($16) on a bed of squash. The scallops were seasoned with a dash of pepper, and like much of the menu, grilled on a charcoal oven. There were three of them, which was more than generous at the price; many a scallop appetizer would come with just one or two. The squash was at room temperature, which to my preference wasn’t warm enough. I couldn’t tell if this was a miscue, or deliberate.
My friend’s mozzarella salad ($16) had an almost ethereal creamy softness.
Braised shortribs ($28) came in an enormous portion, especially considering the heap of spinach and a steamed artichoke on the side. I couldn’t find any fault with this dish, but after the large appetizer I was already filling up, and had to leave half of it behind.
My friend’s rack of lamb ($36) was also excellent, and (as you would expect) a large portion, with a mound of crisp potatoes au gratin.
There are four desserts available, but two of them are baked from scratch, and have to be selected at the time you order the rest of your meal. Not realizing what we were in for, we both took the plunge. Even at a restaurant with more restrained portion sizes, either of these desserts could easily be shared. Other tables seemed to know this, and in hindsight I think the server should have said something.
Date pudding ($10) came bathed in carmelized rum sauce and whipped cream. It would win the award for richest dessert in town, if it wasn’t for the chocolate soufflé ($12), which is an even more sinful choice. They were excellent, but we were by now completely stuffed, and finished less than half of both.
There is not much space to maneuver when the restaurant is full, but despite that limitation, service was without fault. The kitchen is tiny. For its size, the quality of what comes out is remarkable.
Etats-Unis (242 East 81st Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues, Upper East Side)