« The Modern (Dining Room) | Main | Butter »

Pair of 8's


Note: Pair of 8’s closed in June 2007. The Chef, Matthew Hamilton, moved to Belcourt in the East Village.


Remember Uovo? It was a sleek restaurant in the East Village (Avenue B & 11th Street) that got plenty of buzz when it opened in June 2005. But what it didn’t get was a liquor license or a review from Frank Bruni. Fifteen months later, the place closed. Chef Matthew Hamilton has now resurfaced at the other end of town, at Pair of 8’s, a restaurant that takes its name from the nearest cross street: 88th Street on the Upper West Side, a neighborhood not known for fine dining.

That background has nothing to do with my reasons for visiting Pair of 8’s last night. It caught my eye after a reasonably enthusiastic one-star review from Frank Bruni about a year ago. It was one of the few serious restaurants close enough to Lincoln Center that I hadn’t tried yet. I don’t know what happened in the meantime, but the original chef is gone. Matthew Hamilton is now in charge of the kitchen. As of last night he’d been there less than a week.


We weren’t that hungry, so we ordered entrees only. Our server recommended Coffee Barbecue Braised Brisket ($24), which was as good as it sounds. But the accompanying homemade sauerkraut and chick pea pancake were both extremely dull.

That was nothing compared to the Pair of 8’s Burgers ($16), which my friend considered an over-priced outright disaster. Two three-ounce mini-burgers (one beef, one lamb) were more like meatballs, overcooked, and overwhelmed by two little buns. French fries were soggy.

Spiced apple bread pudding for dessert ($9) came piping hot, and was delicious. My friend played it safe with vanilla ice cream ($7).

For what is basically a modestly priced neighborhood restaurant, Pair of 8’s has far too few wines below $45. However, there’s a good selection by the glass, and each pour comes in a quartino (really a glass and a half). We weren’t that hungry, so we settled on a nice cabernet at $14 by the glass. A program of humorous themed wine pairings (e.g., “Frankenwine”), mentioned in the Bruni review, seems to be gone now.

Our server was a bit confused about the menu, telling us there were no specials, even though we very clearly heard servers recite them at other tables. He was a bit irritating in other ways too—for instance, asking us if we’d like our check, instead of waiting for us to tell him when we were ready to leave. (Though doing a good business, the restaurant was not yet full when we left at 7:30 p.m.)

The room is attractive and comfortable. What it needs is more competent execution from the kitchen. As this was Matthew Hamilton’s first week, it is clearly too soon to judge his work. On the other hand, there is no real excuse when a restaurant is charging full price. I’m willing to give Pair of 8’s another chance—but I’ll probably have to find another friend to try it with.

Pair of 8’s (568 Amsterdam Avenue between 87th and 88th Streets, Upper West Side)

Food: Fair
Service: Acceptable
Ambiance: Good
Overall: Uneven

Reader Comments (12)

i think uovo opened in june of 2005 and that they didn't blame bruni for not giving a review. and is his name michael hamilton or matthew hamilton. who did the fact checking on this article? maybe we'll read this paper again next week.

February 5, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterjames smiley

Thanks for pointing out the errors, which I have now fixed.

Note that I am not saying they blamed Bruni, for the lack of a review. I am merely pointing out that he didn't review it.

February 6, 2007 | Registered CommenterMarc Shepherd

I went to Uovo shortly before it closed, and they had very similar dishes in my recolection... such as the coffee barbecue braised brisket and the lamb hamburger. I remember thinking the food was just okay... similar to what you thought in your review. That could in large part be the ultimate reason uovo closed.... hopefully they'll get their act in gear with this iteration, otherwise it may suffer the same consequences.

February 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRob

I don't think they closed for that reason. The food was wonderful and honest. Just look at all of the reviews of Uovo. All of them were favorable and they even won a time out critics pick award for bar snacks. These were the pros reviewing the place and they know food. Give Pair of 8's a chance. Why send out bad vibes to the palce and to the chef....

February 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterStacey L

My feeling is that a restaurant that's open to the public, and charging full price, is a reasonable review subject. If plays, concerts, and operas get reviewed on their opening nights, then I don't know why chefs should be an exception.

Having said that, I don't go looking for chefs to review in their first week on a new job. It was just a coincidence that I dined at Pair of 8's when I did. Indeed, it was only because of a casual comment by the bartender that I even knew that a new chef had just arrived. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been aware of it.

The review noted that it was Chef Hamilton's first week, and I even said that I'd be willing to give it another chance one of these days. But for now, my experience was what it was, and I had to say so.

Given the prevalence of food blogging and message boards, over time there are sure to be plenty of other reviews of Pair of 8's. If my experience doesn't reflect what Chef Hamilton's kitchen will eventually be capable of, I'm sure that will become clear through other reviews.

February 7, 2007 | Registered CommenterMarc Shepherd

I visited Pair of 8's yesterday and had a very nice experience. It was my first visit in a few months as I tried it in the beginning and wanted to revisit it after the new chef. The wine list has changed from my last visit it now has many wines in the 30's to 50's with a good variety of types of wines. I think you were very wrong on the burger my dining companion was in his early tweenties and enjoyed having the burger as an option as I dined on the oil poached Spanish mackeral. As I was not there in his first week I will say that the kitchen is now functioning very well

February 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterVicki

They just got a great review in Crains. Check it out.....

April 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRick

I dine at Pair Of 8's failr often being that I am a local Upper Westsider, and I love what the new Chef has done so far. It seems as though a lot of changes have been made upon his arrival (not sure if he is the reason or not for all of them). For example they have a cocktail hour, a bar menu, music (which they were desperately in need of before), a new wine list and it even seems a better staff. I think I know the waiter who served you he served me there once and I never wanted to be served by him again. Twitchy and irritable- but I have not seen him my last few visits so I wonder if he finally got the boot! Anyway, my recomendation is you should definately stick to your word and give it another chance!

May 11, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTammy

He is totally the reason. I asked one of the waiters. He instructs the waiters daily on the food, as all chefs should do. That's the chef's stereo too. He made the owner play music. wierd to not have had music for so long.....

May 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRick

i have been reading your opinons of restaurants and came across this one that states you have the right to review. what qualifications do you have to review resturants? if you do not have the proper qualifications to reivew such as gael green and bruni and so forth, can you please just call it what it is. your opinion. the public has the right to read and agree and or disagree with your opinon. why do bloggers feel that they have the right or the qualifications to review a restaurant? give us some answers please.

May 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJonah

I have never suggested that bloggers have any special rights or qualifications. I am simply a “civilian” who dines out a lot, and writes about my experiences. If you disagree with me, feel free to leave a comment here (as long as it is civil), or start a blog and post your own reviews.

The fact is, every restaurant is getting “reviewed” constantly. Guests enjoy themselves, or they don’t. Whichever is the case, they tell their friends. I suppose I could preface every sentence with “In my opinion,” but that would be rather tedious, and I think most intelligent people already know that my views are opinions.

It’s rather comical that you cite Frank Bruni as someone with “proper qualifications.” Frank Bruni’s previous assignment was as Rome bureau chief for the Times. His food-writing credentials are identical to mine: he has none.

May 28, 2007 | Registered CommenterMarc Shepherd

fair enough. great answer. we'll keep reading. good luck..

May 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJonah

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>