Note: Archipelago closed in December 2008 after about two months in business. Either the space or the food was doomed. Take your pick. The owners claimed they would be re-opening with “an exciting new menu,” but that idea was short-lived.
I’m not a believer in “cursed” restaurant spaces, but the new restaurant Archipelago threatens to challenge that view. It occupies the space that was formerly home to the doomed Dani, a pretty good Italian place that couldn’t attract diners to the cavernous gloom of Hudson Square, the dead patch of land west of Varick Street between Houston and Canal Streets. It’s not that a serious restaurant couldn’t draw people to this neighborhood. But it would need to be serving “destination cuisine” — the kind of food people go out of their way for.
Archipelago tries to make the case for Japanese–French fusion cuisine, but it fails. The chef here is Hisanobu Osaka, who was the sous chef at Morimoto. With such a pedigree, who’d have thought the food would be so awful? Maybe we just missed the boat, but this was the most mediocre meal we’ve had in quite some time—a real disaster at the price. Can an Eater Deathwatch be far off?
The menu is divided into three sections, not counting dessert: starters ($12–18), mains ($20–32) and shokuji—rice dishes—to conclude ($10). The server advised ordering one of each. This is wise, in that the mains are practically appetizer-sized; but also unwise, as you’ll probably be wishing you were somewhere else by the time the last course arrives.
Many of the items have French-sounding names but Japanese-sounding ingredients, such as Côte de Boeuf with Yuzu Foam or Carré d’Agneau with Japanese eggplant. Despite occasional nods to France, the “feel” of the restaurant is mostly Japanese, and a majority of the patrons seemed to be Asians.
Cannelloni ($14; above left) sounded better than it turned out. Cold crabmeat was plated lazily between two cold sheets of cauliflower pasta, with a bland avocado purée on the side and a bizarre crabmeat mini-sandwich at the top of the plate. Crevettes et Canard ($13; above right) offered poached shrimp and smoked duck, both of which tasted like they’d been in the fridge for a week.
A dish called Sake ($20; above left) is pan-seared salmon with a tasty tomato and lemon confit under the skin. This was the only dish we had all evening that we liked. It was actually a respectable hunk of fish, skillfully prepared, albeit looking a little lonely on the plate. Côte de Boeuf ($32; above right) may look impressive with yuzu foam on the top, but under the foam were just a few wan slices of cold beef that tasted like the London Broil they serve at a Bar Mitzvah.
Risotto ($10: above left) was alleged to contain toro, but it tasted merely like slightly over-cooked rice. But that was a gourmet experience compared with Oshi Zushi, or “pressed sushi” ($10; above right), which seemed to be a salmon paste slathered onto hunks of chalky rice.
At least the sake was comparatively inexpensive. Bottles of Tamano Hikiri were $30 apiece, and after two of them the food here almost seemed decent. I say “almost.” Dinner for two was $172 including tax, but before tip.
The space has been lightly redone since the Dani days. It is rather sterile and charmless. The restaurant was only about 3/4 full at prime time on a Saturday evening, which does not bode well for its success. Despite the rather low degree of difficulty in the dishes we tried, the food took a long time to come out. It wasn’t worth the wait.
Archipelago (333 Hudson Street between Charlton & Vandam Streets, Hudson Square)
Service: Friendly but too slow