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Chop Suey


Note: Chop Suey closed in October 2008.

The chef Zak Pelaccio has come a long way since he was a cult hit at the Chickenbone Cafe in Williamsburg. His fans followed him to 5 Ninth in the Meatpacking District (from whence he later departed), and then to Fatty Crab a few blocks away.

Since then, he has turned his solid reputation into self-parody, cashing in one “consulting chef” gig after another. Chop Suey is the latest of these. It features one of Pelaccio’s trademark multi-Asian menus, along with one of the best views in the city, assuming you find it charming to look out on the bright lights of Times Square. Frank Bruni did, awarding one star in The Times.

chopsuey_logo.pngChop Suey is more than just a great view. The Renaissance Hotel did a lovely job with the renovation. The décor is stylish, comfortable, and understated—as it should be when you’ve got the most famous view in America. With only 78 seats, a majority of which were empty at 8:15 p.m. on a Saturday evening, you can actually have a quiet and unhurried meal here.

If only the food matched the view

That assumes the food is worthwhile, which it isn’t. Pelaccio’s menu seems phoned in. That’s the problem with a “consulting chef” who doesn’t stick around to edit out the clunkers, or even to ensure his vision (if he had one) is faithfully executed. We had three appetizers and three entrées between us, and there was only one item I’d recommend. That’s too low a ratio of successes to failures, especially when dinner for three runs to almost $250 (including tax and tip).

chopsuey01a.jpg chopsuey01b.jpg
Crispy Rock Shrimp (right); Curry Leaf Fried Chicken Wings (right)

Crispy Rock Shrimp($18) would have been unobjectionable, but a bed of stringy, cold, allegedly braised pork belly was just strange. Curry Leaf Fried Chicken Wings ($15) seemed no different to us than the Hooters variety.

chopsuey02a.jpg chopsuey02b.jpg
Steamed Rice Cakes (left); Atlantic Halibut (right)

If you saw Steamed Rice Cakes ($12) on the menu, would you expect something resembling the photo above? I sure didn’t. I’m a simple guy: “rice cake” implies “rice” and “cake,” and the dish included neither. But it was the evening’s only hit. There were gnocchi in there, along with spicy pickled vegetables and a Korean pork bolognese.

Moving to the entrées, an Atlantic Halibut sous vide ($28) was lovely enough, although boring. I detected none of the promised Prosciutto di Parma, and the clam medley underneath it was pointless.

chopsuey03a.jpg chopsuey03b.jpg
Ginger Chicken (left); Beef Short Ribs (right)

My son wasn’t fond of the Ginger Chicken ($32), also cooked sous vide, nor of the ginger tempura dumplings that came with it. Beef Short Ribs ($30) were a horror show: sliced too thin, overwhelmed with chili sauce, and not tender enough. We thought it was impossible to ruin short ribs. Now we know better.

The other “consultant” at Chop Suey is pastry chef Will Goldfarb. Perhaps he has done a wonderful job with the desserts…but perhaps not. We weren’t willing to roll the dice again.

With this wonderful space and this gorgeous view, the Renaissance Hotel deserves a far better restaurant than this. It’s time to fire the consultants and start over again.

Chop Suey (714 Seventh Avenue at 48th Street, 2nd floor of the Renaissance Hotel, Theater District)

Food: Disappointing
Service: Acceptable
Ambiance: Wonderful
Overall: Not Recommended

Reader Comments (4)

Wow, some of those dishes look downright disgusting. The ginger chicken looks like something I'd get for $3 from a stand on the street in Chinatown, but worse.

I'm confused - nobody in their right mind would go to Times Square for anything, let alone to eat (I feel bad that you had to just for the sake of writing the review). So what's the point of having the "consulting chef"? Tourists are going to see a place, think it looks nice, and go eat there. They don't care about the chef.

Ah well.

Anyway, as one of my first comments, I should probably say that I love your reviews, and your blog has quickly made itself the only restaurant-review blog in my "must read" list. Thanks.

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJon

one comment: that dish does indeed appear to contain Korean "rice cakes"...which are like gnocchi.

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNathan

Thanks for the comments. I agree that the “gnocchi” were the rice cakes the menu referred to. Perhaps this is well known to Korean food devotées (which I admit I am not), but I suspect I’m not the first diner to be surprised.

This place had a couple of good reviews, which led me to give it a try. Good Theater District restaurants are scarce, but not unheard of. The conceit of a “consulting” chef made me a bit skeptical, and it turns out the skepticism was justified!

I see no reason in principle why there couldn’t be a good restaurant in this space. As it’s slightly north of the main drag of Times Square, and on the 2nd floor of a hotel, I don’t think it’s going to attract the same tourist traffic as, say, Olive Garden.

April 14, 2008 | Registered CommenterMarc Shepherd

Indeed, those Korean rice cakes on the left are dukboki: recipe here -- they're made of rice flour, and they're delicious (as I hope they were at Chop Suey). Dukboki is super-awesome Korean street food! Now you're makin' me hungry.

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGabe

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