Today, Sam Sifton filed the expected two-fer on Ed’s Chowder House and Tanuki Tavern. We were correct that Sifton would uncork his first zero-star review; but wrong about which one would be the victim.
He clearly “gets” what the owner, Jeffrey Chodorow, is about:
For more than two decades he has run counter to restaurateurs interested in rubbed-wood authenticity and locavore cuisine. He has stood, always, for brash showmanship, the belief that in restaurants, the whole and complete point of the business is volume. In the face of recessions and in boom times alike he has accumulated more than 25 restaurants and bars in close to a dozen cities, all of them tied to the idea of dazzling, low-cut, cocktail-fueled good times…
From his first foray, the flashy China Grill, to his latest, Tanuki Tavern in the Hotel Gansevoort and Ed’s Chowder House in the Empire Hotel, he has promised that opportunity: fun, against the customer’s outlay of cash.
To our surprise, he thinks that Tanuki is the one that comes the closest to meeting those modest objectives:
The concept at Tanuki Tavern is that it’s an izakaya, or Japanese-style tapas bar. That is not entirely accurate. Really Tanuki is Ono, the immense Japanese-style restaurant Mr. Chodorow opened five years ago, now in a smaller space with almost the same number of seats. He sublets the rest of the space to the nightclub Provocateur. (Mr. Chodorow isn’t in this racket to spill soup.)
The result is young and exciting, with food from the same larder as Ono’s: respectable, perfectly good quasi-Asian fare. Also like Ono, it is pretty in design and execution: Japanese cabinetry and piped-in ’80s rock, LED candles, paper lanterns and two floors of tables full of men and women in clothing inappropriate to the weather. Tanuki is a fine place to drink sake, eat chicken wings and visit a simulacrum of South Beach, Sunset Boulevard, the timeless thump-thump-thump of Saturday night on the Vegas strip. It provides direct transport, in other words, to Chodorowland.
At Ed’s Chowder House, Sifton wonders if the restaurant’s namesake, Chef Ed Brown, has been watching the kitchen:
There was, one night, something of his style and worth in a terrific dish of smoked Chatham cod cakes with a roasted tomato-chili jam… But none of his delicacy was apparent in other meals — in greasy, overdone fried calamari with saffron aioli, for instance, or in celery-heavy, muddy-hued steamed clams with plonk broth…
Did Mr. Brown personally have something to do with the ammonia taste of a particularly elderly wing of skate served with horseradishy mashed potatoes and left untouched on the plate (to the shrug of a waiter)? It seems somehow unlikely.
We lose $2 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets. Eater wins $2 on Tanuki Tavern, but loses $1 on Ed’s Chowder House, for a net of $1.
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Life-to-date, New York Journal is 74–31 (70%).