At the risk of repeating myself, casual French cuisine seems to be making a comeback. It is all the more remarkable, given that most of the city’s critics don’t give a damn (“French = boring”).
This week’s exhibit: Almond, which opened about four months ago, cloned from a popular Hamptons restaurant. It occupies the cursed space that has been home to three Jeffrey Chodorow failures (Rocco’s, Brasserio Caviar & Banana, and Borough Food & Drink). Chodorow still owns the space, but as far as we can tell, he has no other role in this new venture. As long as he stays away, Almond should have a chance.
The critics have mostly ignored Almond, as you’d expect for any French brasserie that doesn’t have a well known chef (such as Ducasse, Bouley, or Boulud). Bob Lape awarded two stars in Crain’s, while Frank Bruni relegated it to Dining Briefs.
I was smitten the moment I arrived, and the hostesses offered to seat me, although I was twenty minutes early. It so happened there were plenty of empty tables, but in a Chodorow-run restaurant that would not stop them from shooing you to the bar, which at 7:40 p.m. was completely full. Later on, the restaurant filled up too—not completely, but better than most places we’ve visited lately.
The menu consists of French brasserie standards at recession prices, with starters $9–14 and entrées $15–29 (most $18–24). There’s a broad selection of side dishes ($7). Burgers and sandwiches are $15.
Both appetizers were wonderful: Duck Confit with creamy lentils and banyuls vinegar ($12; above left) and Salt Cod Croquettes with saffron aioli ($10; above right).
Aged New York Strip ($29; above left) was one of the better non-steakhouse steaks we’ve had in quite some time, and the fries were perfect. Daube of Lamb Belly ($23; above right) was competent comfort food; it tasted better than it looked.
The space is not especially charming or memorable, and it gets loud when full, but service was just fine. The wine list has plenty of decent choices below $50, including the 2005 Languedoc we had for $38.
Almond (12 E. 22nd Street between Broadway & Park Avenue S., Flatiron District)