Note: This is a review under chef Scott Bryan, who left the restaurant in April 2014. Bryan will be opening a new restaurant on the Bowery called Bacchanal. After a very brief renovation, the space re-opened as Après with Mazen Mustafa, the former chef de cuisine at The Elm.
Like many restaurants these days, Apiary had a troubled birth. It opened in August 2008 under Chef Neil Manacle, a Bobby Flay disciple. Adam Platt of New York awarded just one star, while the Times relegated it to Dining Briefs (a treatment accorded restaurants deemed not worth reviewing).
In January 2009, the owners quietly replaced Manacle with Scott Bryan, the chef who earned three stars at Veritas. There was no splashy announcement. Florence Fabricant of the Times reported the news after Bryan had already been on the job for “about a week.” We decided to wait a few months to give Bryan time to install his own menu.
It has been a tough couple of years for Bryan since he left Veritas (the reasons were never explained). He was named chef at two New York properties, 10 Downing and Lever House, backing out of both projects before cooking his first meal. In between, he consulted at the Falls Church, VA restaurant, 2491. He comes into Apiary with distinctly lower ambitions. The menu, with no entrée above $27, is a far cry from the $85 prix fixe at Veritas.
There is clearly some confusion about the concept. The sleek, high-end décor seems out of place in a neighborhood where most restaurants cater to NYU students and foodies who prefer to dine on bar stools (think Momofuku). The mid-priced menu doesn’t pair well with a wine list where most reds are well above $100, and many are far above that. We had to wonder who would order a $950 Cabernet with such unassuming food.
It is not unusual for appetizers to outshine entrées, but the magnitude of the difference was staggering. It was as if the main courses came from another kitchen. I started our meal assuming that I was going to give out at least two stars. I ended it wondering how I could justify even one.
Hefty chunks of grilled octopus ($12; above left), served over white beans, had a luscious, smoky flavor. Warm Chevre cheese ($9; above right) was topped with greens and roasted beets. It was a less inventive dish, but beautifully done.
The entrées were poor. Peking Duck Breast ($26; above left) and Grilled Hanger Steak ($27; above right) were both tough and cooked well beyond the medium rare we had requested. We couldn’t detect any of the Peking spices alleged to adorn the duck, nor the green peppercorn sauce promised for the steak. Both were served atop a pedestrian vegetable purée—celery root for the duck, potatoes for the steak.
We had no complaints with a side of Brussels Sprouts ($7; left). We also liked the bread service (homemade olive bread).
We suspect that Bryan’s kitchen is capable of doing far, far better than this. However, we can rate our meal based only on what we had, not on what might have been. Perhaps other reviewers will recommend Apiary. We cannot.
Apiary (60 Third Avenue between 10th & 11th Streets, East Village)