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Review Recap: The Standard Grill

Record to date: 11–5

Pete “the Hammer” Wells takes it easy on the Standard Grill, awarding one star:

At dinner, as the main courses are being set down, he sends out a cast-iron platter of fried potatoes dressed with pimentón mayonnaise, his spin on patatas bravas, the tapas bar classic. Crisp, smoky, spicy and very hard to resist, this little something rounds out the meal rather than slowing it down.

Small grace notes like this have helped the Standard Grill play to robust crowds since it opened three months ago.

It is not the place I would send friends who want to study the latest contortions of the yoga masters of haute cuisine. But it is exactly where I would direct anybody who needs to recharge by plugging straight into the abundant, renewable energy source that is downtown Manhattan.

I like the fact that Wells makes his one-star review positive (as one-star reviews should be), while finding enough faults to explain why the restaurant doesn’t get two:

The tiled, barrel-vaulted ceiling makes for treacherous acoustics. At times conversations across the room are beamed directly to your table. Sitting by the open kitchen one night, we heard an expediter shouting out orders as if he were communicating with cooks in Jersey City. . . .

What is billed as “million dollar” roasted chicken for two cost $32 and occasioned a service failure you wouldn’t expect if you were paying 99 cents. The chicken was set down before me in a cast-iron skillet. I did not get a plate, nor did the friend who was sharing it with me until he spoke up, and then he was given one scaled for an appetizer.

We didn’t blame the overwhelmed waiter, but we did want to wrap him in a warm blanket and pack him into a cab with the names of a few restaurants that give the staff more than 30 seconds of training before sending them into battle.

The place is full of small oddities: the restrooms that look unisex, but aren’t; the disc jockey in a glass booth whose tunes don’t play in the dining room; the very good chocolate mousse that you are meant to eat with a big rubber spatula. Does any of this make sense? No.

Does it, against the odds, add up to a worthwhile restaurant? Absolutely.

Wells’s off-key takedown of SHO Shaun Hergatt in a Dining Brief five weeks ago makes us wonder if he has the right temperament to review upscale restaurants, as well as downscale ones. We probably aren’t going to find out, as the Times is clearly saving the more important opening for Frank Bruni’s replacement, Sam Sifton, who starts in October.

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