Just when you thought that there were no dusty corners of Manhattan left to be colonized by destination dining, The Fat Radish arrived a month ago on a desolate Orchard Street block.
The area is technically the southwest corner of the Lower East Side, but functionally it’s Chinatown. At night there’s nothing else doing on this block, nor the next one, nor the one after that. Then you walk into the restaurant and it’s full—and clearly not with a neighborhood crowd.
This must’ve been what it was like when Keith McNally opened the Odeon in Tribeca, or Wylie Dufresne launched 71 Clinton Fresh Food on the Lower East Side several blocks north of here, when nobody thought of visiting these neighborhoods to dine out.
Much of the Fat Radish’s proffer will seem familiar: farm-to-table cuisine in a rustic, no-reservations setting. Owned by the catering and events firm Silkstone, the cuisine is loosely that of the British Isles, which is suddenly chic. The incongruous name recalls the random adjective–noun format of places like the Spotted Pig and the Rusty Knot.
The menu, which changes daily, is relatively inexpensive, with appetizers $9–15, entrées $16–24, side dishes $7, desserts $8. There are vegetables in every dish, appropriate to the season, e.g., kale, celery root, hazelnuts, winter squash, beets, and so forth. The amuse bouche (if it may be so termed) is a plate of pickled radishes (above left).
The Beet Crumble ($12; above) is typical, made with goat cheese, aged cheddar, hazelnuts, and oats. It’s sweet enough to be a dessert, and big enough to be a side dish for four people. It was double the amount that two could eat.
A richly flavored Heritage Pork & Stilton Pie ($7; below left) made more sense as an appetizer.
I didn’t detect much honey in slightly over-cooked Honey Glazed Duck ($24; above right), and the winter squash on the plate was too tough.
Monkfish Vindaloo ($21; below left) was more successful, although not as spicy as one might expect a vindaloo dish to be.
Caramelized Banana and Clotted Cream ($8; above right) was a winning dessert. One can hardly go wrong with that much sugar on the plate.
The décor is farmhouse-pretty, but there are no soft surfaces to absorb sound. Carrying on a conversation was a real chore, and a couple of particularly loud parties were nearly headache-inducing. Service was slow: our three-course meal took more than three hours. Even coffee took about twenty minutes to arrive. I began to wonder if they’d flown to Colombia to harvest the beans.
Although the food was mostly enjoyable, and I am willing to forgive the noise and the slow service, I am not sure the Fat Radish is distinctive enough to keep drawing crowds after the novelty has worn off. Other restaurants, more conveniently located, are serving similar food, and doing it as well or better.
The Fat Radish (17 Orchard Street between Canal & Hester Streets, Lower East Side)
Ambiance: pretty but loud