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Review Recap: Pulino's

Today, Sam Sifton gets back on the straight-and-narrow, awarding one star to Pulino’s Bar & Pizzeria. There’s an acknowledgment that the owner, Keith McNally, is working from a template, though Sifton doesn’t seem to hold it against him:

Mr. McNally is an important figure in the recent social history of Manhattan. His restaurants have introduced or enhanced neighborhoods all over downtown: Pravda and Balthazar in SoHo, Pastis in the then-quiet meatpacking district, Schiller’s on the Lower East Side, Morandi and Minetta Tavern in the West Village.

Now, there is Pulino’s. You can sit at the bar there, drink Campari and read the newspaper, as you can at any of Mr. McNally’s establishments, feeling grand under a ceiling that soars above a checkerboard floor, surrounded by distressed mirrors, chicken-wire glass, towering walls covered with liquor bottles. The room evokes Schiller’s and Pastis alike, and is as recognizably McNally as the man himself, standing rumpled as Eeyore by the pass to the kitchen.

He seems to love most of the food, finding only a few flubs and a “punishingly loud” room. Presumably, these are the reasons why the restaurant got just one star, rather than the two that McNally and Chef Nate Appleman likely expected. (These days, practically everybody thinks they deserve two stars, unless they’re gunning for three or four.)

But according to most of the reading I’ve done, one star was the correct rating. This is the Sam Sifton of last year, as opposed to the recent Sifton, who has been pulling stars (and restaurants) out of a random number generator.

The review came awfully fast, though. Pulino’s opened to the general public on March 26, and Sifton’s visits were probably wrapped up by April 23, just four weeks later. (The Times photo shoot was on April 28; it needs to be scheduled, and Sifton is unlikely to have paid additional visits after that.) Perhaps Sifton expected some complaints: on the blog, he notes that the restaurant was open an additional two weeks for “friends & family.”

Still, I think he should have given McNally and Appleman a few more weeks. It might not—indeed, probably would not—have changed the rating, but would have been more fair to the restaurant.

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