Who am I to tell Geoffrey Zakarian that he should be doing More Important Work? Although he clearly has the talent, or at least used to, the chef who gave us Town and Country is now content to consult on phoned-in hotel menus.
He has opened two of these in the last few months, The Lambs Club and The National. The Lambs Club purports to be a much fancier place, and therefore its unevenness and lack of ambition are harder to forgive. At The National, with entrées hovering in the mid-twenties, you can be happy with unoriginal ideas skillfully executed, and that’s what you get.
The National has a prominent street-level perch in the Benjamin Hotel, but I doubt it was hotel guests alone that accounted for a packed dining room on a Thursday evening. Just steps away from the busy 6 Train stop at 51st & Lex, The National is in the perfect location to be a cafeteria for the East Midtown office crowd, and I suspect that’s where many of the guests came from.
At 7:00 p.m., there were no tables and only a couple of bar stools available. It’s the kind of place where the bartenders are so busy that they won’t open a tab without taking custody of your credit card, and where I never got to order a second drink because they were too preoccupied to notice that I’d finished the first one.
But the kitchen serves a great pork chop (above left), especially bearing in mind that it’s only $24, and it comes with broccolini and a side of excellent cheese grits. One doesn’t really need another vegetable, but I had to try the Crispy Brussels Sprouts ($7; above right) with pancetta and whole mustard, one of the best sides I’ve had in a while.
The diner to my right invited me to take a photo of his steak frites ($28; above). I didn’t taste the steak, but it was a thick hunk of New York Strip, and it appeared to be perfectly cooked to medium rare. I did try the hand-cut fries, which were great. Another diner gave me a taste of her Baby Artichoke Sandwich ($13) with feta, hummus, eggplant, and pepperoncini. I would never order that, as I dislike eggplant and only tolerate artichokes, but I have to admit it was tasty.
If The National doesn’t attempt very much, it is at least good at what it purports to do, and it doesn’t charge very much. The David Rockwell interior looks like half-a-dozen other places he’s done, but it’s fine for what it needs to be.
The National (557 Lexington Avenue at 50th Street, East Midtown)