Note: Jeffrey Tascarella, managing partner at Tenpenny when this review was written, left the restaurant to join the Daniel Humm/Will Guidara venture at the NoMad hotel. Two months later, chef Chris Cipollone left too. As of June 2013, Safet Kurtovic (of the Central Park Boathouse) is GM and Kay Choe is the chef.
The new restaurant Tenpenny hopes to disprove the rule that midtown hotel restaurants are for tourists. Named for a kind of carpenter’s nail, it has the chic rusticity that’s normally more at home south of 14th Street.
Tenpenny is in the boutique Gotham Hotel on 46th Street between Fifth and Madison. It’s in a quiet, dimly-lit, windowless room well back from the street. A comfortable bar anchors one side of the oblong room, with bare wood tables and a long banquette along the other.
There’s real talent at the helm, with Jeffrey Tascarella as managing partner and chief explicator of wines and cocktails. His resume includes Fiamma, Scarpetta, and Faustina. The chef, Chris Cipollone, also worked at Faustina, the now-shuttered Devin Tavern, and remains in charge at Tribeca’s Dylan Prime.
The website describes Tenpenny as an American restaurant, but both the menu and the wine list have a distinctly Italian accent—not surprising, given the principals’ backgrounds. Prices are about average for a 2011 opening, with appetizers $12–17, entrées $23–36 (all but one under $30). Tasting menus are offered at $68 for six courses, $115 (seven plus beverage pairing), or $125 (ten).
There are just seven choices each for the appetizer and the entrée, plus a couple of recited specials—always a good sign that the chef is focusing on doing a few things well. There is no burger (except at lunch), no steak, nor any of the big-ticket proteins-for-two that are routine on Manhattan menus these days.
The server brings pretzel bread (above left), literally the taste of a pretzel in the shape of a dinner roll. It’s warm and buttery, with soft honey butter and a wickedly hot mustard on the side. You could eat these all night.
Cipollini soup ($13; above right) is a riff on traditional French onion soup, with caramelized cipollini onions, fontina cheese, and a thick wad of croutons under the hood. It was too salty for my taste, and the cheese disappeared too quickly. And aren’t we about a month too late for it to still be on the menu?
Tortellini Nero ($24; above left), is a rich, spicy dish—also arguably a shade on the heavy side for spring—but a success nonetheless, with a smoky barbecued octopus ragu, green sage, tomatoes, and other vegetables. The meal ended with petits fours (above right), an unexpected luxury.
The staff were attentive and well trained, but the restaurant was only about 20 percent full on what was probably an atypical Saturday, the day before Easter.
Early reports from bloggers, yelpers, and the like, are mostly raves—remarkable for a location that is not really “on the way” to anything. It will be interesting to see how the restaurant evolves, as early popularity and an intimate space ought to allow the chef the opportunity to branch out from what is now a well prepared but slightly timid menu.
Tenpenny (Gotham Hotel, 16 E. 46th Street between Fifth & Madison, East Midtown)