Very soon, “gastropub” may need to join “locavore,” “sustainable, and “New American,” among restaurant terms so overused that they are almost meaningless.
The OED says that a gastropub is “A public house which specializes in serving high-quality food.” And what does that mean? It takes Pubology a whole blog post to decide.
The Toucan and The Lion, which opened late last year, claims to be a “Gastropub…with an Asian twist.” I agree with Pubology that, to be a gastropub, you have to be a pub first, and this is not a pub. It’s a restaurant.
But it does have a bar, where cocktails get much more attention than beer or wine. Michael Cecconi, formerly of Savoy, wrote the cocktail menu, which “draw[s] inspiration from the British East Indies.”
Sidle up for the likes of The Toucan ($10; yamazaki whisky, house rendered vermouth, angostura bitters), The Lion ($10; kaffir ginger infused rum, lime, simple syrup, sriracha), the Eastern Hospitality ($12; Gordon’s gin, lemon, house made pineapple shrub, vanilla essence), or the Thai Fighter ($11; Ezra Brooks bourbon, thai basil leaves, lime, yuzu, simple syrup). They’re all enjoyable, well made, and a good three or four dollars less than you’d pay elsewhere.
The dining room is striking in its minimalism, though a bit cold on a winter evening. It’s all white, except for the oak floors and terrariums built into the light fixtures. But it was empty at 8:00 p.m. on a Thursday evening, which could be why the owners invited us to visit on their dime.
The chef here is Justin Fertitta, formerly of Jane. The menu is in the same British–Asian fusion genre as the cocktails, and fairly inexpensive, though not as inventive. There are eight items called “Shares” ($9–16), though you and I would call them appetizers; just five mains ($16–22), and five sides ($3–6).
A lot of these dishes have the distinct feel of a snack. They complement the cocktails, rather than being substantial attractions in their own right. The Toucan and The Lion becomes a place to tide you over to the main event, or to wind up your evening after you’ve been somewhere else.
Pork Ribs ($12; above left) in an espresso glaze were probably the best dish we tried. Duck Confit Mofongo ($14; above right) was somewhat forgettable, though you can never go wrong with a fried egg on top.
Meatballs ($9; above left) are a beef/pork mix in a tangy curry sauce. Goat Pot Pie ($22; above right) didn’t resemble any pot pie I am familiar with. The goat was tender and the curry sauce was just fine, but perhaps the curry/chili theme is overdone on this menu.
I usually skip dessert, but there was no way I could pass on Bacon Sweet Potato Donuts with a coconut glaze. This could become a destination dish, if the right people hear about it. Some will say that bacon is for breakfast, but this dish tries mightily to disprove that, and in our view succeeded. Bacon lovers unite!
It is certainly worth dropping in for the excellent cocktails, and you won’t do badly with any of the share dishes or the bacon donuts. I do think the entrée menu could use more of the depth and variety that will attract serious diners and keep them coming back.
The Toucan & The Lion (342 E. 6th St. near First Avenue, East Village)