I remember the Murray Hill of twenty years ago: from a culinary perspective, there wasn’t much going on. Fast forward. The neighborhood hasn’t yet arrived, but with battalions of post-collegiate twenty-somethings settling there, the scene is far better than it used to be.
Whitman & Bloom Liquor Company, in a large space that used to be a sports bar, is typical of the new Murray Hill, with its loud, boozy atmosphere and a downstairs speakeasy. At first, I didn’t even realize it served food.
Actually, there’s a serious chef, Eldad Shem-Tov (an Israeli), whose resume counts stints with Alain Ducasse, and at Aquavit and Noma, though I’m not sure for how long. These days, everyone cooks at Noma for 15 minutes. This seems to be his first New York gig as an executive chef, but he’s surprisingly sure-handed, serving food far better than you’ve any right to expect.
Before you get to Shem-Tov’s cuisine, you have to put up with a few annoyances. The restaurant claims to be “A New Kind of Local,” as if there were kinds not yet discovered. Actually, far from being a new idea, it’s a hackneyed one: locally-sourced ingredients prepared in a vaguely Mediterranean style, and served tapas style, with dishes deposited on the table as and when they’re ready. At most places, it’s a concept that makes me groan, as in, “Oh no, here we go again.”
Then the food starts to arrive, and most of it is remarkably good. Before I go any farther, I should disclose that we dined at the publicist’s invitation and didn’t pay for our meal. (Where prices are shown, they are taken from the website.) The dishes we tried were the chef’s choice, and hence we were spared the usual dilemma at such establishments: how much to order.
The dishes, as you’d expect, are in a variety of sizes and categories, ranging from $4 snacks to $25 entrées. Many plates are offered in two sizes, small and “medium”; most are readily sharable. There’s an ample selection of cheeses and charcuterie, on a menu clearly suited for grazing. It all fits on a single broadsheet, presented in laminated plastic sleeves that the owners ought to get rid of. Like most menus of the kind, it requires a server’s explanation.
The libations are skewed to beer and spirits. The house cocktails are excellent, and inexpensive by today’s standards (mostly $10–11). We tried the Red Root (Brooklyn Gin, Beet Juice, Ginger Beer, Fresh Mint, Simple Syrup) and the Whitman Spritzer (St. Germaine Elderflower, Absolut Citron, Pinto Grigio, Splash of Lemon Lime Soda, fresh fruit).
There are about 40 bottles of wine (about 15 by the glass), but the printed list omits years, which is really unforgivable in this day and age. The 2010 Garnacha from The Show, a favorite of mine, was fairly priced at $45. The rest of the list seemed to be in line with the price level of the restaurant, although it is hard to tell when you can’t see the years.
The bread (above left) from Sullivan Street Bakery is served cold. A pinto bean purée somewhat makes up for it.
Seared tuna bruschetta ($13/18; above right) are served with black olive tapenade, chickpeas. The messy combination works, but there’s no avoiding an avalanche as soon as you pick it up.
A salad of Roasted Heirloom Beets and Romaine Lettuce ($7/11; above left) was the evening’s only dud, a forgettable dish unattractively plated.
But we loved the Chicken Liver Pâté ($14; above right), with its silky-smooth texture, a caramelized onion marmelade, and grilled sourdough bread. But I could have done without the green salad at the top of the bowl, which was just in the way.
I don’t recall seeing before the combination of Sweet & Spicy Roasted Peppers ($8/13; above left) with burrata and fresh oregano, a surprising hit.
Cauliflower ($9; above right) is the new broccoli. This version is wonderful, roasted with the leaves intact and served with house-made cheese.
Seared Calamari a la plancha ($13/19; above left) had very little flavor, but a bean salad with mint, lemon juice and olive oil had a peppery kick.
A Veal Cheek ($24; above right), served over radishes and potatoes gratin, was as tender as velvet.
Lamb Ribs ($21; above left) were delightful, with a hood of crisp skin and unctuous flavor underneath.
We were quite full by this time, which is a pity, as we weren’t fully able to appreciate the flavorful Hangar Steak ($22; above right), which is dry aged in house and served with roasted cabbage. Dollar for dollar, this has to be one of the best dry-aged steaks in town.
There are just two desserts on the menu (both $9). We were slightly more impressed with the Flourless Chocolate Cake (above left) with lavender ice cream. But you won’t do badly with the Seasonal Fruit Marmelade (above right), with Asian pear, whipped sour cream and frozen yogurt.
The large space seats 100, including two bars, and was mostly full on a Friday evening. The décor features antique literary artefacts (the “Bloom” of the title refers to James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom), but hard surfaces make for a punishingly loud room. Service was a bit slow, but forgivably so, for a new restaurant still getting its sea legs.
I am not especially fond of the tapas service model outside of Spain, but the chef here makes a good case for it. Out of eleven dishes—certainly more than I would normally order—there were about seven home runs, and only one real dud. That’s a remarkably good batting average for such a place. This is a chef we could be talking about for some time to come.
Whitman & Bloom (384 Third Avenue between 27th & 28th Streets, Murray Hill)