Logic suggests that I should never have visited Butter Midtown. Clubby restaurants run by TV chefs are seldom worthwhile, and the two co-owners (Richie Akiva and Scott Sartino) are scenesters better known for the beautiful crowd they attract than the food they serve. And I wasn’t impressed with the original Butter in NoHo, which is currently closed for renovations.
Anyow: I gave it a shot, on a recent Wednesday evening in holiday season.
There’s good news and bad news. The food at Butter Midtown is better than I ever imagined. But I wouldn’t recommend it, except for people-watching. You won’t eat badly here, but if food’s all you want, you’ve got so many better options.
The executive chef is Food Network personality Alex Guarnaschelli. Her extensive TV schedule probably leaves very little time for actually running a kitchen any more, but the menu fairly reflects the upscale comfort food she’s known for.
The space is enormous, a subterranean cavern underneath a hotel. It doesn’t remind me of the original, much smaller Butter. I suspect after renovations the original won’t look that way either. Photos of the old Butter still show tablecloths (gasp!), which I’m sure will be gone when it re-opens.
This Butter caters to a young midtown office crowd, and there are plenty of offices to fill it up. Fueled by Guarnaschelli’s reputation, I’m sure it could be busy for many years to come, regardless of the food. At 6:15pm, the bar was packed with holiday revelers. Most tables were taken by 6:45. By the time we left, at 9:15, the sound system was thumpa thumpa thumpa, as pretty girls in fur coats and short dresses poured in.
The food prices aren’t unfair by midtown standards, with appetizers mostly $10–18, non-steak entrées $15–32, and side dishes $10. But the unimpressive one-page wine list is exorbitant, with almost no reds below $60, and most a lot higher. The 2004 Rioja we ordered ($64) wasn’t bad at all, but there wasn’t much else worth ordering. The cocktail list doesn’t even show the prices. I thought we were going to get gouged, but drinks were only $14, at least a dollar or two lower than they could easily get away with.
The bread service (above right) was pretty good: sourdough bread and parker house rolls were served warn with sour cream and herb butter.
I loved both appetizers. Chicken liver mousse ($10; above left) is served on matzo with schmaltz vinaigrette. It’s the cheapest starter and just might be the best. Veal bacon ($14; above right) is good enough to make you wonder why they ever made it with pork.
It’s hard to believe there’s Salmon in the photo ($32; above left), as there are a lot of leeks on the plate. It’s actually a very good salmon, with a thrilling, crunchy crust. Monkfish ($26; above right) was tender but not as flavorful as it should be.
We weren’t charged for dessert. I don’t know if that was a mistake, or an apology because it took about forever to come out. Rich raspberry beignets (left) were served warm with a cream dipping sauce. They were well worth waiting for.
Service was a mixed bag. The staff offered to transfer our tab from the bar to the table. But we never got a table, as the hostess didn’t offer to seat us till 40 minutes past our 8:00 reservation. By then we’d given up, and ordered at the bar.
It’s perhaps unfair to judge a new restaurant a week before Christmas, when they were slammed with holiday parties. No one goes to a Richie Akiva restaurant for culinary excellence, do they? At least Butter Midtown is capably executing Alex Guarnaschelli’s menu in her absence, which is better than I ever expected.
Butter Midtown (70 W. 45th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, West Midtown)
Food: Alex Guarnaschelli’s American upscale comfort food, mostly well executed
Ambiance: A huge clubby space in a hotel basement