I remember when Hell’s Kitchen was home to vagrants, prostitutes, car dealerships, strip clubs, and idling buses. No more. The car dealers remain (nowhere else to go), but the seedy side of Hell’s Kitchen is history.
Walk the neighborhod now, and you find spanking-new Off-Broadway theaters, upscale apartment towers, boutique hotels, and trendy bars. There’s something new on almost every block. A restaurant boom promised in the Post two years ago hasn’t quite materialized. It’s getting better, but it’s not there yet.
Print Restaurant opened three years ago in the Ink48 Hotel, at Hell’s Kitchen’s most remote address, 48th Street and Eleventh Avenue. There’s nothing wrong with the neighborhood any more, but it’s a loooong hike from the subway.
You can guess the theme here, in this renovated printing plant. The rooftop lounge/bar is called Press, which I visited a while back. You’ll quickly forget the drinks, but the view is one of the city’s best. Even the NYT’s Frank Bruni loved it.
It’s pretty clear that Print was meant to be more than just a hotel cafeteria. Early publicity mentioned chef Charles Rodriguez’s past work with Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter—maybe just a stage, but still. Starchitect David Rockwell, who never met a dark wood he didn’t like, designed the dining room.
But Print received scant critical attention: a perfunctory Dining Brief from Sam Sifton in The Times, and a “very good” from Serious Eats’ Ed Levine, each in 2010. Both mentioned the car dealerships, and little else in the neighborhood, which shows how much has changed in three years.
When the rapturous reviews don’t come, places like Print often give up: the chef leaves, and a no-name from catetering school replaces him. The restaurant becomes just a place for weary travelers to grab a morning muffin or a plate of grilled salmon before bedtime.
Not so at Print, where Rodriguez is still in the saddle, and the service abounds with the grace notes that most Manhattan restaurants carelessly omit. It’s the little things, like transferring the bar tab to the table, reprinting the menu daily, providing bread knives and three kinds of bread (from Sullivan Street Bakery, I believe), and serving red wine at the right temperature, in Stöltze glassware.
Print suffers from a certain indefiniteness of purpose. The name, of course, conveys nothing. The website touts “farm-to-table” dining, with vegetables sourced by a full-time forager. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but even in 2010 it was already passé. All Print can do, is make the food really, really well at the price point—and it does.
The day we visited, the dinner menu offered fifteen appetizers ($12–24, most $14–16) and eleven entrées ($24–45, most below $30). The appetizer portions are ample: big enough to share, or to suffice as entrées for diners of modest appetites.
From the descriptions alone, there’s not a lot to challenge the diner: 4–7 listed ingredients per dish, and occasional references to this or that farm. But it’s all very well made. The forager’s talents don’t go to waste: vegetables are abundant in every dish.
I was there with a party of four. I didn’t sample most of my companions’ plates, though I noted their comments.
From the photo of Braised Pork Belly ($16; above left), all you see are fava beans, roasted tomatoes, and a fennel–orange salad. Rest assured the pork is there: abundant and terrific. I especially liked the citrus accents, unusual in this type of dish.
Goat Cheese Gnocchi ($16; above right) were served with zucchini flowers, pancetta, basil pesto, English peas, pea greens, and parmesan. The two at our table who shared it, loved it.
A Grilled Eggplant Salad ($14; above left) was just as successful (so I’m told), with beefy hunks of eggplant, mint, pecorino, pea greens, lemon, and olive oil.
The kitchen comped the Di Stafano Burrata (normally $14; above right), a great rendition of this dish, with sea salt, cherry heirloom tomatoes, olive oil, and basil.
“Amazing” was the table’s verdict on Seared Halibut ($27; above left) with eggplant “caviar,” roasted tomatoes, basil, romano beans, and cherry tomato vinaigrette. And “great!” for Grilled Octopus ($16; above right) with fingerling potatoes, chorizo, arugula, olives, herb purée, and lemon.
The one off-note was sounded by Sautéed Calamari ($14; above left), with celery, olives, endive, radicchio, and lemon vinaigrette, which was “too peppery.”
I ordered the vegetarian entrée, an unusual choice for this carnivore, but I wanted to test the kitchen in its element. A Seasonal Vegetable Plate ($24; above right) included a roasted Yukon potato, mushrooms, peas, zucchini squash, spring onions, cauliflower, soy beans, and roasted carrots. It was perfect, one of the best vegetable dishes I can remember, with the flavors in balance and every item exquisite.
The restaurant did a decent business, but wasn’t full, on a Wednesday evening. Service, as I’ve mentioned, was extremely good for this sort of place. I wish the restaurant were easier to get to, but if I can find an excuse to go back, I certainly will.
Print (653 Eleventh Avenue at 48th Street, in the Ink48 Hotel, Hell’s Kitchen)
Food: Seasonal, farm-to-table American cuisine
Service: Surprisingly upscale for an edgy hotel in this area
Ambiance: A David Rockwell dining room that almost makes you forget the location