Restaurant names often tell you very little. What do you know, really, about The Simone, Charlie Bird, or Cherche Midi, from their names alone? In contrast, By The Hudson (BTH) makes its value proposition abundantly clear: it’s a room with a view.
Actually, that sells it short. Chef Lusianie Otero’s “Amer-ibbean” cuisine surpassed my expectations, but when a restaurant is named for its location, it’s the location that they’re selling, so let’s discuss that for a moment.
BTH is located at the far western tip of 125th Street, underneath the Riverside Drive viaduct. Tall picture windows on two sides offer gorgeous views of the Hudson. Two other restaurants share the block, but don’t have the scenery: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and Harlem’s Floridita. The famed Cotton Club is a block away; Fairway Market is just up the street. Another restaurant with a view, Hudson River Cafe, is four blocks north.
Still, the walk from the subway feels a bit bleak, especially after dark. That’ll change, eventually. Columbia University plans to build seventeen buildings over the next quarter-century on the superblock bounded by 125th Street, 133th Street, Broadway, and Twelfth Avenue. Several are already under construction. You can’t help feeling that in five or ten years, this area will be barely recognizable.
With all of the ongling construction in the area, BTH’s timing seems to be pretty good. But the space facing the water (formerly a diner) had been vacant for seven years before BTH opened in September, so I guess it wasn’t an easy sell. The neighborhood clearly has bright prospects, provided the restaurant survives the long winter.
The restaurant is evidently still deciding how best to market the cuisine. Florence Fabricant’s Off the Menu teezer described it as “American, with hints of Italian,” but the chef hails from Puerto Rico, and our server called it “Amer-ibbean.” Osso Buco is the only dish that immediately screams Italian, and there’s a heavy dose of the safe, recognizable standards that many places serve: Shrimp Cocktail, Caesar Salad; Steak & Fries, and so forth. But where the chef does insert her personality, the dishes have a recognizably Caribbean tint.
Prices are a tad expensive for the neighborhood, but they’d be mid-range elsewhere in town. Appetizers, soups and salads are mostly $9–14, mains mostly $22–42, sides $7.
The chef does a great ceviche ($13; above left), with lemon, orange, mango, cilantro, and crispy onion. Sliders ($12; above right) come on warm, house-made rolls: one with provalone and sweet pepper; another with swiss cheese and chimichurri; a third with cheddar and aioli.
Scallops are terrific ($24; above left), served with polenta cakes, tomato relish, and shavings of dark chocolate and chili. Salmon ($24; above right) is all you could ask it to be. I especially liked the black wild rice, which took on an extra bittersweetness from a pineapple–tomato compote.
In relation to the food, the wine list is a bit expensive, with only two reds under $65 a bottle. Curiously, eight of the 28 bottles on the list are champagnes, so they must sell a lot of that. Perhaps they expect most reds and whites to sell by the glass: when I ordered a bottle, the server misunderstood and brought two glasses, which turned out to be enough, as we’d already had cocktails, and the pours were generous.
There were a couple of other minor service hiccups, but nothing I would complain about, and I’d love to try more of the chef’s food. On a Friday evening in November, the restaurant was well under half full, but I suspect it gets busier later on. The space is pleasant, comfortable, and easy on the eyes. So is the view, of course, and it’ll be even better in summer, as the sun is going down.
By The Hudson (712 W. 125th Street at Twelfth Avenue, Harlem)
Food: “Amer-ibbean” with a heavy dose of American standards
Service: Friendly, with the occasional misstep
Ambiance: A pretty room with ample Hudson River views