I thought Alison Eighteen would last longer. It turns out the goodwill accumulated at Alison on Dominick and her Hamptons restaurants did not travel with her to the new location.
I mention this, because Schenker may have to overcome similar challenges. The restaurant is on a charmless, lightly-traveled block. The newly-remodeled space is attractive and comfortable, but so was Alison Eighteen.
The food and service are better than Alison Eighteen. Schenker won rave reviews at Recette, a restaurant I underrated. I was peeved at the cookie-cutter décor and a small-plates format that refuses to die, but his execution was (and remains) top-notch.
The menu format here is more conventional, with starters $12–17, mains $20–40 (most in the $30s), and sides $8–10. Pastas are available in either appetizer or entrée portions. There are also separate menu sections for snacks, charcuterie, and cheeses. Yes, it’s a lot of categories, but at least the menu doesn’t leave you guessing. I’ll take it over “small plates” any day.
It’s nice to find a new restaurant where the beverage program arrives fully formed. The beer, wine and spirits list runs to 27 pages. The diversified international wine list offers bottles from $40 to the thousands, plenty at fair prices with decent bottle age, such as the excellent 2004 Rioja Alta “Viña Ardanza” (above left) at $72.
The food here is more conventional than at Recette. If you wanted to put a circa 2014 standard-issue American locavore menu into a time capsule, you could just as well chose this one as a few dozen others in town. But if none of the descriptions say “wow” in words alone, it’s all beautifully executed.
Suitable examples include a Calamari salad with snap peas, grapes, and cashews ($14; above left), or a poached duck egg with duck leg confit, plums, and pecorino ($15; above right).
Spaghetti and clams ($14, appetizer portion; above left), dusted with guanciale and fennel, were impeccable. Crusted fluke ($34; above right), with carrots, peas, a dash of lobster, and mussel broth, was a pleasure.
Service was friendly and attentive. I believe we were recognized, but it appeared other tables were treated the same. The restaurant was mostly full on a Wednesday evening, but so was Alison Eighteen, early in its run. The Gander is in every way an improvement. It might not be innovative, but it delivers on its promise. If any restaurant of this sort deserves to develop a following, this one does.
The Gander (15 W. 18th Street betwene Fifth & Sixth Avenues, Gramercy/Flatiron)
Food: American locavore cuisine, not inventive but well executed
Service: Friendly and attentive; slightly upscale
Ambiance: A spacious and comfortable, but slightly corporate-looking room