Saturday
Dec312005

Return to Danube

Note: Danube closed on August 2, 2008. It re-opened in October as Secession, a French brasserie with Italian and Austrian influences. The pseudo-Klimt décor remained in place, but with a more casual vibe. Secession closed in May 2009 after receiving scathing reviews. The space is supposed to re-open as a Japanese restaurant, Brushstroke.

*

I visited Danube for the second time last night. (An account of my first visit is here.) It remains a wonderful restaurant for a special occasion. The Klimt-inspired décor is a gem, although it occurred to me that curtains in the main dining room would be an improvement. It almost spoils the atmosphere to look out the windows and see gloomy Hudson Street outside.

Although Danube is a beautiful room—arguably one of the city’s nicest (it shares the top Zagat rating of 28 for décor)—it is not a large space. As at many New York restaurants, you could easily reach out and touch your neighbors at adjoining tables. Luckily, the room is not loud. I don’t know if it’s because diners are speaking in hushed tones, or because the heavy carpeting and tapestries absorb the sound.

There are three à la carte menus at Danube: Austrian, Modern Eclectic, and the Chef’s Market Choice. Each has two or three appetizers and anywhere between two and five main courses. You are not required to order your entire meal from the same menu. Appetizers are $9-19, but most are under $15. Mains are $26-35.

I should note that Danube has what they describe as a “tasting menu” at $85 ($155 with paired wines), but it is actually a four-course prix fixe (appetizer, fish, meat, dessert), with two or three options for each course. Anyhow, that’s not what we had on this occasion.

It is remarkable that you can have a very respectable meal at this fine restaurant for $35 total (before tax, tip, and beverages), if you order at the bottom end of the appetizers and entrées. Finding an inexpensive wine at Danube is more of a challenge, as nearly all of the selections on the long list are over $60. We found a very respectable burgundy right at $60. I thought the staff left me to struggle over the decision for rather a long time. At a restaurant of this calibre, a sommelier should come over without being asked.

The wonderful amuse bouche was a small cube of smoked salmon, with creme fraiche, cucumber salad, and mustard seed. This was a variation on the same amuse that I was served the last time. The server who deposited it at our table had an extremely thick accent, and we had to ask for the description twice.

The bread service was disappointing. Several choices of rolls were offered, but both that I tried were unimpressive. At Outback Steakhouse, you get a wonderful loaf of warm, freshly-baked pumpernickle bread. Why is it that so many high-end restaurants are content to serve perfunctory dinner rolls that were baked hours ago?

The food was a happier experience. I ordered from the Modern Eclectic menu. The restaurant is rather long-winded in its descriptions. Per the website, the appetizer was described as “Freshly Harpooned Sashimi Quality Bluefin and Hamachi Tuna, Key Lime Pickled Onion, Pumpkin Seed Oil and Sesame Mustard Dressing” ($14). This was a wonderful dish, rich and flavorful.

When the appetizer is this good, sometimes the entrée is an anti-climax, but not here. I ordered “Chestnut Honey Glazed Long Island Duck Breast with Wild Mushrooms, Corn Purée and Seared Foie Gras” ($31). The duck was luscious, tender, and enveloped in fat, while the foie gras was pure heaven.

For the record, my friend ordered two of the Austrian specialties, an Austrian ravioli ($11) and the Wiener Schnitzel ($30). She was pleased with both.

The tasting menu shows an “Elderflower Gelée with Lemon Verbena Sorbet” as a pre-dessert, and I believe this is what we were served. This was a palate-cleanser, which prepared us for the “Original Viennese Apple Strudel, Crème Anglaise and Tahitian Vanilla Ice cream” ($10). I thought this was just okay; nothing wrong with it, but rather forgettable.

Service was generally smooth and polished. Early on, I felt that we were being slightly rushed through our meal. We started with cocktails. It seemed like only a few moments had gone by, and we were placing our order, receiving the amuse, and inspecting the wine—with our cocktail glasses still half full. Yet, it was over two hours before when we left, so things slowed down considerably later on. As we departed, the staff handed us a blue Bouley bag containing a wonderful lemon coffeecake, which we enjoyed for breakfast the next morning.

While no one would call Danube inexpensive, overall it is very fairly priced for what you are getting. The New York Times ratings have been bastardized in recent years, and three stars isn’t quite what it used to be. Danube has truly earned every one of its three stars.

When Michelin’s New York City guide came out in November, eight restaurants received one of the two highest ratings. Seven of those restaurants either have now, or have had very recently, four stars from the New York Times. Danube was the eighth. What this basically means is that Danube is, in at least one reasonable opinion, the best restaurant in the city that has never had four stars from the Times. There are a handful of other plausible candidates, but I’ve certainly no argument with Danube’s extra Michelin star. It is one of the city’s best fine dining experiences.

Danube (30 Hudson Street at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

Food: ***
Service: **
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***

Wednesday
Dec282005

Angelo & Maxie's Steakhouse

Note: Angelo & Maxie’s closed in March 2011.

*

Angelo & Maxie’s Steakhouse offers a three-course lunch special for $20.99 till 3:00pm. For the appetizer, you get a tossed salad, caesar salad, or soup (today it was split pea). For the entrée, you get an 11 oz sirloin, an 8 oz filet, chicken breast, or salmon. I did not note the dessert options.

One of my super-scientific theories of fine dining is that you should never serve a salad with just one anchovy, as Angelo & Maxie’s did this afternoon. It looks like a mistake. The rest of the salad was competent, if you can excuse stale croutons, but there was one lonely, soggy anchovy. Had it wandered in uninvited from another salad, or was Angelo’s too cheap to put in another one or two of them?

One would guess that an 11-ounce sirloin is the black sheep of the steak family. The better sirloin cuts will have long since been taken by other restaurants, or for heftier portions at this restaurant. Mine arrived rare (rather than the medium rare I’d requested), and without the thick char on the outside that the better steakhouses have mastered. It was, however, a better hunk of beef than you get at Outback Steakhouse.

Well, what do you want for $20.99? Service was acceptable. The décor offers a nod to the faux art deco style, without actually committing itself to anything in particular. There is a cigar bar attached, which may be the most compelling reason to visit Angelo & Maxie’s. The restaurant is part of a six-city chain, and they’ve got their own brand of steak knives. If it’s great steak you want, you should buy a set, then take them up the road to Wolfgang’s.

A lunch special probably doesn’t show off Angelo & Maxie’s to its best advantage, so I’ll probably try it another time at dinner. But I won’t be in any rush.

Angelo & Maxie’s Steakhouse (233 Park Avenue South at 19th Street, Gramercy/Flatiron District)

Food: Satisfactory
Service: Satisfactory
Ambiance: Satisfactory
Overall: Satisfactory

Tuesday
Dec272005

City Crab & Seafood Company

The red neon sign at the corner of Park Avenue South and 19th St beckons me every time I drive by it in a taxi. I gave City Crab & Seafood Company a try last night, mainly because my ten-year-old son is fond of very few foods, but crab happens to be one of them.

The space, on three levels, is massive — outfitted like an upscale beach town fish joint. Both Ruth Reichl and Eric Asimov reviewed it for the Times, and both of them said that it is loud when crowded. It was decidedly not crowded last night, although Boxing Day is probably atypical for a restaurant that caters to a business lunch crowd. We were seated at a high-top table with bar stool chairs, which was comfortable enough, but a curious choice given the many other empty tables.

City Crab is one of those places that offers every seafood entrée grilled, broiled, sauteed, fried, or blackened. I chose the blackened scallops, since I’d never had scallops that way before. I wasn’t disappointed to receive five good-sized scallops (plus rice pilaf and cole slaw) for just $19.99. The heat of the cajun spices pretty much defined the dish, but I expected that.

I foolishly allowed my son to be upsold on the crab legs. They were $29.99 a pound, which the server said was just three legs. “Most people get a pound and a half,” he said. So we ordered that much, which turned out to be a massive, $45 portion. Even my son, who is not especially price conscious, recognized the wretched excess. He could have had a new video game for that amount. The struggle to prize the meat from the claws eventually wore him out. Even the typical adult probably wouldn’t have finished.

The bread service was better than many higher-end restaurants, and I was especially impressed with the dessert menu. It was printed with the current date, and there was a named pastry chef, which I wouldn’t have expected at this type of restaurant. My son particularly liked the oreo ice cream cake, which was perhaps the most impressive thing that we tried.

Service was generally attentive until, most curiously, after we’d received our dessert. Finding our waiter to request a check proved to be a challenge, and we had a movie to catch. Thanks mainly to that ridiculous crab order, dinner for two was $80 before tax and tip.

City Crab & Seafood Company (235 Park Avenue South at 19th Street, Gramercy)

Food: Satisfactory
Service: Satisfactory
Ambiance: *
Overall: Satisfactory

Saturday
Dec242005

Posto Envy

It’s the hottest new restaurant of the season—this year’s equivalent of Per Se. Yes, it’s Del Posto. Once upon a time, it would have been madness to open an upscale restaurant anywhere on 10th Avenue. Now, it’s the home of Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich’s “out-and-out bid for four-star recognition in a town where, as far as Italian restaurants go, three’s the max.” A $29 valet parking charge is the only nod to the restaurant’s out-of-the-way location.

Frank Bruni had a preview piece in the December 7th Times. The restaurant wasn’t open yet, although with a swipe at the overlong menu, the setup for a three-star review is in place:

Expect $240 rack of veal, $220 shoulder of pork and a $200 whole king salmon for four to eight people, to be carved within view of the table, in a flourish of high ceremony from the Old World.

The proposed menu lists nearly 20 antipasti. It has more than a dozen pasta dishes, one with a jalapeño pesto, another with a tripe ragù, another with partridge.

And there will be more than 15 other entrees, including duck wrapped in porchetta; guinea hen with pumpkin; squab with wild arugula.

One can see where Bruni is coming from: none of the current four-star restaurants has so many items on the menu. Common sense suggests that when the kitchen is trying to do so many things well, there will be a few clunkers. Here’s an early look at that long menu (hat tip: chowhound):

Antipasti —
PRESERVED TOMATOES, GRAPES, RADISHES AND BOTTARGA 17
FIRE ROASTED PEPPERS and A SARDINE 13
CAULIFLOWER SFORMATO with Skate Salad 15
COTECCHINO with Lentils and Aceto Tradizionale di Modena 18
GRILLED RADICCHIO TREVISANO with Fonduta 15
VEGETABLE FRITTO MISTO with Bagna Cauda 15
CARCIOFI alla Romana 13
FUNGHI MISTI with Puntarelle 15
SEAFOOD SALAD with Seaweed 19
SWORDFISH CARPARCCIO with Lemon and Borage 17
CUTTLEFISH and OCTOPUS in Zimino 16
RUCOLA with Shaved Goat Cheese and Three Frichi 14
TUNA, RADICCHIO, BORLOTTI and Agresto 13
VEAL SWEETBREADS Picata 16
SALUMI MISTI with Erbazzone 18
FOUR ASSAGI DI PROSCIUTTO 17

Primi —
PASTA e FAGIOLI 12
RIBOLLITA 12
SPAGHETTI with Crab, Scallions, and Jalapeno 27
RICOTTA and CHARD NUDI with Caciocavallo 21
AGNOLOTTI dal Plin 23
BUCATINI alla Gricia 18
RAVIOLI di Brasato with Brown Butter and Thyme 23
PICI with Cibreo and Black Truffles 30
FRANCOBOLLI di Sugo Finto with Tripe alla Toscana 23
GNOCCHI with Passato and Pesto 19
ORECCHIETTE with Fennel Sausage and Swiss Chard 19
PENNETTE with Skate and Fiorentina Tomatoes 19
PAPPARDELLE with Wild Boar 21
TAGLIATELLE VERDE al Ragu Bolognese 20
BIS Two Tastes of Pasta Shared by the Whole Table 21/person
TRIS Three Tastes of Pasta Shared by the Whole Table 25/person

Risotto for 2 or more —
RISSOTO with Pumpkin and Lardo 50
RISSOTO with Porcini
RISSOTO with Lobster
RISSOTO with Barolo and Castelmagno

Secondi —
ORATA in Cartoccio with Salicornia, Sweet Potatoes, and Puntarelle 27
CACCIUCCO del Posto 29
SWORDFISH Trapanese with Wild Spanish 28
COD with Hake Mantecato and Clam Salad 28
SQUAB with Wild Arugula and Sagrantino Vinegar 30
DUCK in Porchetta with Savor and Celery 29
RABBIT with Peppers Agrodolce and Eggplant 28
GRILLED PORK CHOP with Cipolline and Cardoon Puree 28
CALVES LIVER alla Veneziana with Polenta, Onions, and Brovada 27
LAMB THREE WAYS Roman Style 30
LAMB’S KIDNEYS Trifolati with Porcini, Scorzonero, and Hot Peppers 27
GRILLED ROMBO for 2 with Stuffed Onions Briciolate 70
STINCO DI VITELLO for 2 with Spaetzle and Krauti 70
VEAL RACK for 2 with Chestnuts, Shiitake, and Black Truffles 85
COSTOLETTA DI MANZO for 2 with Cesare’s Beans and Escarole 100

Per il Tavolo —
LEG OF LAMB with Carciofi, Almonds, and Rutabagas 210
PORK LOIN al Arista with Wild Fennel AND Fig Conserva
MIXED GRILL from the Macellaio for 6 with Chicory Salad 230
SALT-BAKED ARCTIC CHAR with Cauliflower Ragu and Panelle 220

Dolci —
GIANDUIA 15
Chocolate-Hazelnut, Caramelized Pears, Creme Schlag

BUDINO di Fichi 15
Warm Fig Pudding, Pomegranate Sorbetto, Zabaglione, Salty Caramel

KREMESCHNITTE 15
Semolina Mousse, Celery Marmellata, Celery-Apple Sorbetto

CROSTATA di CIOCCOLATO 15
Chocolate Tart, Orange Buttermilk Gelato, Cardamom Spuma

APRICOT CASSATA di Gelato 15
Almond cake, Brown Sugar Meringue, Apricot-Moscato Brodo

STRUDEL for 2 30
Cranberry and Apple Strudel, Stracchino Gelato, Apple Cider Concentrate

SPUMONE al Caffe e Cioccolato 15
Amaretto Crumbs, Coffee and Chocolate Cream

PALACINKE 15
Chesnut Crepes, Persimmon Semifreddo, Rum Glassato

GELATI e SORBETTI del Giorno 12
Three Tastes of our Housemade Gelati or Sorbetti

There are also two tasting menus at $120 each. I’d love to try that $210 leg of lamb, although it’s apparently a portion for six.

Gotham Gal says:

First of all, the restaurant is incredibly beautiful. You feel special the minute you walk in the door. The only other restaurant that has the intense warm high class feeling is the Four Seasons Grill room. Warm colors, great light. Everyone will look beautiful. There are few things that they did which were very clever. There is a large foyer down the middle of the restaurant which leads to a staircase and behind that is a glass enclosed kitchen. I would bet that 200 people could cook in there at the same time. It’s enormous. On the right hand side there are tables for groups of 2-4 people. On the left side of the restaurant is the bar area which has sweet couches and a long sweeping bar. Up the stairs, on the left is seating for parties of 6 or more. In essence, the loud parties can’t bother the intimate dinners for 2-4. Very clever.

Friday
Dec232005

Au Revoir V Steakhouse

V Steakhouse, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s high temple of Niman Ranch beef at the Time-Warner Center, is closing tomorrow. Vongerichten told the Times, “We were not doing enough business to make it pay for the rent.”

The restaurant’s business model was dubious from the start. Charging almost $70 for steaks available elsewhere for $40, V Steakhouse had to be almost impossibly good; it was merely average. Service was excellent, and V’s appetizers were well above the typical steakhouse fare, but a thirty-dollar premium for the entrées just wasn’t going to cut it.

Frank Bruni’s one-star review for the Times may have seemed unduly harsh at the time, but Bruni was prescient when he complained of “Elaborate Dishes, Assembly Required.” I was not impressed with V Steakhouse, particularly at its outrageous price point.

The original concept of Time-Warner’s “Restaurant Collection” was to create five restaurants under one roof that would all contend for three or four stars from the Times. Two of them in fact achieved the top rating: Per Se and Masa. Café Gray is apparently successful, despite a two-star spanking from Bruni. But Vongerichten has now failed, and the fifth tenant, Charlie Trotter, never materialized, due to escalating construction costs.

Kenneth Himmel, who operates the mall for Related Urban Development, says he’s now looking for a different kind of restaurant to fill the space. He told the Times, “It has to be a bistro or brasserie, a kind of neighborhood place. We have to get food and beverage that people can eat every day and not just for special occasions into this building.”

V Steakhouse’s quasi-bordello space now goes to the scrap heap.

Thursday
Dec222005

davidburke & donatella

Note: Click here for a more recent review of this restaurant, which has been renamed David Burke Townhouse.

Once upon a time, David Burke and Donatella Arpaia opened a hot little restaurant on the Upper East Side. They called it davidburke & donatella. The food was inventive and terrific. The space was noisy, but when the food was this good, who cared? It was packed every night. Flushed with success, Arpaia opened her own place in Soho (the undistinguished Ama). Burke took over the catering operation at nearby Bloomingdale’s, launched a steakhouse in Chicago, and started planning another in Manhattan.

With all of this extra-curricular activity going on, is anyone minding the store at the flagship restaurant that bears both their names? My experience last night suggests that one or both of them needs to start spending more time at East 61st St, ere DB&D becomes a sad caricature of itself. I still have fond memories of my first visit (eighteen months ago), but the restaurant is now misfiring.

This was a year-end celebratory dinner with two friends who live in Boston, but have been working in New York. We knew that the transit strike would make it difficult to get uptown, and my friends suggested that we cancel. However, I was determined to keep the date. We hailed a cab immediately, but the driver had first to drop off somebody else, which required a bit of a detour. In all, it was about a 90-minute trip from our TriBeCa office to the restaurant, more than double than normal. Exasperated with the traffic, we left our cab behind at 57th & Park, and walked the last five blocks. (FYI, taxis during the strike are charging per person by the number of fare zones crossed; we were charged $15 apiece — $5 times three zones.)

Transit strike notwithstanding, DB&D was fully booked. They graciously honored our reservation, although we were 40 minutes late. The noise level was just as I had remembered it: practically deafening. The server dropped off an amuse bouche, but we couldn’t hear his description of it. We were barely able to ascertain that it contained no pork (which my companions do not eat). It was a small pastry filled with some kind of tangy meat—but what?

The wonderful bread service that I wrote about last time remains the same. (“Bread arrives — cooked in its own copper casserole, and steaming hot. The butter comes as a modern art sculpture that you almost regret cutting into.”)

My companions are identical twins, and they ordered identically. They started with grilled oysters, which they described as unpleasantly gooey, and left unfinished. I had the Scallops “Benedict” ($15). This was two fried egg yolks, each atop a scallop, atop a slice of bacon, atop a potato pancake: in short, about two ingredients too many; a promising idea run amok. The bacon was salty and tough, as if left over from breakfast the day before.

My companions did better than I for the main course. They had the Lobster “Steak” with curried shoestring potatoes ($40). They got an enormous helping of lobster, shaped like a fillet mignon, with which they were quite happy. Alas, I had no joy with the Halibut “T-Bone” ($38), which came with lobster dumplings that were both tough and gummy. The halibut was bland, and the portion was small.

Although the restaurant has been open just two years, there is already a section of the dessert menu labeled “DBD Classics,” from which we ordered. My companions shared the famous cheesecake lollipop tree ($16), while I had the coconut layer cake ($10). This was the only course that all of us found successful, and the only part of the meal that I’ll remember with any fondness.

David Burke was in the restaurant last night, but he was in civilian clothes, talking on his cell phone. He’s obviously not minding his kitchen, and he’s not minding his website either. Visit http://www.dbdrestaurant.com/, and you’ll be reminded that “Thanksgiving is just around the corner.” (It is Dec. 22 as I write this.) There are bugs in the site, and it takes several frustrating clicks to get to the online menu, which is outdated anyway. (The first click brings up David Burke’s spring recipies, instead of a menu. The second click brings up a section called “Our Little Nest.” Another click, and finally you see the menu.)

We wondered how difficult it would be to get a taxi home. Although there are plenty of taxis out, you can’t easily tell whether they’re available, because the meters aren’t running during the strike. As we were all rather full, we decided to walk off some of the calories, and see how far we got. In the end, we just kept walking. It was about two hours from 61st & Lex to John & Gold, or about 6-7 miles in 30-degree weather. But it was a lot more pleasant than sitting in a taxi.

As I observed last time, the tables at DB&D are packed as tightly as can be. Our table was near the front door, in front of the bar, and a long walk from the kitchen. Our server was pleasant and tried hard, but she was obviously very busy, and there were long stretches when we didn’t see her. I ordered a glass of wine to go with the appetizers. I would have ordered a second glass of wine, but by the time she re-appeared the meal was almost over, and I didn’t bother. They did manage to keep our water glasses replenished.

Marian Burros of the Times rated DB&D at two stars. On the strength of my first visit, I thought that the restaurant arguably deserved three. On the weakness of last night’s visit, it would earn only one. The bill for three was $228.50 before tax and tip, and there was only one alcoholic beverage (my glass of Riesling) in that amount. At these prices, DB&D needs to do better. For now, I would give the food two stars for good intentions, but only one for execution.

Food: *½
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½

Monday
Dec192005

All Caught Up on Restaurant Reviews

I’m now all caught up with posting my restaurant reviews, after a year in which I posted rather irregularly. Regardless of the posting date, all reviews were written within a few days of the visit. Most of the reviews are on eGullet also, although the ratings appear only on this site.

The ratings are my impression of what a restaurant critic should award, if the restaurant always performed as it did when I visited. (In most cases, I have only one visit to go on, and obviously a professional review would need to be based on several visits.) My rating system is the same one-to-four star scale that the New York Times employs, although I allow half-stars. I also rate food/service/ambiance separately, in addition to providing an overall rating.

Monday
Dec192005

Gotham Bar & Grill

You could eat for a month at restaurants helmed by chefs who trained under Alfred Portale, whose Gotham Bar & Grill is one of New York’s iconic restaurants. After twenty years, Portale still delivers one of the most satisfying dining experiences you can have in this city. On a Wednesday night in November 2004, Gotham was packed.

I started with the Gingerbread Crusted Foie Gras ($24), which was probably the best foie gras dish I’ve had. Who else would have thought of putting such a humble ingredient as gingerbread on foie gras? It was ingenious.

It was really tough to choose an entrée, as every item on the menu sounded good. I chose the Rack of Lamb ($39), which I suppose is a boring choice, but when in doubt the lamb will never disappoint. It came with two generous double-cut chops, mind-blowingly tender, and a potato puree that was a bit underwhelming. Portale’s trademark is that he plates dishes vertically, so it was no surprise to have the chops delivered with the bones pointed upward, leaning against a potato tower.

Service was impeccable. This struck me right at the beginning, when I took the plastic stirring stick out of my vodka & tonic, and laid it on the table. It can’t have taken more than 30 seconds for someone to notice this, and come take the little stick off the table.

My only complaint is the bread—a fist-sized wad of dough that seemed to have been baked many hours before. The crust had long since turned to concrete. If Kentucky Fried Chicken can turn out fresh, warm bread, why can’t a three-star restaurant?

Gotham Bar & Grill (12 East 12th Street btwn Fifth Avenue and University Place, Greenwich Village)

Food: ***
Service: ***½
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***

Monday
Dec192005

Nice Matin

Nice Matin is beautiful to look at, but the entrées need some work.

I ordered Sole “Milanese”. It came inundated in an arugula salad of fennel, oranges, onions and olives. The salad was mentioned on the menu, but there was no mention it would be piled so high that you wouldn’t know a fish was buried underneath. After some industrious digging I found the poor sole, which was not far removed from McDonald’s filet-o’-fish.

Another of my companions ordered the grilled sea bass, which she described as oily and over-cooked. My mother had a halibut dish that’s not shown on the online menu. She said it was fine, but not at all what the description led her to expect.

When we arrived, we were seated at a table so small and cramped that it would have been more at home at a cocktail bar. They agreed to move us, but we still ended up at one of the more claustrophobic tables for three that I’ve encountered at a legitimate restaurant.

Nice Matin has the same chef, Andy D’Amico, as the dearly departed Sign of the Dove. When it opened, the critics generally were enthusiastic. William Grimes, never easy to please, was sufficiently enchanted to award two stars, which would be unusual for such a casual restaurant, even if the food were better. We didn’t try one of the most praised dishes, the beef short ribs. However, on the strength of this performance, I don’t expect to be back anytime soon.

Nice Matin (201 W. 79th Street at Amsterdam Avenue, Upper West Side)

Food: Fair
Service: Satisfactory
Ambiance: Fair
Overall: Fair

Monday
Dec192005

LCB Brasserie Rachou

Note: The Department of Health closed LCB Brasserie in March 2007, after it failed an inspection with 80 violations. Initially, there was a sign in the window that it was “closed for minor alterations.” But after a couple of months, owner Jean-Jacques Rachou decided to cash out and retire. Alain Ducasse bought the space, which has re-opened as Benoit, a clone of one of Ducasse’s Paris restaurants.

*

LCB Brasserie Rachou is an odd hybrid between the four-star destination that La Côte Basque once was, and the informal brasserie that it now aspires to be. The serving staff (many of whom pre-date the flood) are attentive and très correctement. The china and flatware would be at home in any three- or four-star restaurant. The patrons are all monsieur et madame. Every dish is served with a silver half-moon cover, which is removed with the obligatory voila!

I ordered a cassoulet, while my mother ordered rack of lamb. Both of us were delighted. (I would note that the lamb came with four chops, which is generous as compared to the three I was served at Gotham Bar & Grill.) To accompany, we ordered a $35 cabernet that I reckon would have been $50 in many restaurants. In a restaurant of this calibre, $35 for almost any bottle is a steal.

Most entrées are over $25, and many are over $30, making LCB Brasserie a bit pricey for a two-star restaurant, but for traditional French favorites it still offers an experience that has become scarce in Manhattan. I would happily return.

LCB Brasserie Rachou (60 W. 55th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves., West Midtown)

Food: **
Service: ***
Ambiance: **
Overall: **