Note: Well, that was fast. Après closed just nine days after our visit, and before I got around to hitting “publish” on this review. Après wasn’t busy, and we thought it needed to get customers—pronto. That didin’t work out for them. We still think chef Mazen Mustafa is a talent who’ll be a success somewhere else, and so, for the record, we’re happy to recognize his all-too-brief tenure here. After a renovation, the space re-opened as Unidentified Flying Chickens.


Remember Apiary, the East Village restaurant with Scott Bryan, the former Veritas chef, in the kitchen? We gave it zero stars in 2009, and Eater deathwatched it in 2010, a judgment they reversed in 2012.

Turns out they had the right idea but the wrong sell-by date. Bryan left in April 2014, Apiary closed in May 2014, and after a brief renovation, it reopened as Après with chef Mazen Mustafa, Paul Liebrandt’s former top lieutenant at both Corton and The Elm.

Owner Jenny Moon was smart to recognize that a new name was far more likely to be reviewed than a new chef under the previous name. Aside from that, she changed very little. The outdoor signage uses the same typeface as before, allowing the letters ‘a’ and ‘p’ to be re-used. (I am just kidding: the sign appears to be new, although the typeface is indeed the same.) Inside, Après’ décor is extremely similar to the generic Lower Manhattan upscale casual I remember at Apiary.

Mustafa serves recognizably Liebrandtish cuisine, and if it’s not quite as good as his mentor’s best work, it is considerably less expensive than any Liebrandt restaurant in recent memory. On an à la carte menu with no clear division between appetizers and entrées, there are eleven items priced between $14–24; desserts are all $9.

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General Assembly

Note: General Assembly quickly flopped, and closed in September 2014. The transfer of the same owners’ Park Avenue [name-your-season] concept from its original location (where it lost its lease) has replaced it. This will be the third concept in the space in a matter of a few short years. Park Avenue was a long-term success in its first home, so if it fails here, I have to think the owners will give up on the location.


For about 10 minutes in 2010, it looked like Tiki Bars were going to make a comeback. Hurricane Club was the glitziest of them all, a 250-seat behemoth that could’ve put Tahiti out of business. If it had worked.

By mid-2013, it was called Hurricane Steak and Sushi, and by late 2013 it was kaput. What must’ve been the most expensive AvroKO design concept ever was hauled out to trash, and replaced with another expensive AvroKO design concept called General Assembly.

The bright, airy space is an Art Nouveau revival. The cuisine is either “a market-driven grill” or “a bistro with . . . French and Italian influences.” It’s a crowd-pleaser without a point of view. Craig Koketsu, the corporate chef at Fourth Wall Restaurants, has long since proven that he can run a competent kitchen, and he does so here. If there are no revelations on the menu, there are no weak spots either. It won’t enter the culinary conversation, but most diners in its target demographic will go home happy.

During our visit, the restaurant was subjected to one of the few forms of legalized terrorism, a visit from the Department of Health. For the record, GA’s predecessor, Hurricane Club (with the same operators), earned an “A” grade a year ago. A repeat visit in January netted just 2 violation points. Three of its four sister restaurants currently have “A” grades; one has a “B”.

Despite this exemplary record, an inspector shut down the whole restaurant between 6:00 and 8:30pm on a Friday evening. No parties were seated. At the bar, the staff tossed all of the prepared sodas and syrups, apparently as a precautionary measure. Wine and beer were served on the house, while they awaited the all-clear. After a couple of hours, runners brought out canapés, free of charge. I was determined to support the restaurant, but by then many parties with reservations gave up and left. General Assembly passed its inspection, but I’ll bet the visit cost them $10,000 or more in lost business and food/drinks both given and thrown away.

This is not the first time I’ve visited a perfectly safe restaurant during a DOH inspection, and it is not unusual. In 2013, the DOH shut down La Grenouille twice during dinner service (once with then-Mayor Bloomberg present), both times renewing its “A” grade (see stories here, here). These terror inspections at perfectly clean establishments ruin dinner for dozens or even hundreds of people, and impose huge costs on restaurant operators.

Due to the length of our wait, and perhaps because I was recognized, General Assembly comped the entire meal for our party of four. (I couldn’t tell for sure if anyone else was comped.) The online menu does not show prices, and we didn’t receive a bill. As I recall, prices were in line with other Fourth Wall places, with entrées generally in the $20s and $30s, and some steaks above that level.


The bread (above left), served warm in a cast-iron pan, was terrific. We started with the Raclette (above right), which came with sliced meats, grilled potatoes, and pickled vegetables.


I didn’t try the Sea Bass with avocado, snow peas and shiitake (above left), but our friend seemed pleased with it. Lamb Ribs (above right) were terrific, but the menu failed to state that this is an extremely spicy dish, which I wouldn’t have minded, but the companion who ordered it did.


Wendy wasn’t that hungry, so she ordered a soft-shell crab appetizer as her main course (above left), and was quite satisfied. I ordered the duck confit with gingered kumquats and apricots (above right), a good preparation of this classic dish.


Three of us ordered desserts. I didn’t note the description of the first two, but my own choice, the lemon–blueberry chiffon ice cream (far right, above) was a fine way to end the meal.

A DOH visit makes for a stressful evening. The staff handled it calmly, keeping us abreast of the situation while we waited, and serving us promptly after it was over. I wouldn’t call General Assembly an ambitious restaurant in any sense, but it offered exactly the kind of experience our guests wanted. It took two hours more than we’d planned, but I’m glad we offered our support while the health department terrorist inspector shut down a perfectly safe restaurant for no reason.

General Assembly (360 Park Avenue South at 26th Street, Gramercy/Flatiron)



Note: Just four months after opening night, chef Craig Hopson and creative director Frank Roberts left the restaurant, citing “creative differences.” Just a month earlier, a New York Post article described the place as a “playpen for millionaires.” Whether it can retain its cachet without Hopson or Roberts remains to be seen.


A high-gloss restaurant opens in midtown, with white tablecloths, glistening chandeliers, a mirrored staircase, a grand piano, rose petal wallpaper, Jean Paul Gualtier fabrics, plush suede seating, and a décor modeled on Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment.

No, it is not 2004. Welcome to Beautique, which opened last month in a subterranean space adjoining the Paris Theater, just behind the Plaza Hotel and steps away from Central Park.

The question here is not whether the chef, Craig Hopson, can run a kitchen worthy of such a luxurious setting. He more than proved himself, first as Terrance Brennan’s chef de cuisine at Picholine from 2003–07, and then at Le Cirque from 2008–12.

No, the question is who exactly will be the core constituency for a restaurant so resolutely contrary to every current trend. I’d love to see it succeed, but I’m not blind to fashion, and cheerleading from this blog doesn’t matter.

The Central Park South ecosystem has not been friendly to restaurants. It’s a place they go to die, or at best, to be forgotten. In the last decade, only Marea has opened in this neighborhood, and been both a critical and commercial success.

If Beautique wants to be taken seriously, a few easy fixes are in order. It certainly looks shady when, less than a month after opening, the online menus are revised to omit prices. They have nothing to be ashamed of. For the neighborhood, it is not really that expensive, with appetizers $14–19, entrées $29–39, side dishes $9, and desserts $12.

On a menu that pretends the last ten years never happened, there’s no tasting menu, no snacks, sharing plates, or large-format entrées for two. Not that I object to any of this, but I can well imagine the critical reaction.

As I recall, the 200-bottle wine list was fairly priced in relation to the food: a 2005 Château du Grand Bos (above left) was $86, a shade under 3 times retail, and the staff decanted it. But why is the list not online? Just because the décor is from another era, does not mean the technology must be.

Frank Roberts, formerly of Rose Bar, is the general manager here. One might assume that he superintends the cocktail program, and it’s a good one (even if expensive, at $19 a pop). There’s a mixture of slightly-tweaked classics (Bellini, French 75) and house recipes.

The appealing bread service (above right) came with hummus, but there was no amuse bouche, which a restaurant of Beautique’s apparent ambitions ought to have.


Although everything is capably prepared, there’s not much critic bait on the menu—the sort of dishes that set pulses racing from their descriptions alone. A Crab Flan ($19; above right) is one of the exceptions, with chunks of pork belly in a malt caramel sauce. More typical is a soft-shell crab ($19; above left) appetizer: first rate and technically correct, but you’ve seen it before.


You can’t go wrong with the Scallops ($32; above left) with a foie gras sabayon, shitake mushrooms, and turnips in a diablo sauce. A Lamb Mixed Grill ($38; above right) was served five ways, of which three stood out (bacon, sausage, and chop).


The pastry chef is Jiho Kim, formerly of Gordon Ramsay at the London. His work here is superb, assuming his Mascarpone Custard ($12; above left) is any guide.

The design by Marc Dizon and Valerie Pasquiou is stunning. You already knew that. There’s a comfortable bar, two dining rooms (we were seated in the smaller “oval room”), a private dining area, and a spacious lounge that was not open when we visited.

Despite the luxury design, the basement space can feel a bit gloomy when empty, as it was on the early side of the dinner hour, on a Wednesday evening. By the time we left, it was a bit over half full, and felt more energetic. The service is a bit retro: I can’t remember the last time outside of France that I was called monsieur, but the staff are relatively unobtrusive. Dishes are presented without the slightest explanation, and that is that.

The decision to open a restaurant that practically ignores contemporary fashion is obviously deliberate. I don’t mind it at all, though I suspect many will. If Beautique wants to revive the service model of another era, there shouldn’t be any half-measures. Put your prices and wine list on the website, and take credit for offering something that no one lately has done.

Beautique (8 W. 58th Street, west of Sixth Avenue)

Food: Old-school luxurious French-influenced cuisine
Service: Polished and unobtrusive
Ambiance: A series of rooms modeled on Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment

Rating: ★½


Luksus at Tørst

Luksus is the latest beachhead of the New Nordic invasion of New York, joining such standouts as Acme, Aska, Skál, and Atera. All are helmed by chefs who worked (even if only briefly) at the Danish restaurant Noma, No. 1 on the deeply flawed, but much watched, S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list.

The 26-seat restaurant is in the back room of Tørst (pictured above), an upscale beer hall in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. While you wait for your table, you can order one of 21 beers on draft (hundreds by the bottle), which are drawn from taps lined up against a marble wall, with wooden handles stained from light to dark, matching the colors of the drinks that come out of them.

The owner, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, has a love affair with beer: he serves no other alcoholic beverage, and the size of his cellar would make many a sommelier flush with envy. The taps are powered by a device called the flux capacitor (named for Doc Brown’s fictional contraption in the Back to the Future series), which can adjust the nitrogen and carbon dioxide mix of each tap, and maintain the beers at any of four different temperatures.

The pint-sized dining room seats just 26, six at a bar facing an open kitchen, and twenty at tiny tables more suited to a cocktail lounge. Finding room for beer bottles, glassware, and a cavalcade of artful plates, is a Rubik’s Cube puzzle that the servers solve adeptly, all evening long.

Chef Daniel Burns serves a frequently-changing tasting menu with no choices, which was $75 last July, but has since risen to $95 after a series of overwhelmingly positive reviews, including three stars from Adam Platt in New York. Curiously, the Times has not yet weighed in.

Both the plating style and the ingredients are instantly recognizable as New Nordic, with combinations of flavors not normally found together, such as lamb sweetbreads with hay gribiche, or a dessert of beetroot and licorice. Root vegetables and flowers are in starring roles, with smoked this or pickled that, Many of these experiments work. Some fail miserably.

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You have to admire the effort behind Narcissa, chef John Fraser’s new restaurant in The Standard East Village hotel. The space is lovely, and well put-together. But we’ve been down this road before, and it usually doesn’t end well.

By my count, Narcissa is the fifth restaurant at this address since 2009. It’s built on the dead bodies of Table 8, Faustina, The Trilby, and The Restaurant at The Standard East Village.

In 2011, André Balzacs acquired the building (formerly the Cooper Square Hotel) and incorporated it into his chain of boutique hotels. His other New York property (straddling the High Line) has been a hit—it’s not my taste, but I respect it—and no doubt he thought that he could spread his pixie dust on the other side of town.

For the main restaurant (there is also a casual café), Balzacs followed a formula that has already bombed here twice, bringing in a respected chef who could fill seats on name recognition alone. First it was Govind Armstrong at Table 8, then Scott Conant at Faustina. Now it’s John Fraser, whose quiet Upper West Side restaurant Dovetail has a Michelin star. Let’s hope they have better luck this time.

According to the website, Fraser is serving “California cuisine with new techniques of roasting, rotisserie and slow-cooking.” Does that set your pulse racing? Nah, me neither. I didn’t notice any “new techniques,” but Fraser has mastered the old ones. The restaurant is named for a cow on Balzacs’ upstate farm, which supplies much of the produce.

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Ariana Soho

A restaurant run by a pop singer is usually not destined for great success. Ariana Grinblat, known in Russia as just “Ariana,” hopes to change that.

The self-described “foodie at heart” says that “Russian food in the U.S. has remained stagnant for the last 100 years while cuisine in Russia continues to evolve and transform.” At Ariana Soho, her aim is to “shock your senses, and redefine what you thought you knew about Russian food.”

Born in Houston to Russian parents, Ms. Grinblat divided her childhood between the U.S. and Russia (she speaks English without an accent). I know nothing about Russian R&B, but Ms. Grinblat is obviously successful, winning “6 Russian Grammys” (the first of them while she was still in high school), “3 Song of the Year Awards, an MTV Europe Music Award Nomination for Best Russian Act, and a platinum debut album selling over 500,000 units.”

This is not one of those celebrity restaurants where the nominal owner appears for a photo-op, and is never seen again. Nearly three months after opening, on a rainy weeknight in late April, with no more than 10 customers present, Ms. Grinblatt was there all evening, dressed rather more chastely than in the photo.

She and her husband/co-owner, Lev Schnur, have their work cut out for them. The 2,000-square-foot space is divided into four rooms, three of which were totally empty when we visited, and even in the fourth there was not much energy. No professional critic has reviewed it. Where are the throngs of Russian ex-pats that have filled Mari Vanna since it opened?

There clearly is potential here. The serene back dining room with a spectacular skylight, contemporary art work, and generously-spaced seating with white tablecloths, lacks only for customers. A curtained grotto at the back of the restaurant, with a gas fireplace, could be one of the city’s most romantic tables, if only people knew about it.

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Bar Bolonat

It took a while for the chef Einat Admony to follow-up Balaboosta, her hit Middle Eastern spot in NoLIta. There were the usual issues with permits and the city’s bureaucratic Department of Buildings. What should’ve taken six months took more than twice that. It’s a wonder anyone opens a restaurant in this town.

Bar Bolonat, which opened in March, offers Admony’s take on the modern Israeli cuisine of her native Tel Aviv. Judging by the crowds, you’d have to wonder why no one thought of this idea sooner. Of course, execution matters. The cooking is more precise and precious than at Balaboosta, but with a rustic soul that is immediately accessible and of-the-moment.

Some of her ideas are less inspired. A restaurant called Bar ______ that is not really a bar is so very 2009. I only wish that were true of Bar Bolonat’s other conceit, a small-plates menu, consisting of plates of unpredictable sizes, which the kitchen sends out in no coherent order, as and when they are ready, regardless of whether you are. Why couldn’t that tired concept have expired in 2009?

But if it must be a small-plates menu, at least it is a good one. The present menu is a tightly-edited list of 14 savory dishes in three bunches (lightest to heaviest). The categories are unlabeled, but they seem to be sort-of-snacks ($6–12), sort-of-starters ($9–16), and sort-of-entrées ($23–31). No guesswork is required to identify the last category, the three desserts ($10–12), which we didn’t try.

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Rôtisserie Georgette

Who’d have thought that a French restaurant that serves meats on a rôtisserie would be one of the breakout hits of 2014?

Georgette Farkas thought so. After 17 years as Daniel Boulud’s head of in-house PR, she left last year to open Rôtisserie Georgette on the Upper East Side, steps away from Central Park South and the posh Fifth and Madison Avenue shopping districts.

It might strike you as an obvious move, but according to the Post’s Steve Cuozzo (who awarded three stars), there hasn’t been a French rôtisserie restaurant in New York since D’Artagnan in 2001—and that one didn’t last long. But Farkas’ instincts were spot-on: Rôtisserie Georgette is consistently full, and I had a tougher time booking it than almost any restaurant I’ve visited in the last year.

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Note: This is a review under the opening chef, Ben Spiegel. James Kim replaced him in June 2014. The Village Voice filed a favorable review later that year.


First you have to figure out how to get there, a streetcorner on the edge of the city, where Chinatown meets the Lower East Side. It took me to the last subway station below Central Park that I’d never been to (East Broadway), then a couple of disorienting wrong turns till I found it.

Finally, there it is: Skál, with its box-shaped dining room giving off a warm glow, in an area where most of the storefronts are barricaded shut during the evening. Look a bit closer, and there’s a trendy bar or two, and on the street, plenty of revelers with a purpose, heading to their next watering stop. The busier part of the Lower East Side is four blocks to the north.

You can see faint glimmers of what the New Yorker meant in 2003, when it reviewed Les Enfants Terribles, the last restaurant to occupy this space: “It’s nice that the Manhattan tradition of opening a restaurant in an impossibly lonely, graffiti-bombed corner of town is still in effect.”

A decade later, as it prepared to close, the website Bowery Boogie lamented that, “The Ludlow corridor has become that temple of doom situation, whereby the heart and soul of the neighborhood is being categorically stripped by the hand of gentrification.”

No, it’s not grandma’s Lower East Side any more.

Nowadays, one in ten chefs cooks at Noma for 15 minutes, then opens a New Nordic restaurant. Skál means “Cheers!” in Icelandic, and the here the cuisine hails (nominally) from that Scandinavian nation. But the Canadian chef Ben Spiegel’s tightly-edited bistro menu could be found anywhere, with its Long Island duck wings, Elysian Fields lamb rib, Berkshire pork chop, and Angus hangar steak.

Root vegetables, grasses, and seaweed dart in and out of the menu, but I saw very little of the New Nordic ethos on the plate, nor even some of the edgier ingredients promised on the website (puffed pig skin, powdered malt vinegar, whipped cod roe).

None of which is to deny that Skál is a most welcoming place. The food is very good, and by current standards inexpensive, with starters and vegetables $5–15, and more substantial plates $14–28. (It does appear that some items in the latter category are not full entrées, such as the $14 duck wings, but I was not entirely sure about that.)

The house cocktails ($13) merit further exploration. I was pleased with the Gurka (Nolet’s Gin, Cucumber Juice, Lime Juice & Pepper), but the Same Same But Different (Makers Mark, Lemon Juice & Blackberry Juice) was too fruity for my taste.

The bread service came with the obligatory Nordic schmear of soft butter, but no knife to spread it with.

If they serve broccoli on Mount Olympus, then Skál’s version, roasted with bread crumbs and duck egg emulsion, is the broccoli of the gods ($11; above).

It’s hard to tell there’s a whole roasted fluke ($26; above) in the photo, but you might just see the head poking out from under an avalanche of accompaniments. Getting to the fish took a bit of work, but once there it was worth the effort.

The dining room is small. It was full at 10:00pm on a Saturday evening, and the music was a bit loud for my preference. Reservations are accepted on the website, which in my case (dining alone) meant a seat at the bar, which was just fine, and I was well taken care of.

For me, Skál is a bit too far away to enter my regular rotation, but if you’re nearby it’s worth a visit.

Skál (37 Canal Street at Ludlow Street, Lower East Side)

Food: Nominally icelandic; bistro cuisine that would work anywhere
Service: Very good for a casual spot
Ambiance: A small, informal, and sometimes loud, but charmingly small room

Rating: ★


Seeing Stars: Eater Blinks and So Do I

The stars are back.

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Times announced it was dropping the “star system” for rating restaurants. To my knowledge, no other publication followed the LAT’s lead.

In New York City, the Times, New York magazine, the Post, the Daily News, Time Out New York, the Observer, and GQ, all give stars. Among print publications that regularly review restaurants in New York, to my knowledge only the New Yorker and the Village Voice have yet to use stars (and they never did).

Last week, (which had long eschewed reviews of any kind) began two new series of reviews, with critics Ryan Sutton (formerly of Bloomberg) and Robert Sietsema (formerly of the Village Voice), who will use separate non-overlapping four-star systems. (New York is the only other publication with separate star systems for low- and high-end restaurants.)

After the LAT announced its decision, the Times’ Pete Wells filed a blog post explaining why his reviews would continue to have stars:

No two critics are going to have the same reaction to a restaurant, and no two critics are going to come up with identical interpretations of the precedent. The whole process of critiquing restaurants is inherently subjective. Readers are free to disagree with the critic. Go ahead and throw the newspaper across the room if you like. That’s part of the fun. . . .

Whether you think that renders the stars meaningless depends entirely on what you expect them to do. If you hope they are going to organize the entire New York City restaurant scene into an objective and verifiable hierarchy of good, better and best, you’re going to find that the reviews are a weekly exercise in frustration. (A corollary: If you read the reviews believing that all restaurants with a given number of stars are meant to be equally good, you’re going to lose your mind.)

On the other hand, if you understand that the stars accompany a review of at least 1,000 words, I hope you’ll believe that they do have meaning. The reviews have to cover a lot of ground. They tell you what kind of restaurant is being reviewed, how it looks and feels, how customers are treated, how some of the dishes taste and often whether it’s worth the price. A star ranking from zero to four can’t do any of those things in any meaningful way, but it can try to serve as shorthand for how strongly the reviewer is recommending the restaurant.

After the LAT announcement, I introduced my own system, which not-coincidentally was a five-step scale, just as the stars had been (four to zero), but—as I then saw it—without the stars’ historical baggage. From highest to lowest, my ratings were:

  • Extraordinary
  • Category Killer
  • Critic’s Pick
  • Neighborhood Spot
  • Not Recommended

These categories had always approximated my general sense of what the stars ought to mean, although not all critics used them that way. I found in practice that my new system was no more liberating than the stars. In fact, it was less discriminating, because I had used half-stars in the past, but I had allowed myself no way to designate a restaurant as, for example, “Neighborhood Plus.”

Other problems I saw with the star system seem less serious to me now. I do not fundamentally take issue with a restaurant like Roberta’s receiving three stars, as it did from Sutton last week, assuming you agree with his assessment. Restaurants are rated against the ideal versions of themselves, not against others in completely different genres. You could agree with Sutton’s rating, while concluding at the same time that Roberta’s isn’t for you. (That, in fact, is precisely my view of Roberta’s.)

There is nothing to be done about the fact that, on crowdsourced review sites like Yelp, a three-star review is terrible, while to most professional critics it is terrific. In my system, a one-star restaurant is “good,” which ought to be a compliment. I cannot do anything about the fact that some people will read my reviews, see one star, and think, “It must be awful.” The readers who say that haven’t read the review.

There remain considerable differences in the ways critics use the star system. Some publications go up to five stars, although most use four. Some go down to zero, but others stop at one. Some use half-stars; others don’t. Because of this, stars are generally not comparable across publications. For a given publication and critic, the stars, as Wells put it, “serve as shorthand for how strongly the reviewer is recommending the restaurant.”

But the system, in whatever fashion it is used, remains the lingua franca of restaurant reviews.

A few years ago, the Post’s Steve Cuozzo dropped the stars (in fact, he dropped traditional “reviews” entirely), but after a while concluded that he might as well re-instate them. I’ve now come to the same conclusion.

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