Tuesday
Mar112014

Gallagher's Steakhouse

Gallagher’s Steakhouse is back from its near-death experience. Prior owner Marlene Brody had planned to close the place in late 2012, citing “economic reasons.” In swooped Dean Poll, operator of the Central Park Boathouse Cafe, who signed a 20-year lease on the space and bought the name, saying he considers himself “privileged to own it.” The restauant closed for renovations in mid-2013 and re-opened in February.

There was much rending of garments over the near-loss of Gallagher’s. Fact is: it had long ago ceased to be relevant. I don’t ever recall seeing the place on any top-10 steakhouse list. Or top-anything, for that matter. Passersby oogled the windowed meat locker facing 52nd Street—and then kept on walking.

The décor that Poll inherited (checked tablecloths and knotty pine walls) had not been fashionable since the Eisenhower administration, unless it was the Truman administration. Anyhow, Poll has revamped it smartly, while retaining the bones of the old Gallagher’s, including the street-facing dry-aging locker and photos of celebrities on almost every inch of wall space. But with white tablecloths, dark leather chairs and mahogany paneling, Gallagher’s now looks like the old-school steakhouse that it is.

The menu earns no points for originality—nor should it. Poll has restored the porterhouse steak (deleted, incredibly enough, by the prior owners in 2008), and there’s a decent selection of non-steak entrées if you visit with your pescatarian friends. Otherwise, it’s mostly the items you expect. The place is not a Luger clone, as there is no thick-cut bacon. Prices are about in line with other old-school joints, and slightly less expensive than premium modern steakhouses like Porter House New York or Minetta Tavern.

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Mar082014

Circo's Festival of Black Kale

It’s a good year to be checking in at the Maccioni family restaurants—Le Cirque, Sirio, and Circo. The patriarch, Sirio Maccioni, will receive a James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award later this year; his three sons now tend to his international empire. At Le Cirque, there’s a new chef (Raphael Francois), hired after Pete Wells filed a brutal one-star review in late 2012.

There was a less heralded change last year at Circo (pronounced “cheer-ko”), where Alfio Longo took over the kitchen. Now that he has settled in, the chef hopes to serve special menus every couple of months, focused on seasonal themes—currently, black kale from the Maccionis’ native Tuscany.

The four-course menu (click on the image for a larger copy) will be served for just five days, March 17–21, at both lunch and dinner.

If this meal is indicative of the chef’s talents, Circo is in good hands. One might worry about monotony in a menu built on one ingredient, but he deploys it so cleverly that one is scarcely aware of the repetition. And he is not afraid of challenging the diner: a rich tripe florentine, a chickpea pancake called a farinata, and a cuttlefish stew, are among the choices.

They are practically giving it away for just $49. If Michael White did that, he’d be hailed as a genius. By way of comparison, the four-course menu at White’s least expensive Italian restaurant, Osteria Morini, is $70. Last time I was there, they had paper napkins, orange placemats, and no tablecloths.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Mar042014

Piora

You figured Chris Cipollone was gonna get another shot. The food media loved Tenpenny, his restaurant in the back of a midtown hotel, but he followed the founding GM (Jeffrey Tascarella) quickly out the door, citing low pay.

After a brief stint at Abe & Arthur’s in the Meatpacking District, he resurfaced at Piora, in the lovely West Village space that was The Goodwin. Going by the critical acclaim (three sparklers from Sutton, two apiece from Wells and Platt) and the difficulty of getting a reservation, I’d say Cipollone’s gonna be here a while.

Critics have struggled to describe the cuisine: Sutton called it “French–Italian–Korean fusion.” Wells said merely that “Korean flavors dart in and out of the menu.” (Owner Simon Kim is part Korean.) But in a lengthy interview with the Village Voice, Cipolline said, “we’re a modern American restaurant” and “we’re not fusing much.”

To the average diner, walking in the door without reading the publicity, Piora seems more Italian than anything else, down to even its vowel-heavy name, which in fact is the Korean word for “blossom.” But you’ll see a section of the menu for pastas, and assume the place must be Italian, although the menu is not in the standard five-part format, and there are no Italian headings like primi or contorni.

Actually, there are no headings at all, and the pastas are entrée-sized. As you’d expect for a hit restaurant, prices have edged up over the last six months. Chicken at opening ($26) is now Poussin ($29). The acclaimed Bucatini pasta has gone from $26 to $36; the duck from $28 to $33. But the chef now serves an amuse bouche, of which I saw no mention in the early reviews. An $85 tasting menu has been added, and there’s the obligatory off-menu dry-aged 40-ounce ribeye for two ($150).

None of this is to suggest that Piora is charging too much. This is simply the arc that successful restaurants travel. For the quality of the food, Piora is fairly priced, with appetizers $15–20, entrées (including pastas) $25–36, and side dishes $9. The menu is blissfully short, with fewer than twenty items fitting on one generously-spaced page.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Mar042014

La Fonda del Sol

Whatever happened to La Fonda del Sol? Not Joe Baum’s 1960 masterpiece, but its reincarnation six years ago? It got the deuce from both Frank Bruni and Adam Platt—favorable reviews by their standards—but quickly fell off the media map.

Opening chef Josh DeChellis left after two years, as anyone who knew his background would’ve expected. Chris DeLuna has been there since 2012, though you wouldn’t have known it from any of the websites that report on New York City restaurants. The owners, Patina Restaurant Group, seem utterly innocent of the word “marketing”.

I was drawn back by a Valentine’s Day prix fixe of just $55. That’s a bargain, on an evening when mediocre restaurants attract three-figure sums for mass-produced, dumbed-down versions of their regular menus. La Fonda del Sol did the opposite, serving (as far as I could tell) a better menu than their everyday norm. You quickly see why they couldn’t charge more: the place was only about half full.

The food hasn’t lost a step since we visited in March 2009. I’m sure the menu has changed many times since then, but it still seems to be basically the same kind of upscale Spanish cuisine that DeChellis served, although without the petits fours, which at the time were some of the most luxurious I’d seen in New York.

The 20-page wine and spirits list has one of the better selections of Spanish and Portuguese wines in town, including the 2007 Douro we enjoyed ($65; above left). It was a romantic evening, and I didn’t take detailed notes on the food. The photos after the jump (not my best, in low light) give a general idea of the style of the cuisine and its presentation.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Feb252014

All'onda

Welcome back! It’s been far too long since Chris Jaeckle earned three stars at Ai Fiori, and since Chris Cannon ran what were arguably the best Italian restaurants in New York. Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich might disagree with me about that last statement, but if it comes down to pistols at dawn, I’ll take Cannon’s side.

Jaeckle and Cannon have now opened All’onda (named for a style of soupy risotto served in Venice) in a smart casual space near Union Square. The cuisine is dubbed Venetian, although most diners won’t know the difference. Early publicity mentioned Japanese influences (Jaeckle once worked at Morimoto), which have since (quite sensibly) receded.

For the record, restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow is an investor here, but his China Grill Management does not operate it, which is why it doesn’t suck. Let us all say a prayer that Chodorow will never operate another restaurant again.

To recite the history just briefly: Cannon was in partnership with the chef Michael White at two terrific Italian restaurants, Alto and L’Impero (later rechristened Convivio). At the height of the Great Recession, they brought in high-roller Ahmass Fakahany as an investment partner and opened Marea, taking a big bet on fine dining at a time when everyone else was running the opposite way.

Soon, they were rolling in dough and opened two more Italian restaurants, Ai Fiori and Osteria Morini. At about that time, and for reasons that have never been fully explained, Fakahany and White ditched Cannon, who was left with just his two original restaurants, Alto and Convivio. Shortly thereafter, both places closed suddenly—on the same day, in fact—and Cannon headed home to New Jersey.

For more than three years, Cannon didn’t say a word about the split, and a recent interview with the Village Voice still leaves many questions unanswered. It ought to be noted that Cannon is no stranger to culinary divorces, having suffered a similar split with the chef Scott Conant.

Jaeckle left Ai Fiori (which Cannon had helped open) in November 2011, and it wasn’t difficult to guess that he wanted his own place. All’onda was announced in September 2012, with Cannon on board as a consultant while his newest project, Jockey Hollow, remained under construction at the Vail Mansion in Morristown, New Jersey.

Originally announced for a November 2012 opening, All’onda endured all of the usual delays, and finally served its first risotto in early January 2014. A photographer with a tripod was shooting the space when we visited, so the first pro reviews will probably start to appear within the next week or so.

All’onda, as Chris Jaeckle told the Times, is “the most casual restaurant I’ve ever worked in.” That is probably almost true for Chris Cannon as well, at least since he became famous: except for Osteria Morini, opened in his dying days with White and Fakahany, he’s known almost exclusively for fine dining.

They probably could have aimed higher. With the Torrisi boys serving $30 pastas and $50 veal parmesan to packed houses at Carbone, All’onda is a steal, with no pasta above $19 and no entrée above $29.

The ten-page wine list, Cannon’s specialty, has plenty of drinkable bottles below $50, and about 90% of the list is below $100; they serve it in the right glassware. In a town where $15 cocktails are commonplace, and the Torrisi team gets $20 at ZZ’s Clam Bar, they’re just $12 here. I enjoyed the Basil Gimlet (photo above; with gin, lime, basil syrup), and they transferred the tab to our table. I splurged just slightly on the wine (a 2007 Travaglini, $65), ordered an after-dinner drink, and still kept the bill below $200 (before tip).

For a restaurant of this quality, All’onda is remarkable. Of course, if the reviews are as favorable as I believe they will be, these prices won’t last. They never do.

 

Click to read more ...

Monday
Feb172014

Regency Bar & Grill

When you spend a year and $100 million renovating your Upper East Side Hotel, you’ve got to make it back somehow. What else explains a restaurant that charges so much, and delivers so little in return?

The Regency Bar & Grill opened in January in the 38-year-old Loews Regency Hotel on the Upper East Side. The space where the legendary “power breakfast” originated was gutted and re-built. (The old furniture went to a Coney Island Senior Center.)

At first glance, you’d say they got their money’s worth. It’s a plush white-tablecloth room, with polished aluminum fixtures, cozy banquettes, and walls adorned with historical black-and-white photos of Manhattan habituées. You’d never dream of building such a space downtown, but for the neighborhood it’s in, and the clientele it has to serve, it feels pitch-perfect.

 

The cocktails are $18 apiece, but the bartenders know their craft, once get their attention. A Rob Roy was prepared with Sheep Dip Whisky (they gave a taste of that on the side) and served with a 2-inch-square ice cube, the kind the top-drawer cocktail parlors use. The tab is transferred to the table if you ask.

The Sant Ambroseus team (who run this joint) clearly wanted the Regency to be higher-profile than 540 Park, the last restaurant in this space. They lured Dan Silverman from the Standard Grill downtown, where he got one star from Pete Wells. The guy has been around, including stops at Alison on Dominick, Union Square Cafe, and Lever House. He seems to last about five years, wherever he goes.

The opening was deftly publicized, with multiple blog posts on the likes of Eater, Grub Street, and similar sites, and a photo of Silverman in The Times. I’ll admit I was played. I have nothing against the neighborhood, as regular readers well know, but I wouldn’t ordinarily go running to an Upper East Side hotel restaurant.

The last time I sampled Silverman’s cooking was in 2006, at Lever House, where the prices (adjusted for inflation) were about the same as they are here. I wasn’t wowed and had no desire to go back. I have the same impression today.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Feb162014

J. G. Melon

I used to have a separate to-do list just for burgers. I gave up on maintaining it, because there were so many burgers, and so little time. It just wasn’t going to happen. Naturally, J. G. Melon was on the list. It regularly appears in compilations of the city’s “best burgers” (here, here, here, here—and many more).

Just a bit of history: the place opened in 1972, but looks a good twenty years older than that. Much like Katz’s Delicatessen, it seems to be frozen in time. It won’t change, because it doesn’t have to. The founders were named “Jack” and “George” (hence J. G.), and the “Melon” is for the watermelon art that passes for décor.

It’s notoriously difficult to get in at sociable dining hours. A few months ago, we walked in at about 6:00pm on a Saturday evening. We were quoted a 20 to 30-minute wait by a host who barely looked us in the eye. It hardly seemed like we could rely on that, and there was nowhere to wait, so we gave it a pass.

Recently, we dropped by slightly earlier, in the middle of a blizzard, and it was still pretty crowded, but we were seated immediately at the bar. It didn’t take long before the place was packed once again. The bartender was more attentive than the host; she made a pretty good martini.

J. G. Melon serves a typical pub menu, but I’ve never heard of anyone ordering anything but the burger. If you peer into the half-open kitchen, burgers seem to be the only thing they make: possibly hundreds per hour at busy times, as it appears they have at least a few dozen on the grill at any given time.

 

I was surprised by how small it was. A super-model on a diet could make peace with it. Mind you, in this era of $20 burgers, they do not overcharge: it’s $10.25. Still, in a city where great burgers are so plentiful, I was surprised it has made so many top-10 lists. By all means, if you’re in the neighborhood and it’s not prime time, stop in and have one. But it’s not the burger of your dreams; it’s just solid and reliable.

Mediocre cottage fries (easily sharable) will set you back another $4.95, and credit cards aren’t accepted.

J. G. Melon (1291 Third Avenue at 74th Street, Upper East Side)

Food: Burgers and not much else
Service: Hurried
Ambiance: A 40-year-old pub that looks 60

Rating: Neighborhood Spot 

Saturday
Feb152014

The Whole Hog at DBGB

Many restaurants offer whole-animal “feasts”, or what’s called “large format” in the trade. Recently, a group of friends gathered for the Whole Hog at DBGB, Daniel Boulud’s charcuterie and burger-centric restaurant on the Bowery. 

The feast is offered on at least 72 hours’ notice, and costs $495 for “up to 8 guests.” (The advance notice shouldn’t be an issue: rounding up such a large party took weeks.) Anyhow, you get starters of salad and pig’s head terrine, the pig itself, and Baked Alaska for dessert. All the beer you can drink is an extra $200, but we ordered beverages à la carte and spent less than that. The full bill came to $636 before tax and tip.

Although not stated on the website, extra guests are $60 each, and if I did it again, I’d highly recommend bringing at least 10. The eight of us went home full, and there was still a ton of food left over.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Feb102014

The Cecil

Harlem’s culinary renaissance draws a lot of ink these days. The Cecil is the latest Exhibit “A”. There’ll be another; always is.

If we’re honest, these Harlem spots haven’t yet earned a grade on the Manhattan curve. If you put the Red Rooster in midtown, would it have won Sam Sifton’s paroxysms of joy? I don’t think so.

We loved our New Year’s Eve dinner at Mountain Bird. It was very good, no denying it. But part of the joy was finding a $59 six-course French tasting menu in Harlem. Put it somewhere else, and it wouldn’t seem as remarkable. It wouldn’t be $59 either.

So now we come to The Cecil, named for a hotel that burned down in the 1970s. The upper floors at the current site are now an SRO, so this isn’t the most upscale spot, but you’re at 118th Street, only eight blocks north of Central Park’s upper edge, just east of Columbia, and within walking distance of the Upper West Side’s expanding northern boundary.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jan262014

The Writing Room

It takes chutzpah to open a restaurant in an iconic space. That’s what the owners of The Writing Room have done, taking over two buildings on upper Second Avenue that, for almost fifty years, were known as Elaine’s.

They’ve invested two and a half years and $4 million, and gotten their money’s worth, a lovely modern-casual restaurant that feels immediately comfortable. It reminds me of The Smith. The decibel level is higher than I’d like, but that’s probably deliberate.

The new owners aren’t shy about reminding you what used to be here. The main dining room is festooned with photos of Elaine’s celebrity patrons, of which there were many. A back room, called the Study, is decorated with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, populated with the literary works of Elaine’s regulars. The re-building job occasioned a lengthy Glenn Collins article, “Reviving Elaine’s Without Elaine.” The place was long past its prime when Elaine Kaufman died in 2010, but no one is going to forget her anytime soon.

The Times’ online archives are full of stories about Elaine’s, but the paper never reviewed it as an actual restaurant. By most accounts, the critics weren’t missing much: the food was generally described as mediocre, at best.

That is one thing the new owners have fixed. It’s not destination cuisine, but for what it is, it’s very good. The concise, upscale pub menu (curiously lacking a burger) is inexpensive for the neighborhood, with starters $11–15, entrees mostly $19–28 (a lobster is $32, a dry-aged strip steak $52), and side dishes $5–6.

The wine list runs to 16 widely-spaced pages, organized by grape, with a short paragraph on the history of each varietal. Just like the food, it’s not a destination list, but much better than you’d expect.

Click to read more ...

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 150 Next 10 Entries »