Entries in Akhtar Nawab (8)


The House-Made Hot Dog at Elettaria

Note: Elettaria closed in August 2009, after the owners could not negotiate a lease extension.

News of a Hot Dog, of all things, sent me back to Elettaria last week. According to the Feedbag, chef Akthar Nawab spent months perfecting it.

Actually, there are two hot dogs on Elettaria’s bar menu, either $2.50 or $4.50. The latter, which we ordered, resembles a hefty bratwurst sausage—house made, of course.

We enjoyed the robust, spicy flavor of the hot dog and the warm, toasted bun, but they weren’t made for each other. The bun needed to be about twice the size to wrap its way around the sausage. We did our best, but this beast would have been better with a knife and fork.

It’s a great hot dog, though, and a bargain at $4.50. If Nawab can just find the right bun, it would be perfect.

The kitchen comped a crab cake (right), which wasn’t anywhere near as memorable as the bratwurst. An order of meatballs ($5), served on a skewer, had a mild curry flavor, but they weren’t tender enough.

These items are served only at the bar, along with an alluring selection of cocktails. I’ve been meaning to go back for the Zombie, allegedly so potent that they won’t serve you more than one. I was headed for a show, so I gave that one a pass.

Elettaria (33 W. 8th Street at MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village)


The Payoff: Elettaria

Today, as expected, Frank Bruni awards one star to Elettaria, finding the performance too inconsistent, the ambiance too scatter-brained:

The ostensibly individual tables bisecting the dining room are essentially one way-too-long communal table, which makes for odd traffic patterns.

And why is this central and most crucial region of the restaurant so cramped when there’s so much elbowroom and extra space around the bar up front? Elettaria is lovely but awkward, and its awkwardness undercuts Mr. Nawab’s impressively creative cooking.

But then his cooking also undercuts itself, some dishes mirroring the setting: seductive in the abstract, less so in actuality. There’s too broad a gap between the best of them, which are excellent, and the rest. I had only one meal that wholly delighted me, while the others were a mix of exciting, intriguing and frustrating moments.

We and Eater both win $2 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

              Eater          NYJ
Bankroll $86.50   $106.67
Gain/Loss +2.00   +2.00
Total $88.50   $108.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 40–18   42–16

Rolling the Dice: Elettaria

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni takes a belated look at Elettaria, Akhtar Nawab’s Indian–American fusion restaurant in Greenwich Village. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 5-1
One Star: 2-1 √√
Two Stars: 3-1
Three Stars: 8-1
Four Stars: 1,000-1

The Skinny: As usual, there are only two possible outcomes here: one star or two. The closeness of the odds (2–1 and 3–1 respectively) shows that this is basically a coin toss. Reviews have been all over the map, ranging from Platt’s one-star slap to RG’s three-star rave. Will the real Elettaria please stand up?

The X-factor is the rather long time it took Bruni to get around to this review: it has been more than six weeks since most of the other critics filed, including this blog, which awarded two stars. We can only assume that Bruni saw potential, and wanted to give Elettaria time to resolve the early kinks. Bruni doesn’t usually give restaurants that chance, so you’ve got to figure that he really wanted to like this place.

We are torn, but our sense is that the cramped ambiance, abbreviated menu and chronic inconsistency will rate mentions in this review.

The Bet: We are betting, with some reluctance, that Frank Bruni will award one star to Elettaria.



Akhtar Nawab (center) runs a tight ship at Elettaria

Note: Elettaria closed in August 2009, after the owners could not negotiate a lease extension.


Akhtar Nawab first came to prominence at Tom Colicchio’s Craftbar. He left in 2006 to go solo, but things didn’t quite go as planned. He was the originally announced chef at Allen & Delancey, but when the restaurant finally opened, Neil Ferguson was at the helm. Then he signed on at The E.U., a star-crossed restaurant if ever there was one.

elettaria_outside.jpgAt Elettaria, Nawab is finally in control of his own destiny, along with partner Noel Cruz (Dani). Let’s hope that it’s a hit. Based on our meal there last night, it certainly deserves to be.

The name is the Latin word for cardamom, a spice often used in Indian cuisine. There are Indian accents all over the menu at Elettaria, but there are accents from a lot of places. Nawab is from Kentucky, and the cooking here could as well be called Modern American.

elettaria_inside2.jpgThe interior design is from the same folks that did Allen & Delancey. You can see the resemblance, but their work is less successful here. For A&D’s charm, they’ve substituted a laundry list of clichés.

The bar takes up too much space. Dining tables are crammed too closely together. There’s a long row of them along the restaurant’s spine, and they’re just inches apart. We considered ourselves lucky to be there early, before the place filled up. There isn’t much space to manoever.

There’s a wide-open kitchen at the back of the restaurant. Nawab has it running smoothly. It’s a pleasure to watch. The space, most recently a men’s clothing store, was once a nightclub, and the kitchen is “on the very same spot where Jimi Hendrix reputedly plucked his guitar.”

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Bread service (left); White asparagus with foie gras (left)

Our dinner at Elettaria was one of those rare restaurant meals that actually improved as it went along. The bread service consisted of two slices of naan. For the appetizer course, we were both attracted to one of the recited specials: a serving of white asparagus with shaved foie gras.

Pork, rice, quail egg

The asparagus, served chilled, had been over-cooked. The foie gras lacked the flavor punch it should have, and the few croutons offered were slightly soggy. At $20, this appetizer needed to be better.

The kitchen sent out a comped mid-course. It wasn’t on the printed menu, so I am guessing this is an item the chef is still tinkering with. He need tinker no longer. The highlights were two contrasting cuts of pork and a fried quail egg, resting in a slurry of rice. Nawab risks accusations of being derivative, with pork and fried eggs showing up on menus all over town, but this dish was much more of a hit than our original appetizer.

[Update: In his rave review for The Sun, Paul Adams described “an off-the-menu starter of lúgao ($12), Filipino rice porridge flavored with a succulent panoply of pig parts.” I am pretty sure that’s the mid-course item described above.]

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Red Snapper (left); Striped Bass (right)

We both chose fish for the main course: red snapper ($28) for me, striped bass ($22) for my girlfriend. The kitchen did well by both fish, which were tender, flavorful, and well complemented by the accompanying vegetables and cous cous. A bed of small clams that came with the red snapper seemed more decorative than anything else.

The wine list here is downright revelatory, with many great bottles under $50, along with an impressive list of cocktails, liqueurs, apéritifs, and so forth. A 2004 Cotes de Provence from Chateau de Roquefort was only $37.

Although our appetizer misfired, the cooking here is ambitious. Over time, we suspect that Akhtar Nawab will have many more successes than failures. The reasonable prices make the restaurant especially compelling. Elettaria is well worth a return visit.

Elettaria (33 W. 8th Street at MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village)

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


Allen & Delancey

[Kalina via Eater]

Note: Allen & Delancey closed in March 2010, after something like five chefs in three years. A Scottish-themed restaurant, Mary Queen of Scots, from the Highlands team, opened in November 2010.

The new restaurant Allen & Delancey had one of those star-crossed births that give restaurant owners nightmares. It was announced for the Fall of 2006 with former Craftbar chef Akhtar Nawab at the helm. Then, an investor pulled out, and the project seemed dead…or was it?

A year later, Allen & Delancey has finally opened, with Neil Ferguson in the kitchen. Ferguson is the chef that was canned after the critics demolished Gordon Ramsay at the London. Ramsay is still alive and kicking with a new chef de cuisine, while at A&D you can enjoy, at less than half the price, the chef whom Gordon Ramsay thought was capable of earning four stars.

The space has been beautifully decked out, but it’s so dark you should bring a flashlight to read the menu. Ferguson keeps things simple, with just seven appetizers ($12–18) and seven entrées ($22–29). The similarity to the menu at Gordon Ramsay is striking: not a lot of fireworks, but simple things are done well.

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Terrine of Guinea Hen (left); Cabbage, Beef and Onion (right)

My girlfriend and I both started with the Terrine of Guinea Hen, Smoked Ham Knuckle, Foie Gras, and Beetroot ($18). It takes a sure hand to make all of those ingredients work, but Ferguson managed it.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen Cabbage, Beef and Onion ($29), had not the server recommended it. This is the kind of dish that got Ferguson in trouble at Gordon Ramsay. It’s a technically impeccable presentation that doesn’t have much oomph. I was pleased with it, but perhaps some people will say that it doesn’t deserve to be a nearly $30 entrée.

The major critics have yet to weigh in on Allen & Delancey. The staff, who are all excited about the restaurant, mentioned that both Adam Platt and Frank Bruni visited earlier in the week. I can only hope that Ferguson gets a fair shake this time. Allen & Delancey deserves to succeed.

Allen & Delancey (115 Allen Street at Delancey Street, Lower East Side)

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


The Payoff: The E.U.

Yesterday, as expected, Frank Bruni awarded one star to The E.U.

The headline—“Where the Motto Is: Try, Try Again”—isn’t one of his better inspirations. It puts undue emphasis on The E.U.’s past troubles, which I must admit make an interesting story. But NYT reviews need to be written with a long shelf-life in mind. Even major restaurants (such as The Four Seasons, reviewed last week) go many years between reviews. A minor one, like The E.U., might never be reviewed again, making this the newspaper’s (likely) final word on the restaurant—something that will turn up on google searches and be read for years to come.

With that in mind, is this how the review should end?

As a watering hole, the E.U. actually feels charmed, though I articulate that with my fingers crossed (a tough trick when you’re typing), and in spite of my parting glance at the restaurant around midnight one busy, noisy night. I walked out as three grim-faced police officers walked in.


On a more positive note, his first mention of the food came in the sixth paragraph, a considerable improvement over Rosanjin two weeks ago, when the food wasn’t mentioned till paragraph fifteen. And the review made me want to visit the restaurant, which is always a good sign.

The review was also a useful reminder that one star, despite being near the low end of the Times rating scale, means “good.” Often, the restaurants awarded one star don’t actually sound all that good: at that level, it usually seems like the critic is explaining why the restaurant isn’t two or three stars, which can’t help but convey a negative impression. Bruni’s review of The E.U., although not without its negatives, actually reads like what a “good” one-star review is supposed to be.

Eater and NYJ both took the one-star bet at 3–1 odds, winning $3 on our hypothetical $1 wager.

       Eater         NYJ
Bankroll $14.00   $21.67
Gain/Loss +$3.00   +$3.00
Total $17.00   $24.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 6–2   7–1

Rolling the Dice: The E.U.

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews The E.U., a restaurant best known for its eighteen-month odyssey to obtain a liquor license. In the kitchen is Ahktar Nawab, formerly the acclaimed chef de cuisine at Craftbar.  Eater’s official odds are as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 3-1
One Star: 3-1
Two Stars: 8-1
Three Stars: 85-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: We don’t really have much to go on this week. Bruni tends to lag the other reviewers, so by the time he gets to a place, there’s a body of critical opinion already out there. That’s not so for The E.U., but we rely on Eater’s report that “Chef Nawab’s food has ranged from legitimately very good to wildly less so.”

The menu is also not in The E.U.’s favor, with its polyglot categories: raw bar, tapas, charcuterie, panini, along with standard appetizers and entrées. Bruni tends to think—and here I agree with him—that a restaurant trying to do so many things will usually misfire on some of them.

If Bruni is grading on his “downtown curve,” there’s an outside shot at two stars. On the whole, we think one star is the safer bet.

The Bet: We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award one star to E.U.



Craft is one of New York’s iconic restaurants. It derives its name partly from the structure of the menu, which presents ingredients in various categories, allowing the diner to craft his own meal. This can be a rewarding but expensive undertaking, with vegetable side dishes running to $12-15 apiece. The restaurant is also known for a style of cooking that “celebrate[s] ‘single’ ingredients, expertly and simply prepared.” But Chef Tom Colicchio (Gramercy Tavern) is quick to note, “Simple does not mean simplistic.” A truckload of honors (three NYT stars and one Michelin star) suggests that critics generally have agreed.

Like many successful restaurants these days, craft has become a mini-chain. Many people think that craftsteak is the best steakhouse in Las Vegas. We’ll all see for ourselves soon enough, as a branch of craftsteak will be opening in far west Chelsea later this year. And then, there is craftbar, a less pricy alternative around the corner from the mother ship, which moved to new digs last year.

For a downscale sibling, craftbar is surprisingly formal-looking. Of course, it is not a formal restaurant as we would traditionally have understood that term. But in an era that has largely jettisoned old notions of fine dining, craftbar seems like an oasis of calm. The booths are comfortable, the tables widely spaced, the décor gentle on the eyes. Nowadays, such a space could easily be the home to far more ambitious cooking than craftbar is, in fact, serving.

My friend and I could not avoid the comparison to the Café at Country, the downscale sibling of a main dining room that hasn’t opened yet. We dined there about ten days ago. It was a miserable experience, not for any fault of the food, but for an ambiance that seemed perversely designed to inflict maximum discomfort. At craftbar, there’s proof that an informal sibling need not have tables the size of postage stamps and the noise level of a Wall Street trading floor.

The menu comes on a single loose sheet of paper, and it changes daily. I started with the pan-roasted sweetbreads ($15), which came lightly breaded. This dish seemed to exemplify the “craft” approach—presenting the best ingredients, prepared simply. I found it tasty, but unadventurous.

Several reports have praised the veal meatballs with ricotta ($19). Here too was a comfort food featuring impeccable ingredients prepared uncreatively. There were three hefty meatballs in a red sauce with an ample sprinkling of grated cheese. The veal was tender, and obviously a high quality. In less capable hands, it could easily have been overwhelmed by either the sauce or the cheese, but here the piece parts were skillfully balanced.

My friend also made uncomplicated choices: a duck liver pâté followed by spaghetti. I tasted a bit of the pâté , and found it comparable to the better examples that I’ve tasted elsewhere.

At $15, my sweetbread appetizer was craftbar’s most expensive; other starters are in the $8–12 range. At $19, my meatball entrée was craftbar’s least expensive; other main courses were in the $25–30 range. If not exactly budget-priced, craftbar is certainly less expensive than its luxury sister restaurant, craft.

I wasn’t in the mood for a fancy meal last night, but I would certainly look forward to a return visit to try some of craftbar’s more adventurous main courses.

craftbar (900 Broadway between 19th & 20th Streets, Flatiron District)

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