Note: August closed in June 2014 after facing a 200% rent increase. My review below dates from a decade earlier, under Executive Chef Tony Liu, who left the restaurant in 2007 to take over Keith McNally’s Morandi, and later Pulino’s. Terrence Gallivan replaced Liu, before moving to the ill-fated Alto in 2011. Jordan Frosolone, the former chef de cuisine at Hearth, replaced Gallivan. In November 2011, Josh Eden (formerly of Shorty’s.32) replaced Frosolone. The restaurant has re-opened on the Upper East Side at 791 Lexington Avenue at 61st Street.
Arriving at 6:30pm for a pre-theater dinner, I had my choice of tables. When I left an hour later, they had started to fill up but still had two tables free. By 8:30pm, you would definitely have a wait. An outdoor garden is to open within the next couple of weeks. It will have a retractable roof, allowing it to be used year-round. This will double the capacity of the restaurant.
I ordered a Ramp Vichysoisse soup to start, which misfired. It is supposed to be served cold. If this were a blind taste test, you’d have trouble deciding whether it was a hot soup that had been left at room temperature too long, or a cold soup that had been allowed to warm up.
Things improved markedly with Softshell Crabs Grenobloise, served over a bed of haricots verts. The crabs, served whole, were done to perfect crispness, and an explosion of flavor greeted the tongue as I bit inside. Incidentally, the dish appears on the menu as “Skate Grenobloise,” but for now softshell crabs have replaced the skate. (This was fully disclosed before I ordered.)
I finished with the daily selection of artisinal cheeses, a selection of three very flavorful and contrasting chesses that the manager informed me he had selected and purchased himself. He recommended a glass of Castilla y Lyon Rioja that perfectly complemented the cheeses without overwhelming them.
Service was friendly and prompt, although I thought it took a tad too long for the cheese course to arrive. However, I had left plenty of time to finish dinner, and the Rioja kept me amused. One minor complaint is that the dessert menu had no prices. Silly me, I assumed the desserts would be priced in proportion to the rest of the menu, and didn’t bother to ask. Turns out the cheese course was $15, which was only $2 less than my entrée. Although I’ve no regrets about the evening, I really had no clue that I was selecting a $15 dessert.
August doesn’t take reservations, but apparently there are exceptions if you get to know them. While I was there, a lady came in and booked a table for 8pm on Sunday for her mother’s 91st birthday. “We don’t take reservations, but call me at 6pm Sunday to remind me, and I’ll set aside a table for you.” It was obvious from the conversation that the lady had been in before. I overheard a couple of other conversations along similar lines.
It really is time to rename the Eric Asimov’s New York Times column, “$25 and Under.” The arrival of a new critic starting June 1st may provide the occasion to do so. My 3-course meal, with two glasses of wine, ran to $73 including tax and tip. By no rational definition can this be considered a “$25-and-under” restaurant, unless you eat a one-course meal and drink sodas, which is probably not what most people have in mind. Nor is August the first restaurant the Asimov column has covered that stretched the $25 ceiling way beyond plausibility. The name hasn’t changed for about 20 years. Thanks to inflation, restaurants that realistically fall within that range, and yet are still worth reviewing, are a vanishing breed. Perhaps “Informal Dining,” although less catchy, would be a more sensible title.
August (359 Bleecker Street, between W. Tenth & Charles Streets, West Village)