The fine restaurants south of Chambers Street can be counted on the fingers of one hand, making any new arrival in this neighborhood a news event. Battery Gardens opened a month or two ago, occupying the space that was formerly American Park. It’s located in Battery Park, just steps away from the Staten Island and Statue of Liberty ferries.
The space has been remodeled in pale greens, paper-thin white shear curtains, marble table-tops, and plush ultra-comfortable off-white slipper chairs. It reminded us either of a 1930s cruise ship or a movie star’s boudoire; we weren’t sure which. The dining room offers floor-to-ceiling picture window views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. There is an ample outdoor dining area, with an open-air bar.
The menu is a serious one, under the direction of executive chef Tommy Lee, who comes to Battery Gardens from the Pierre Hotel. Per the website, “Specializing in American continental cuisine, his menus reflect his Korean heritage and vast knowledge of seafood.”
Appetizers and salads are $8-15 (most under $12). Soups are $5-7. The menu offers several gourmet pizzas at $10-12, meat entrées ($17-27), pasta ($14-16), and fish ($18-26). There is also a raw bar, with Little Neck Clams ($7/half-dozen), Blue Point Oysters ($12), or Fruits of the Sea ($30, $55 or $75). The fish category on the menu offers the most choices, which is unsurprising given the chef’s background and the location of the restaurant.
I started with the Grilled Diver Sea Scallops ($10), which are served with Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce and Red Cabbage Slaw. This came with three scallops, and the inspiration to serve it with asian peanut sauce was heavenly. For the main course, I chose the Miso Glazed Chilian Sea Bass ($25), which comes with Jasmine Rice, Sesame Hinted Shitakes and Green Beans. The miso glazing was just hinted at (as opposed to Nobu’s version of it, where it’s far more powerful), but this allowed the beautiful flaky fish to do the talking. It was an enormous portion, which I devoured.
My friend started with the Tempura Sampler, which isn’t currently shown on the website. It came with 7 or 8 tempura pieces — a mixture of potatoes, shrimp, and chicken with a tangy dipping sauce. I tried a few pieces myself, and it really was done to perfection, although the sauce perhaps was a bit too ordinary. She continued with the Pan Seared Tuna ($24), which (per the website) came with Corn Fritters, Red Onion and Tomato Salad, Cilantro-Chili Aioli. This was a nearly porterhouse-sized portion, which she enjoyed, but I found it a bit blander preparation than the sea bass.
There were some service glitches. When we arrived, they took my order for a cocktail, but neglected to ask about a glass of wine with dinner. By the time they got around to it, I was nearly finished eating. Two cups of decaf coffee arrived lukewarm. When we asked for fresh cups, they returned a bit warmer, but still shy of the correct temperature.
Battery Gardens hasn’t been “discovered” yet. On a Saturday evening (8:00pm reservation), it was less than half full. One very large, elegantly-dressed party seemed to be having a celebration. Most of the other diners seemed to be at least “smartly” dressed, suggesting they considered their visit here a night on the town. My friend and I came casual, but we did not feel out-of-place. I suspect the restaurant does a better weekday business, as it is steps away from the row of office towers on Water Street.
Battery Gardens offered us a thoroughly enjoyable meal, with dramatic views to match. On a nice evening (which regrettably this wasn’t), a scenic walk along the Battery Park esplanade would be the perfect nightcap. In any event, Battery Gardens offers serious food in a locale where there has historically been precious little of it. I hope the restaurant succeeds.
Battery Gardens (Battery Park, opposite 17 State Street, Financial District)