It might seem odd to recomend a restaurant because it is empty. But aside from the very good food, that is one of the principal attractions of Brasserie 8½—at least at dinner.
No one can fault the space, with its grand staircase, drawings by Matisse and Giacometti, and tables that are both comfortable and generously spaced. With the restaurant only 10% full, my friend and I were able to enjoy a quiet conversation, as well as food that deserves a lot more attention than it has been getting.
The name is a cute take-off on the address: it’s at 9 West 57th Street. The restaurant is in the basement, so they call it “Brasserie 8½.” However, the place really isn’t really a “Brasserie” in any normal sense of the word.
When it opened in 1980, critics found the food uneven and occasionally overworked. In The Times, William Grimes awarded one star. Reviews in New York and The New Yorker were similar. But management stood by chef Julian Alonzo is still in place, which in this era is remarkable all by itself. Perhaps with eight years’ experience he has edited out the clunkers, or perhaps we just got lucky with our choices.
I loved an asparagus soup ($12) that was as tasty as it was striking to look at, with an oval-shaped glass bowl and concentric circles of green and white foam.
An entrée of Sautéed Diver Sea Scallops “Benedict” ($29) offered three plump scallops, each with a vegetable purée beneath, a fried egg on top, and hunks of crisp braised pork belly in between. This pun on “Eggs Benedict” isn’t unique to this restaurant, but when it’s as well executed as this, who cares if it’s original?
I assume that Brasserie 8½ does a brisker lunch business, which is typical of restaurants in this part of town. I also assume that a self-promotional YouTube video that was posted late last year is part of an attempt to drum up business. If our meal was at all indicative, then management is entitled to crow about it as much as they please.
Brasserie 8½ (9 West 57th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, West Midtown)