Entries in Chop Suey (3)


Chop Suey


Note: Chop Suey closed in October 2008.

The chef Zak Pelaccio has come a long way since he was a cult hit at the Chickenbone Cafe in Williamsburg. His fans followed him to 5 Ninth in the Meatpacking District (from whence he later departed), and then to Fatty Crab a few blocks away.

Since then, he has turned his solid reputation into self-parody, cashing in one “consulting chef” gig after another. Chop Suey is the latest of these. It features one of Pelaccio’s trademark multi-Asian menus, along with one of the best views in the city, assuming you find it charming to look out on the bright lights of Times Square. Frank Bruni did, awarding one star in The Times.

chopsuey_logo.pngChop Suey is more than just a great view. The Renaissance Hotel did a lovely job with the renovation. The décor is stylish, comfortable, and understated—as it should be when you’ve got the most famous view in America. With only 78 seats, a majority of which were empty at 8:15 p.m. on a Saturday evening, you can actually have a quiet and unhurried meal here.

If only the food matched the view

That assumes the food is worthwhile, which it isn’t. Pelaccio’s menu seems phoned in. That’s the problem with a “consulting chef” who doesn’t stick around to edit out the clunkers, or even to ensure his vision (if he had one) is faithfully executed. We had three appetizers and three entrées between us, and there was only one item I’d recommend. That’s too low a ratio of successes to failures, especially when dinner for three runs to almost $250 (including tax and tip).

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Crispy Rock Shrimp (right); Curry Leaf Fried Chicken Wings (right)

Crispy Rock Shrimp($18) would have been unobjectionable, but a bed of stringy, cold, allegedly braised pork belly was just strange. Curry Leaf Fried Chicken Wings ($15) seemed no different to us than the Hooters variety.

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Steamed Rice Cakes (left); Atlantic Halibut (right)

If you saw Steamed Rice Cakes ($12) on the menu, would you expect something resembling the photo above? I sure didn’t. I’m a simple guy: “rice cake” implies “rice” and “cake,” and the dish included neither. But it was the evening’s only hit. There were gnocchi in there, along with spicy pickled vegetables and a Korean pork bolognese.

Moving to the entrées, an Atlantic Halibut sous vide ($28) was lovely enough, although boring. I detected none of the promised Prosciutto di Parma, and the clam medley underneath it was pointless.

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Ginger Chicken (left); Beef Short Ribs (right)

My son wasn’t fond of the Ginger Chicken ($32), also cooked sous vide, nor of the ginger tempura dumplings that came with it. Beef Short Ribs ($30) were a horror show: sliced too thin, overwhelmed with chili sauce, and not tender enough. We thought it was impossible to ruin short ribs. Now we know better.

The other “consultant” at Chop Suey is pastry chef Will Goldfarb. Perhaps he has done a wonderful job with the desserts…but perhaps not. We weren’t willing to roll the dice again.

With this wonderful space and this gorgeous view, the Renaissance Hotel deserves a far better restaurant than this. It’s time to fire the consultants and start over again.

Chop Suey (714 Seventh Avenue at 48th Street, 2nd floor of the Renaissance Hotel, Theater District)

Food: Disappointing
Service: Acceptable
Ambiance: Wonderful
Overall: Not Recommended


The Payoff: Chop Suey

In today’s Times, Frank Bruni awards one star to Chop Suey. He finds the view better than the food:

…sometimes food isn’t the primary consideration in deciding where to eat, and some restaurants have persuasive charms beyond the perimeter of the plate. Chop Suey is all about setting, a second-floor perch in the Renaissance Hotel that juts like a ship’s prow into a bold, brash sea of light.

As expected, he’s not impressed with the idea of consultant-chefs, Zak Pelaccio and Will Goldfarb:

The erratic results underscore the question of just how engaged such consultants get: of whether, once they’ve lofted a few ideas and cashed their paychecks, they feel any real pride of ownership or bother to follow through. I have my doubts. Chop Suey didn’t assuage them.

But there are enough winners to justify a star:

In intent, most dishes are more distinctive than the lowest-common-denominator tourist grub prevalent in this patch of town. Some are more distinctive in actuality, too.

The char siu — roasted pork with Hong Kong noodles as thin as angel-hair pasta — is described on the menu as “twice caramelized,” and the dominoes of tender pork demonstrate why. They have crisp, sweet surfaces and corners.

Crisp pie-shaped slices of scallion pancake are given some fruity zip by an Asian pear mostarda. A thick, juicy hamburger forsakes the usual condiments for kimchi, which does the trick. It’s a Korean Whopper.

As for Korean gnocchi, Chop Suey rushes in where Momofuku Ssam Bar earlier trod, serving steamed rice cakes with a spicy pork Bolognese of sorts. They don’t fall far short of their idols.

We and Eater both win $3 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

              Eater       NYJ
Bankroll $80.50   $91.67
Gain/Loss +3.00   +3.00
Total $83.50   $94.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 36–15   36–15

Rolling the Dice: Chop Suey

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 Times Square’s latest Chinese restaurant, Chop Suey. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 3-1 √√
Two Stars: 6-1
Three Stars: 25-1
Four Stars: 5,000-1

The Skinny: Chop Suey has attracted a little bit of critical attention, thanks to its two “consulting chefs,” Zak Pelaccio (savories) and Will Goldfarb (desserts). The Post’s Steve Cuozzo loved it. New Yorker’s Ligaya Mishan wasn’t impressed at all. Cuozzo’s tastes are notoriously opposite of Frank Bruni’s, so we’re more inclined to trust Mishan.

In case the term “consulting chef” is new to you, it basically means they phoned in a couple of menu ideas, pocketed a fee, and have hardly visited the place since it opened. Pelaccio and Goldfarb are talented guys, but these days no one can keep track of all their projects. We don’t expect Bruni to look favorably on chefs who can’t be bothered to show up, and Bruni has never been much of a Goldfarb fan anyway.

If the online menu is accurate, appetizers at Chop Suey average around $15, and entrées around $30, which means you can’t get out of there for less than $50 a head, assuming you drink cokes. That’s a lot of money for Chinese food. It had better be good, or Bruni will bring out his hatchet in a hurry.

Ordinarily we’d be grabbing the zero-star odds, but we hesitate for a couple of reasons. In Times Square, there’s a zero-star restaurant every fifteen feet. It’s one of the city’s few neighborhoods where you expect every restaurant to be bad. Is there any news value in a zero-star review of a Times Square restaurant, especially one that most of the city’s other critics ignored?

The Bet: We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will “award” —we use the term loosely — one star to Chop Suey.