Entries in Commerce (3)


The Payoff: Commerce

Today, Commerce gets a well-deserved smack-down with a one-star review from Frank Bruni:

The memo apparently went out, and those New Yorkers versed in showing up at the right new places right when they’re supposed to have descended on Commerce in style and in droves. That makes it either exhilarating or enervating, depending on your age, your mood and the strength of your eardrums…

Commerce in one sense evokes the Waverly Inn and in another emulates Balthazar. But in the end it isn’t like either of them, which becomes clear when the menu arrives and, in its wake, the food.

[Chef Harold Moore] … creates a rankling dissonance, his dishes beseeching a closeness of attention that the frenzied atmosphere doesn’t easily permit.

And he errs. While there’s some wonderful food that reflects the talent he showed and the experience he received at Montrachet and then March, there’s also some food that’s not cooked or seasoned as it should be, and there’s food that’s too fussy, not just for the ambience but also for its own good.

I never root for restaurants to fail, but I must confess I am delighted that Bruni didn’t fall for this mess. We’ve seen far too many restaurants attempting to serve three-star food in zero-star surroundings, with the aim of earning two stars. Enough is enough.

Unfortunately, we didn’t trust our gut, so we lose $1 on our hypothetical bet. So does Eater.

              Eater       NYJ
Bankroll $88.50   $99.67
Gain/Loss –1.00   –1.00
Total $87.50   $98.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 38–16   38–16

Rolling the Dice: Commerce

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 Commerce, the West Villager brought to you by two Montrachet alums, Tony Zazula and Harold Moore. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 6-1
One Star: 2-1 √√
Two Stars: 3-1
Three Stars: 9-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: It has been a long time since we hated—I mean, really hated—a restaurant, coupled with a near-total belief that there was nothing the management could do to rescue the place. But that was how we felt about Commerce, which we detested in every way imaginable.

Yet, every critic to review Commerce has given Harold Moore his due: the guy can cook. Based on the series of kitchens he has run, I have to assume the turgid entrées they served us were atypical. Based on the reviews, I have to assume that the team at Commerce usually have their act together—or at least, that they know a critic when they see one.

The ambiance here is so unpleasant that I was tempted to change my rating system to allow negative stars, but it’s clear the critics in town—while recognizing the drawbacks—didn’t deduct as many style points as I did. And Bruni’s verdict is seldom far off of the critical mainstream.

There’s also the dicta in Bruni’s Chop Suey review, in which he was trying to figure out where to take a friend visiting from Spain. The places he considered, besides Chop Suey? Adour, Mia Dona, and Commerce. The reviews are in on the first two, both positive. He’s not likely to have considered taking his friend to a restaurant he disliked. Then again, he took the friend to Chop Suey!

The Bet: Though torn, we agree with Eater that Commerce is likely to just barely cross the finish line with two stars.




Note: Commerce closed in June 2015, after failing to resolve a long-standing dispute with the landlord. As you will see from our review review, we had no love for the place, and never went back. But it clearly had a following. Perhaps it improved later on.

As of July 2016, the space is the un-Google-able Fifty, “a new neighborhood dining destination offering seasonal, new-American fare with a focus on South American spices and flavors. Helmed by chef Luis Jaramillo, who hails from Ecuador, the menu showcases local, seasonal ingredients complimented by bold, ethnic flavors from his home country and surrounding South American regions.”


Fifty Commerce is one of New York’s most charming addresses. Located on a twisting lane that no one can find without a map, it’s a reminder of New York a century ago, with its cobblestones, low-slung Colonial-style townhouses, and the lovely Cherry Lane Theater.

It hasn’t been a charmed address for restaurants, though. The Depression-era speakeasy became the Blue Mill Tavern, then Grange Hall, then a second Blue Mill Tavern. The first Blue Mill lasted fifty years, and perhaps it should have stayed that way. Grange Hall was, as I understand it, a reliable burgers-and-fries place. Blue Mill’s reincarnation replaced it, and sank.

[Kreiger via Eater]
Now comes Commerce, owned by two Montrachet alumni, Tony Zazula and chef Harold Moore. They’ve given it a thorough make-over, removing Blue Mill’s art deco additions and restoring something like the old Grange Hall look. But this is no burgers-and-fries menu. Moore has stints at Daniel, Jean Georges and March under his belt. He and Zazula strive mightily to bring haute cuisine to this tavern-like atmosphere.

They fail on almost every level.

The miserable space is the loudest we have experienced in quite some time. I felt like I needed to check into a clinic for aural detox. The reservations book is mismanaged: we were seated thirty minutes late, and another party waited an hour. The host tried to offer us a bar table. We should have taken that deal, which would have been better than a frenetic dining room as crowded as Penn Station. We were much better off than the party of six seated at a circular table with the diameter of a hula hoop. At another tiny table, a couple were practically in each other’s laps; fortunately, they didn’t seem to mind.

Bread Service

Moore’s cuisine doesn’t offer sufficient compensation, though I’m not sure any food could. We adored the bounty of bread rolls, which might be the best bread service in the city right now. Our appetizers were wonderful, but the entrées were awful and took quite a while to come out.

Dinner here isn’t cheap, with appetizers at $11–19 and entrées $23–44 (most in the high twenties).  As Eater noted, “the menu really doesn’t have an escape plan dish (say, a burger).” Even if the service issues are fixed, we can’t see this loud, cramped space surviving with a menu where you can’t get out for less than $60 a head—and that’s before you order from the over-priced wine list.

During our long wait for a table, we cooled our heels at the bar—also plenty busy, but more comfortable than the dining room. Several of the house cocktails caught our fancy, such as the Brunswick (rye whisky, fig purée), the Cherry Lane (gin, cherry purée) and the Agave Stinger (tequila, burnt honey, fresh lime, soda, honeycomb), all $13. They also serve food at the bar. If you can get a seat, you’ll probably have a better time, and get more attention, than in the dining room.

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Ragu of Odd Things (left); Terrine of Foie Gras Rillettes (right)

We loved our appetizers, which at least showed the potential for Moore’s menu, if only it were served somewhere else.

A “Ragu of Odd Things” ($16) featured the likes of tripe, tongue, and oxtail. This hearty, filling dish could be a small meal in itself. A Duck and Foie Gras Rillettes Terrine ($19) was also nicely done. Had we left at that point, I would have gone home happy.

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Halibut (left); Stuffed Veal Breast (right)

Both entrées failed. Halibut ($28) had been overcooked to the point that it became mush. The sweet pea sauce was alleged to contain speck ham and black truffles, but I couldn’t detect the taste of either. To the restaurant’s credit, they took it off the bill.

Stuffed Breast of Veal ($26) had potential, but it had been left sitting under a heat lamp too long. It was only lukewarm.

The front-of-house team seems to really care about what they’re doing, but they are simply overwhelmed. I ordered (and was charged for) a 2003 Italian red wine; they brought the 2006. The flubs at our table, plus those we observed at others, seemed like more than most restaurants make in a week.

And apropos of nothing, why don’t they have a website?

It’s rare that we leave a restaurant with near certainty that “We will never eat here again.” That’s the verdict for Commerce. If you go, bring your tylenol.

Commerce (50 Commerce Street near Barrow Street, West Village)

Food: Uneven
Service: Chaotic
Ambiance: Miserable
Overall: Intolerable