Entries in Danny Meyer (26)

Tuesday
Jun262012

Shake Shack

Remember Marilyn Hagerty, the Olive Garden reviewer from Grand Forks, North Dakota? The piece went viral, as foodies lampooned her fawining praise for such a mediocre restaurant.

The newspaper then sent her to New York to review—yes, Olive Garden again—and also Dovetail, Crown, Le Bernardin, and even a lowly hot dog stand.

Anyhow, she also visited Shake Shack. Turns out she’s not the country bumpkin that the original review suggests. Her capsule critique: “the meat was slightly better than Burger King.” (I mean, if you were the critic in Grand Forks, what would you review.)

Shake Shack, the lowliest of Danny Meyer’s restaurants, now has 15 locations in five U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the Middle East. It is indeed slightly better than Burger King.

At most reasonable mealtimes, expect to wait about 15–20 minutes, and it could very easily be a whole lot more, depending on the location — I visited the Times Square branch, at the corner of 44th Street and Eighth Avenue, at around 6:40pm on a Monday evening.

I’d heard the fries are poor, so I ordered just a cheeseburger and a vanilla milkshake.

The burger is cooked to order. Both the patty and the bun are thicker, fresher, and heartier than most fast food. But both are too greasy—or were on this occasion.

The shake is rather small by fast food standards, and not thick enough. It’s rather odd that the shake ($5) is more expensive than the cheesburger ($4.05).

This is a Danny Meyer joint, so the service is pretty good, bearing in mind that it’s fast food. If you think of Shake Shack as a slightly better Burger King, perhaps it’s worth the wait if you must have a burger.

When the line snakes around the block, I’m not convinced it’s worth it.

Shake Shack (300 W. 44th St. at Eighth Avenue, Times Square)

Food: burgers, fries, shakes, and such; even wine
Service: Danny Meyer does fast food
Ambiance: Danny Meyer does fast food

Rating: Neighborhood spot
Why? It’s fine if you must have a fast-food burger and the line isn’t too long

Friday
May252012

Union Square Cafe

 

Has it really been 20 years since I visited Union Square Cafe? I’ve a vague memory of lunch there, about that long ago. It’s been on my revisit list since forever, but was never readily bookable at times I wanted to go.

Reservations have loosened up a bit: recently, I was able to book midweek at 6:45pm on ten days’ notice. I don’t recall ever being able to do that.

You really do need to try Union Square Cafe. On any fair reckoning, it is one of the most influential New York restaurants of the last quarter-century. If it had accomplished nothing else, it would deserve a place in the pantheon for launching the career of restaurateur Danny Meyer, who was 27 when it opened in 1985.

There were stumbles then: a one-star review from Bryan Miller in 1986. Meyer persisted, replacing the opening chef (Ali Barker) with Michael Romano, winning three stars from Miller in 1989. By 1999, William Grimes re-affirmed three stars, noting that although the place was still “hugely popular…It’s not the food that’s setting off the stampede.”

When Union Square opened, it was one of the first, and the best, of a new breed that Bryan Miller called ”international bistro,” in reviewing the restaurant in 1989 in The New York Times and awarding it three stars.

Union Square has not changed, but the world has changed around it. Michael Romano, the executive chef and part owner, does what he has always done, and done very well, which is to turn out jazzed-up bistro and trattoria fare with utter consistency. What looked like a flashy sports car a decade ago now seems more like a midsize Buick cruising in the center lane at a precise 65.

Ten years later Frank Bruni knocked it down to two stars. There were too many blunders; the food wasn’t consistent enough. But he still found, as one does at every Danny Meyer restaurant, “staff so seemingly genuine in their yearning to accommodate you and their contrition when they can’t that Danny Meyer…must be giving them either Method acting classes or major pharmaceuticals. Maybe both.”

It would be foolish to expect Union Square Cafe to change very much. At some point, a pathbreaking restaurant becomes a tradition in itself. This restaurant has earned that.

It could still clean up its act. I don’t know many places that serve a $13.50 cocktail, with a straw still in its sealed paper sheath. A restaurant of this caliber shouldn’t be serving any accessory in its factory wrapper. When I ordered a glass of wine to follow up, the server failed to bring it, because she didn’t notice I’d finished that cocktail, even though considerable time went by.

We ordered two appetizers to share; only one came. Realizing their mistake, the staff served the second appetizer with the entrées. (To be fair, it was taken off the bill without prompting.)

The cuisine is difficult to classify. The website calls it “American … with an Italian soul, using fresh ingredients from the local Greenmarket.” Miller’s first three-star review called it “Northern Italian” cusine, flat out.

Over the years, the Italian influence has mellowed, aside from the pasta section of the menu. Most of the appetizers and main courses could be found in any seasonal American restaurant, though descriptive Italian words pop up here and there. In the service and ambiance, Union Square Cafe doesn’t resemble an Italian restaurant at all.

Prices are not expensive, for a restaurant that had three stars until quite recently. Snacks are $4–7, appetizers $10–19, pastas $16–19 (small portion) or $26–29 (large), entrées $27–35, side dishes $8–10. I’d call that the “upper middle” price range for Manhattan. The menu changes daily, and the website (every time I checked) displayed a current one.

Appetizers were weaker than the main courses. Asparagus Tempura ($19; above left) sounded like a good idea, but when you throw in lobster, seared pork belly, and ramp vinaigrette, it’s at least one ingredient too many. The asparagus were good, but the lobster was slightly rubbery, the pork belly a bit chalky.

From the snacks portion of the menu, we ordered the Pig Ears ($6; above right) as our second appetizer. This was the item that didn’t come out on time. I liked the tarragon mustard, but the ears themselves were in a cloying sauce that tasted like soy. We didn’t bother to finish them.

I was impressed with both entrées. Pork shoulder ($27; above left) was in a honey-balsamic glaze, with ramp polenta and spring slaw. I’m not positive what accompanied the Trout ($27; above right), as the online menu has since changed, but the fish itself was lovely.

The beverage list runs to 33 pages; wines are mostly French, Italian, and American, priced from the mid-$40s to the thousands. There is something here for almost every budget.

The attractive tri-level space would be considered a bit old-fashioned if it opened today, but I doubt there are any complaints from the clientele, which skews slightly older than average. There is a younger crowd at the bar, where a full menu is available. The décor deftly straddles the line between formal and casual. Whether it’s a special occasion or an average night out, you can feel at home.

The service, so eager to please, fumbles at times — or did on this particular night — but Union Square Cafe remains worthwhile, and could still teach its many imitators a thing or two.

Union Square Cafe (21 E. 16th St. between Broadway & Fifth Ave., Union Square)

Food: American Greenmarket with Italian influences, mostly very good
Service: As accommodating as can be, if a bit sloppy at times
Ambiance: A civilized, adult restaurant; would that there were more of them.

Rating: Critic’s Pick
Why? Still one of the best of its kind, after all these years

Sunday
May062012

Blue Smoke Battery Park City

Blue Smoke, Danny Meyer’s barbecue joint, now has a second Manhattan location, sharing a building in Battery Park City around the corner from Goldman Sachs with his other new restaurant, North End Grill.

The new location feels a bit smaller than the original Blue Smoke, in the Flatiron District. (The earlier restaurant also has a club attached, Jazz Standard.) The Flatiron outpost takes reservations for parties of all sizes; here, they’re taken only for parties of 6 or more. Flatiron transferred my bar tab; this one did not.

My view of Blue Smoke hasn’t changed much from when I reviewed the Flatiron restaurant. It feels a bit corporate and inauthentic, because it serves a mash-up of multiple regional barbecue styles, not really nailing any of them. In compensation for that, you get the excellent Danny Meyer service, and a better beverage program than almost all barbecue places.

We loved the Grilled Oysters with Spinach and Toasted Breadcrumbs ($8.95; above left), though it is a bit annoying that such a readily sharable dish comes with an odd number of oysters.

There are three kinds of ribs: Kansas City spareribs, Memphis-style baby-backs, and Texas Salt-and-Pepper beef ribs. A sampler of four, four, and two respectively, is $38.95 (above right). The Texas ribs, with their meager allotment of beef on the bones, were disappointing. My girlfriend liked the smaller, more dry, Memphis ribs the best; I had trouble deciding between those and the larger, saucier K.C. ribs.

There’s an abundance of sides, and I wish we’d had the appetite for more of them. The cornbread ($3.95; below left) was just fine.

I checked in on foursquare when I arrived, as I do at many restaurants, and by mid-meal a manager type came over to say hello (sent by Danny Meyer himself). Now, many restaurants check social media, but I haven’t often been noticed while the meal was in progress; usually it’s the day after. Finding me here took some sleuthing, as I hadn’t given my name. It says a lot about Danny Meyer’s attention to detail, when they go to the trouble at a barbecue place that doesn’t take reservations.

A warm strawberry rhubarb pie (above right), for which we weren’t charged, was excellent. I’d drop in again just for that pie.

There’s an excellent list of whiskies, bourbons and ryes; more beers on tap and by the bottle than you’ll get around to trying; and even a short but reasonable wine list. I had a fine Sazerac at the bar ($9) and an inexpensive Montepulciano at the table ($40).

The neighborhood—really, any neighborhood—is better with Blue Smoke in it. The crowd is a mix of Wall Streeters and young families. The restaurant was doing a good business at 7:30 p.m. on a weeknight, but wasn’t completely full. Blue Smoke will be a hit, make no mistake about it.

Blue Smoke (255 Vesey Street near North End Avenue, Battery Park City)

Food: Corporate barbecue with some good accompaniments and great dessert
Service: Danny Meyer’s strong suit
Ambiance: What you expect a barbecue place to be

Rating: Neighborhood Spot
Why? There’s better ’cue in the city, but I’d be here all the time if I lived nearby

Monday
Jan302012

North End Grill

Note: This is a review under founding chef Floyd Cardoz, who left the restaurant in April 2014. His replacement is Eric Korsh, formerly of Calliope.

*

You’ve got to admire Danny Meyer’s sense of the moment. He put fine dining into Union Square before Union Square was hip. Then, he did it at Madison Square. Then, he built the nation’s best museum restaurant at MoMA—indeed, one of the city’s finest restaurants of any kind, regardless of location.

There are some lesser accomplishments: an overrated burger shack that will soon have more locations than McDonald’s (OK, I’m exaggerating); an undistinguished barbecue joint. But even ignoring those places, it’s a remarkable record.

He’s also loyal to those who are loyal to him. A year ago, he shuttered the pathmaking Indian restaurant, Tabla, the first Meyer establishment to close. You couldn’t call it a failure, as the place had been open for twelve years, but it had run its course. But he didn’t fire the chef. Instead, he kept the talented Floyd Cardoz on the payroll until he could find another gig worthy of his abilities.

It didn’t take long. North End Grill has just opened in Battery Park City, along with a branch of that overrated burger shack and that undistinguished barbecue joint. They’ll all be hits.

When the project was announced, Meyer noted the irony that Battery Park City has the city’s highest-income Zip code, but it has never had any particularly good restaurants. With the new Goldman Sachs headquarters around the block, Meyer figured it was time to give the neighborhood a try.

In that announcement, Meyer made the restaurant sound decidedly middlebrow:

“This fits in with my casual restaurants, like Union Square Cafe, the tavern at Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, and the Bar Room at the Modern,” Mr. Meyer said. “I don’t see this as a special-occasion place.”

He confirmed that Floyd Cardoz, formerly of Tabla, which closed at the end of 2010, will be the chef, with a menu dominated by seafood. A dining counter will face an open kitchen and there will be a bar for drinks, not food.

North End Grill is much better than that. It is not as fancy as Meyer’s two remaining upscale restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and The Modern, but it’s quite a bit fancier than the other places he compared it to—the Tavern Room, the Bar Room, or Maialino.

By today’s standards, it is fine dining. The Goldman Sachs crowd will generate expense account business. Meyer was smart not to surrender that opportunity, and Floyd Cardoz shouldn’t be wasted on tavern food.

Meyer hedged his bets in other ways: the bar does serve food, and there’s a long communal table facing an open kitchen. But the main dining room (in the back, and not immediately visible when you enter) is smartly appointed in white and ebony trim, with crisp white tablecloths, comfortable banquetts, tables generously spaced, and captains in tie and jacket.

Whether you choose the bar or a sit-down meal, you’ll enjoy eating here.

The menu is upper-mid-priced, with appetizers and salads $12–18, entrées $19–44 (most of them $26–34), sides $6–9. There’s a distinct seafood slant, which features in all the appetizers, but the entrées are about a 50 percent split between surf and turf.

It isn’t a bold menu, especially the entrées: halibut, scallops, salmon, pork chop, lamb, duck, turbot, chicken, steak—practically, the laundry list of all the mains a “bar and grill” restaurant needs to serve, lacking only a burger.

But I was there on the second night of dinner service, and I’m sure North End Grill—like every other Danny Meyer restaurant—will gain focus as the restaurant gains its sea legs. For such an early visit (not my usual practice), the kitchen and the service team were remarkably sure-footed.

Cod Throats Meunière ($15; above left) is what passes for critic bait on this menu: the throat of the cod, dredged in flour and served in brown butter. The server compared it to sweetbreads, which was a fairly accurate description.

In an early candidate for Trend of the Year, there is a whole section of the menu for savory egg dishes. If they’re as good as the Tuna Tartare with Fried Quail Egg and Crispy Shallots ($16; above right), then I’d like to try them all.

The Ashley Farms Poulet Rouge ($52; above), one of three “×2” dishes on the menu, was excellent.

So too was a side of Hashed Brussels Sprouts and Lentils ($8; right), which was like a rich, warm cole slaw.

The wine list, which is currently only one sheet of paper, offers a reasonable selection for a new restaurant, although the sommelier said that a longer and deeper list is on the way. For us, the 2007 Haut Médoc from Château Sociando-Mallet ($64) was just right.

The hard liquor department specializes in scotch, with dozens of whiskies in a wide price range. There are also several scotch-based cocktails; I tried the Stone Fence ($13), with, sparkling cider, Peychaud’s bitters, and soda.

This is a Danny Meyer restaurant, so it won’t surprise you that the service was spot-on, allowing for some obvious first-night nervousness that will surely have subsided by the time you read this. I wouldn’t be surprised if North End Grill is a three-star restaurant before long—or what passes for one, now that the classic kind is gradually disappearing. I’m a bit more conservative, but stay tuned.

North End Grill (104 North End Avenue at Vesey Street, Battery Park City)

Food: **½
Service: **½
Ambiance: **½
Overall: **½

Monday
Aug152011

Eleven Madison Park

A year ago, chef Daniel Humm and general manager Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Parkdecided to fix what ain’t broke.” They jettisoned their à la carte menu in favor of a laconic square grid of sixteen ingredients. Unless you ask, you’ll have no idea if “Lobster” is a risotto, a bisque, a thermidor, or something else.

“Tasting menus are like monologues,” Guidara told The Times. “This is a dialogue.”

But as one Chowhounder put it (quoted in The Post), “I don’t want no stinkin’ dialogue! When I go to a world-class restaurant, I want the chef to take care of me.”

At Eleven Madison Park, you are, of course, welcome to have as much of a “dialogue”—or as little—as you want. This being a Danny Meyer restaurant, the server will stand there all night and explain every dish, if that’s what you want. But you don’t really want that, do you? You’re probably just going to select one ingredient from each row of the grid, communicate any allergies, and be done with it.

If the poor crybaby Chowhounder cannot be bothered to name four ingredients ($125), he can order the tasting menu ($195) and get whatever the chef chooses to send out. Another crybaby Chowhounder (they do moan a lot there) went so far as to call the new menu “a scam.”

Of course it is not a scam. Not even close. What it is, at least arguably, is a gimmick.

Eleven Madison Park is serving what amounts to a mystery tasting menu, where the appetizer, two entrées, and the dessert, can be chosen from a cryptic list of four items each. Plenty of restaurants offer tasting menus where none of the items are described at all. EMP’s own $195 menu operates that way. Plenty of others offer tasting menus where the ingredients are listed in some detail, but where most or all of the courses offer no choice at all.

This menu is a hybrid, a tasting menu with a few degrees of freedom, but with most of it a surprise unless you are awfully inquisitive. The gimmick is the “dialogue,” which doesn’t really exist—except in the sense it does at any restaurant that offers diners a choice, which is to say, most of them.

At our excellent dinner last Friday evening, we weren’t at all affronted by the 4×4 grid. It isn’t very helpful, either. Wouldn’t it be better to write down the choices the way a conventional restaurant would? The kitchen clearly has a preparation in mind for each of the sixteen ingredients. It doesn’t make them up on the fly. So why not tell us?

*

The service is practically the best of its kind. On entering, the greeter asked for the name of our reservation. When I said “Shepherd,” he said to my friend, without missing a beat or consulting a list, “Welcome. You must be ____.” To memorize every booking is impressive enough. To know my companion’s name is unheard of. At the table, a handwritten birthday card was waiting for her.

As you’d expect, plates and flatware were set and cleared seamlessly, every request honored instantly, every need anticipated. It is a performance perhaps half-a-dozen restaurants in town can match.

The meal begins with something like four or five flights of amuses. I didn’t note them all, but the tour de force was a “clam bake,” with four delicate canapés and a broth that the server pours into a contraption heated by hot rocks, simulating a beach clam bake in miniature.

From the first row of the menu grid, my friend and I both chose “Rabbit,” which I correctly guessed would be a luscious, creamy terrine, as it was in the position on the grid that I know (from other reviews) is usually represented by a foie gras terrine. Without the advance research I did, no other diner would know this.

Had the meal ended here, I would give Eleven Madison Park the same four stars that Frank Bruni did. Instead, I was reminded of Bruni’s comment at the end of 2008, that: “one in every three dishes didn’t measure up to the others (though nothing — nothing — was wholly undistinguished).” It seemed there were two restaurants here, with a completely different kitchen responsible for everything after the appetizer.

The statement that “nothing — nothing — was wholly undistinguished” could apply to my friend’s Loup de Mer, her Pork, and my Chicken. But I would not call them distinguished either. Somewhat more impressive was Lobster wrapped in fat, rich noodles, a lasagne of the gods. It was the only savory dish that I would care to see again. There was nothing wrong with the others, but there was no wow! in them.

Even less memorable were pastry chef Angela Pinkerton’s desserts, “Berries” and “Apricot, and the petits fours were noticeably less impressive than at the other four-star restaurants. We weren’t served a birthday cake, either—just a lit candle poking out from the dessert we had already paid for. I didn’t actually need another cake at that point, but see my reviews of Asiate and Del Posto for how the pastry departments in comparable restaurants usually honor such an occasion.

Wine pairings are $95 per person, and if you ask the sommelier to “be creative,” he will. I lost count, but I believe there were six or seven pours, ranging from beer to sake to cocktails, and of course wines, all with decent age on them; most were off the beaten path. Where my friend and I ordered different items, the wines were different also. For one course, the sommelier couldn’t decide between a cocktail and wine, so he gave both.

The final pour, as many reviews have noted, is a bottle of digestif that the sommelier leaves on the table for you to take as much as you would like. It is a safe bet that most normal folk will be too full to abuse the privilege. This must be the best wine pairing in the city, aside from Per Se, which charges at least double for similar service.

If my review seems harsh, it is not. I adore Eleven Madison Park. This is my third visit since chef Humm came on board (here, here). The four-course menu at $125 is one of the best dining deals in town, given all the extras that come with it. What I don’t see, however, is the leap to four stars that other publications have claimed.

Eleven Madison Park (11 Madison Avenue at 24th Street, Flatiron District)

Cuisine: Hard to classify; extraordinary at its best, but occasionally falls flat
Service: Incomparable; arguably the best in the city
Ambiance: Superb; an elegant, high-ceilinged space in a landmarked building

Rating: Category Killer

Monday
Jun202011

Untitled

Danny Meyer is about as close to restaurant royalty as there is in this town. He has put his name on a wide variety of cuisines and concepts, from casual to formal, and he has never had a flop. (Tabla, his Indian restaurant, closed in 2010, but only after 15 years—certainly not a failure, by any reckoning.)

One factor in his success is that—except for his burger stand, Shake Shack—he has never opened outside of New York City, where he can personally attend to the attentive service that his restaurants are famous for. Whether you like the food or not, there’s no doubt you’ll be treated well.

Meyer’s latest project, Untitled, carries some risks. Located in the basement of the Whitney Museum, the odd name is a pun on the establishment’s fondness for avant garde modern art works that lack titles.

The space, which was formerly Sarabeth’s Kitchen, is needed frequently for evening events, so it serves dinner only three nights a week (Fridays to Sundays). At breakfast and lunch, it serves sandwiches, salads, pastries, and the like.

Danny Meyer has a deep bench. When he opens a new restaurant, he reaches down to the triple-A farm team and promotes someone to the big leagues. Chris Bradley, the lucky guy at Untitled, worked four years at Gramercy Tavern as a sous chef and executive sous chef.

As the kitchen is quite small, the dinner menu is limited to a $46 prix fixe, where everyone gets the same appetizer, side dishes, and desserts. The only choice is the entrée: meat, fish, or vegetarian. It’s updated every week and posted on the website. (Last weekend’s menu is shown above; click on the image for a larger view.)

The wine cellar is also limited, with just 5 whites and 5 reds, but you can bring in outside wine for just $10 corkage.

Untitled reminds me of Torrisi Italian Specialties, another restaurant that forces everyone into the same fixed menu, with a limited entrée choice being the only decision the customer makes. Torrisi costs $4 more and offers a few more courses, but not necessarily better food. Torrisi has an attitude, fostered by fawning critics who imagine it’s better than it is. If you build a Torrisi without the pretension, one that is larger, more comfortable, and more attractive; one that takes reservations and has better service, then you’ve got Untitled.

The meal starts with fresh vegetables and dipping sauce (above left); a thick, chilled avocado soup with specks of blue and red onion as amuse bouche (above center); and a warm roll with soft butter (above right).

I loved the Baby Spinach Salad (above left) with goat cheese, strawberries, and a tarragon vinaigrette; and also the main course, Pork Loin & Belly (above right) on a bed of spigarello. (I didn’t taste much of the garlic and chili mentioned on the menu, but the dish didn’t need them either.) Side dishes, served family style, included a Carrot & Barley Risotto (below left) and a Zucchini–Tomato Gratin (below center).

None of this was ground-breaking or complex food, but it was very much in the Gramercy Tavern greenmarket esthetic—lists of purveyors are written on a chalkboard above the bar. On a value basis, I would rather dine here than Gramercy.

I found the dessert less impressive, a forgettable Blueberry–Lemon Meringue Pie (above right) that you could find at just about any diner. How hard could it be, to offer at least one other option to guests who don’t want that much sugar?

As I was dining alone, I chose the two house cocktails over wine. Both ($12) were excellent: a Bourbon Lemonade (basil-infused lemonade, Maker’s Mark, mint leaves); and the Hemingway (white rum, prosecco, lemon and lime juice).

The bright, attractive space admits an abundance of outside light. Starchitect David Rockwell designed it, and used plenty of the blond woods he’s so fond of. The restaurant seats 70 at the tables and 10 at the bar; just 14 seats were occupied when I left, a bit after 7:00 p.m. on a Friday evening. However, Friday dinner service was only recently added (it was only Saturdays and Sundays, at first), and the word might not be out yet. The service, of course, was according to the Danny Meyer playbook.

If Untitled had a full menu, it might be a two-star restaurant. Points need to be deducted for a restaurant that offers so few choices. If you have any food allergies or other limitations, you may find that the limited options at Untitled become no choice at all. If you don’t mind being shoehorned into the menu du jour, you get a good value out of your $46 investment.

Untitled at the Whitney (945 Madison Ave. at 75th Street, Upper East Side)

Food: *
Service: *½
Ambiance: *
Overall: *

Thursday
Sep302010

Danny Meyer’s Tabla to Close

Restauranteur Danny Meyer announced today that Tabla will close at the end of the year. It is the first time Meyer has folded a restaurant since his remarkable run of success began with Union Square Cafe in 1885.

Tabla was a big risk in 1998, aiming to prove that nouveau Indian cuisine could work in a fine-dining environment. Its fancy upstairs dining room had a relatively expensive prix fixe format usually reserved for high-end French restaurants. It won three stars from Ruch Reichl, and a fanatic following thereafter.

As time went on, Tabla faded out of the conversation, while its next-door neighbor, Eleven Madison Park—which Meyer also owns—ascended to four-star glory. There were certainly signs of trouble a year ago, when Tabla ditched the prix fixe and installed its more casual “bread bar” menu in the main dining room.

Remarkably, Tabla and Eleven Madison Park opened within weeks of one another. The two are divided by a wall that couldn’t be removed in the landmarked building, which led to the seemingly harebrained idea of opening two fine dining restaurants practically simultaneously, adjacent to one another. Nobody can be happy about Tabla’s demise; still, twelve years is a pretty damned good run.

Meyer told the Times that it was a struggle to fill 280 seats every night. Restauranteurs’ own explanations are seldom the full story: no one ever wants to admit that their own mistakes could have contributed to the failure. Whatever the reason, Tabla will soon be no more.

He also said he is keeping it open through December 30 to give his staff time to find other positions. The fall and holiday seasons are usually the best months for the restaurant industry, and no doubt Tabla fans will want to go back for one last fling. Meyer will probably have no trouble breaking even for three more months.

What he will do with the space is unknown. It’s hard to imagine Meyer ceding prime Madison Square real estate to another operator. But that very large space is expensive, which limits the kinds of concepts that can succeed there.

Wednesday
Feb102010

Gramercy Tavern

For the legions who regularly run the gauntlet for a coveted reservation at Gramercy Tavern, I have some good news: you won’t have to compete with New York Journal for a table. After our visit there last Friday, we believe we are finished with Gramercy Tavern.

It’s not that we had a bad meal here (far from it), but we think there are far, far better ways to spend $86 per person—that’s the current prix fixe, the cheapest ordering option in the dining room. For all that, Chef Michael Anthony serves unmemorable, timid food that resembles an average night at his original restaurant, the less-expensive Blue Hill.

Our last visit to Gramercy Tavern was truly disappointing, with one of our pasta dishes served cold. To the restaurant’s credit, the general manager emailed me to follow up, and after we spoke on the telephone, sent us a $150 gift certificate. That’s about as generous response to a mishap as you can ask for, and typical of Danny Meyer’s empire: they truly want to please you.

But when you have a meal without any obvious mistakes, what are you left with? I cannot tell you that Michael Anthony is doing anything wrong. We don’t particularly mind that the menu is uninventive: there are no greater fans than we are, of classics done well. But to us, Gramercy Tavern is a big bore, the flavor profiles unchallenging and bland.

The trio of amuses-bouches was very good: a small lobster salad (above left), a potato puff with olive tapanade (center), and a cauliflower custard with sea urchin (right).

But we found muted and under-seasoned flavors in Whole Spelt Spaghetti with cauliflower and broccoli rabe (above left) and Lamb Pappardelle with olives, lemon confit and swiss chard (above right).

Entrées were served in ridiculous frisbee-sized plates with only a tiny amount of food in the center. The server informed us that lobster (above left) would be served medium rare, whatever that is supposed to mean. Some things just aren’t meant to be al dente. This flimsy, flaccid imitation of lobster should be dropped from the menu.

Venison Loin (above right) had a hearty flavor, but the casing on the accompanying sausage was too tough, and once you got inside the flavor payoff wasn’t there.

Curiously, the potato pancake that came with the venison (left) was much heartiier than any of the appetizers or entrées. It had the rich flavor that so much of the food lacked.

Things improved markedly when we got to dessert. Pastry Chef Nancy Olson’s desserts are all classics, but they grab you in a way the savory courses fail to do. The pre-dessert, if I recall correctly, was a mandarin orange jelly with mascarpone (not pictured).

We then had the Pineapple Upside Down Cake with frozen yogurt (above left) and the Slow Roasted Apples with pecan crumble and vanilla ice cream (above right). Both were excellent. The petits-fours were very good as well, and we were sent home with complimentary muffins, also from Chef Olson’s pastry kitchen. She really should branch out on her own.

A cup of cappuccino had to be sent back (not enough whipped cream), and a cup of espresso tasted like motor oil.

The service? Well, this is a Danny Meyer place overall. We remain annoyed that neither bread nor canapés are served until after you have ordered, which the GM informed me is a deliberate choice. But it does mean that if you want to relax over a drink, you have nothing to nibble on in the meantime.

We do not expect our review to affect Gramercy Tavern’s overwhelming popularity, and it shouldn’t. If you’re one of those to whom this cuisine appeals, we wish you well. We’ll be dining elsewhere.

Food: *½
Service: **½
Ambiance: **½
Overall: **

Gramercy Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday
Jan212010

Review Recap: Maialino

Sam Sifton loves Maialino, and yesterday awarded precisely the two stars that owner Danny Meyer was hoping for. He thinks the food’s terrific, and in a few sentences really captures the Danny Meyer ethos:

It is warm and familiar, comfortable, a trattoria in an imaginary Rome where everyone comes from Missouri and wants you above all else to have a nice time. . . .

Here studious young men and women bend to the task of assembling cold antipasti and hot espressos alike, dressed in long bistro aprons and beanies: gastro-nerds studying at the University of Meyer.

Graduates work as waiters beyond them; doctoral students as managers. . . .

His [Meyer’s] restaurants have almost always done this in some way. They encourage their customers to appreciate what sits outside them, to rediscover Manhattan in the process. They direct attention to architecture, to parks, to the ideals of urban life. Mr. Meyer has changed the city with restaurants. Isn’t that something?

For those who are into betting, this week’s review didn’t present much of a challenge, as this was an obvious two-bagger. We and Eater both win $2 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.


Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $8.00   $12.00
Gain/Loss +$2.00   +$2.00
Total $10.00   $14.00
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 7–5
(58.3%)
  7–5
(58.3%)


Life-to-date, New York Journal is 77–32 (71%).

Tuesday
Jan192010

Review Preview: Maialino

Tomorrow, Sam Sifton reviews Danny Meyer’s Roman Trattoria, Maialino. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows: Goose Egg: 500–1; One Star: 5–1; Two Stars: 2–1; Three Stars: 3–1; Four Stars: 1,000–1.

We were slightly less enthralled with Maialino than we expected for a Danny Meyer place, awarding just 1½ stars. However, Sifton’s system doesn’t have half-stars, and we cannot ignore the fact that most of the reviews to date have been positive.

We’ve no trouble at all agreeing with Eater that two stars is the likely outcome.