Note: Ditch Plains on the Upper West Side closed in September 2014, due to an unaffordable rent increase. Ditch Plains in the West Village remains open.
Ditch Plains opened last month on the Upper West Side. The critics will ignore it, because it’s a clone of Ditch Plains in the West Village, which is now five years old. In a way, that’s a shame. It’s not that chef Marc Murphy is doing anything original, but a civilized restaurant from a chef with some ability, where you can dine happily on $20 entrées, deserves a shout-out.
Murphy is obviously not a risk-taker, in more ways than one. Rather than try his hand at something new, he replicated a concept that was already successful downtown. That was the formula too, when he cloned his Tribeca hit Landmarc at the Time-Warner Center. The menus at these restaurants don’t change very often, and they hew mainly to readily recognized comfort-food classics that don’t challenge the diner.
Murphy obviously has talent, and you have to wonder what he could do, if he ventured outside of his comfort zone. Instead, he makes news by winning the judges’ vote at the South Beach Burger Bash. Mind you, even winning a burger contest requires ability. It’s obviously not a fluke, as Peter Meehan of the Times loved the burger too, in an otherwise lukewarm review of the original Ditch Plains. (The restaurant got a more favorable reception from the Underground Gourmet in New York.)
The obscure name refers to a beach in Montauk. Despite the burger and a few other sops to landlubbers, Ditch Plains is supposed to evoke a seafood shack, albeit a pretty large one with 165 seats. The most expensive entrées are a lobster roll ($26) and a marinated skirt steak ($24); all of the others are $22 or less.
My friend, who was not aware of the West Village branch, thought that the menu was designed to appeal to children—hence, mac and cheese, hot dogs, wings, chili, and so forth. I think it’s just a coincidence, but the restaurant is perfect for the stereotype Upper West Side stroller-toting couple. Indeed, you’ll probably be sharing the dining room with young families, which is either a selling point or a drawback, depending on your perspective.
It’s also close enough for a casual, inexpensive meal before the opera: less costly and less crowded than the Lincoln Center restaurants. Reservations aren’t taken for parties smaller than six, but we had no trouble walking in on a Friday evening. When we left, at around 7:15 p.m., the dining room was about half full.
The kitchen turned out a very good bowl of mussels and fries ($20) and a perfectly respectable grilled fish (red snapper, I believe; $20). An appetizer of spicy pork meatballs ($13) was the highlight, an ample portion slathered in fontina cheese and tomato sauce, with grilled sourdough bread.
In common with Murphy’s other restaurants, the wine list features an abundance of half bottles, an innovation at the time that others have copied (Bar Henry, Ciano), albeit not widely. That might be the most original thing Murphy has done.
Ditch Plains (100 W. 82nd Street at Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side)