The Greek tragedy that is Country continues. Geoffrey Zakarian ran his top-tier three-star restaurant into the ground. The gorgeous upstairs dining room is now closed indefinitely, supposedly to re-open as Country Steak sometime next year. Don’t all yawn at once. The downstairs café is now in the hands of Blake Joyal, who replaced Willis Loughhead, who replaced Doug Psaltis.
A friend was staying in the area, and I was curious to see what has become of the café, so I made a reservation. I wasn’t pleased with the café the first time I visited, but that was nearly three years ago, and Country was a very different place. Today, it feels like a hotel lounge—which it basically is. “A lot’s changed,” said a sullen bartender. He didn’t sound pleased.
I was surprised to find that the menu is reprinted daily, which suggests that Chef Joyal isn’t just phoning it in. The menu might not be adventurous, but at least it isn’t cast in stone. There are nine appetizers ($11–18), ten entrées ($18–39) and five sides ($8–9): a reasonable compass that a good kitchen should be able to manage. Except for the dry-aged sirloin ($39), entrées are all in the mid-twenties or lower.
The Café at Country was never the most comfortable place to eat, but it is not doing much business, so you’ll get a good table. The bartender clearly preferred to be somewhere else, but at the table our server was friendly and efficient. A warm mixed bean salad ($14; above left) was respectable, but I didn’t detect much of the cured pork belly that was supposed to be lurking under those green leaves. Brased shortribs ($26; above right) were acceptable, but not as tender as they should be. I didn’t note my companions’ entrées, but both of them raved about an onion soup appetizer ($14).
As of now, the Café at Country is serving above-average hotel food, but it’s a far cry from what this wonderful restaurant was once capable of.
The Café at Country (90 Madison Avenue at 29th Street, Gramercy/Flatiron)
Ambiance: Hotel Lobby