Entries in Eben Freeman (4)



In his heyday, the tenor Luciano Pavarotti could probably have recited the telephone directory in a monotone, and people would have paid to hear it. The chef Michael White is in a similar enviable position: anything he opens is instantly popular, for no other reason than his association with it.

White’s New York career began at Fiamma, where over a decade ago he earned three stars, working for Stephen Hanson of all people. His career really took off when he left in 2007, taking over two upscale Italian places (both now closed) in partnership with Chris Cannon. After an intervening soap opera, he finally wound up with an empire called Altamarea Group, which includes ten restaurants in two U.S. states and on three continents, including five in New York City alone.

That track record guarantees attention, but not acclaim. His pizza place, Nicoletta, got terrible reviews; it’s still open, but gets almost no press. There are no such worries at Costata, his Italian steakhouse in the former Fiamma space. Most of the pro critics haven’t filed yet, but I believe they’ll agree: it’s a hit.

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The Butterfly

Note: The Butterfly closed in summer 2015, after two years in business, as a summer hiatus for renovations became permanent, as such temporary closures so often do. The unfocused faux Wisconsin theme never caught on.


When you google The Butterfly, this is what comes back:

The Butterfly NYC | Classic Cocktails Tribeca | Best New Bar NYC

The Butterfly features cocktails by renowned mixologist Eben Freeman and cuisine by Michelin-starred Chef Michael White in a cozy, mid-century style space

The distinct impression gained, is that this is mainly a cocktail spot, and by the way, you can nosh there too.

White and Freeman have gradually pivoted away from the original concept, an Olde Wisconsin supper club, and an homage to White’s home state. There actually is a “Butterfly Club” in Beloit, Wisconsin, where White once worked. Perhaps he remembers it fondly, but I doubt anyone else around here does.

The décor offers a re-imagining of “retro Wisconsin,” though you quickly forget about it. Waitresses wear old-school black dresses with blue lace trim. Bartenders (including Freeman himself) wear short-sleeve white shirts with thin plaid ties, tie clips, and pocket protectors. They probably decided all of this before the decision to dial down the Wisconsin theme.

Most of the emphasis now is on the cocktails. A couple of weeks ago, White told The Times, “Butterfly isn’t really a Wisconsin restaurant. It’s a New York place to have great cocktails — and something nice to eat.”

Ahmass Fakahany, the main investor in Michael White’s restaurants, added, “Michael and I wanted to showcase the talent of Eben Freeman.”

Freeman built a reputation for avant-garde cocktails at WD~50 and Tailor. The list here is fairly tame by comparison: most of the ten house cocktails have recognizable names, although Freeman tweaks them a bit.

For instance, his Highball ($14; above left) isn’t just any bourbon and soda, but Michter’s Rye and Coca-Cola smoked with alder and cherry woods. His Boiler Maker ($16; below right) is not just any beer and whiskey, but a house-made raisin shandy and Dewar’s infused with pumpernickel raisin bread and carraway seeds.

Freeman told The Times that the cocktail offerings will expand as the restaurant gets its sea legs. The bar certainly has all of Freeman’s toys: we’re not in Wisconsin any more. If you’d prefer to drink wine, then I wouldn’t bother: the list is perfunctory.

About half the menu features comfort-food classics that may well have been popular in 1950s Wisconsin, like a fish sandwich, a patty melt, and shrimp cocktail. Others are just generically popular items that you could find anywhere: a strip steak, fried chicken, a caesar salad.

White elevates these classics above their usual mundane selves. That patty melt is not just any patty: it’s dry-aged beef. That chicken isn’t just any chicken: it’s organic chicken from Bell & Evans.

Most of the menu is inexpensive, by Michael White standards. Hors d’oeuvres are $8–16, salads $11–14, sandwiches $15–17, entrées $19–27, side dishes $5–8, desserts $9–10. The whole menu fits on one page, and the smaller plates dominate: a dozen hors d’oeuvres and salads, against just six sandwiches and entrées.

A $17 patty melt may seem dear, but early reports are rapturous, and it’s in line with many of the city’s high-end burgers. If you believe that no one should ever pay $17 for a burger, you shouldn’t eat here.

I was sorely tempted to try it, but an aged prime patty melt is not so much cooked as curated. I wanted to try the more unusual items, so I ordered four of the hors d’oeuvres.


You might start with the Reuben Croquettes ($9; above left), little fried balls of corned beef (not enough of it) and sauerkraut with thousand island dipping sauce. Zucchini Pancakes ($13; above right) are a terrific snack—little bursts of flavor, with crème fraîche, shallots, dill, and trout roe. I don’t think there’s much of Wisconsin in this dish.


Pork Rinds ($8; above left) are flecked with rosemary and pepper, one of the better renditions of this dish that I’ve encountered, but for a solo diner they’re too much of a good thing. The Bratwurst Sliders ($13; above right) offer plump little house-made sausages, slit lengthwise, with spicy mustard and sweet peppers on potato rolls.

Service was friendly and polished, as it has been at all the White places I’ve visited: silverware was replaced after every course, plates delivered and cleared promptly. I dropped in quite early in the evening, with customers only just beginning to wander in, but I suspect they’ll be able to cope with the volume when the place is full.

Any restaurant from these gentlemen is going to attract a crowd, at first. I do think they’ll have to expand the menu pretty soon, if they want to attract repeat customers. I work near here, so I could easily imagine dropping by the Butterfly from time to time. The food isn’t destination material; the cocktails could be, once Freeman brings out more of his repertoire.

The Butterfly (225 W. Broadway at White Street, TriBeCa)

Food: Retro Wisconsin comfort food, liberally interpreted
Service: First-rate for such a casual place
Ambiance: Retro Wisconsin too, but you’re not really going to notice



Cocktails at Tailor


Note: Click here for a more recent review of Tailor.

Most restaurants go through an adjustment period after they open, as chefs figure out what works, and what doesn’t. Those adjustments were somewhat more dramatic at Tailor, where chef Sam Mason had to eat a huge helping of humble pie, after his restaurant was roasted and pilloried by every critic in town.

In an early visit, I found the restaurant promising, but the menu didn’t have enough choices, and the lack of a serious wine list was a serious drawback. Mason has rectified both. The current menu offers about a half-dozen each of appetizers ($15–17), entrées ($24–27) and desserts ($12), though it must be noted that portion sizes remain small, and hearty eaters may need to order more than three courses to go home full. A seven-course chef’s tasting menu is $90, which seems exorbitant when you consider that Momofuku Ko serves ten courses for $85.

tailor_bar.pngThe wine list has been fleshed out too. Early on, Mason conceded that “Wine’s a little beyond me,” but he finally figured out that customers want wine with food. From the beginning, Eben Freeman’s cocktails won high praise, but I still think they pair poorly with food. They need to be enjoyed on their own.

Last night, I dropped in for a couple of cocktails before heading uptown for dinner. The bar area is downstairs, and it is one of the loveliest bar spaces in town. Both of my visits have been quite early (around 5:30 p.m.), when it is still relatively empty, and the bartenders have time to chat.

tailor01a.jpg tailor01b.jpg

One feature of Eben Freeman’s cocktail menu is that almost every item has ingredients you never heard of. I asked for something “not too sweet,” and the bartender recommended the Mate Sour ($13), which is made from Yerba Mate, Queberante Pisco, Lime Juice, Honey, Egg Whites, and Angostura. Half of those ingredients are as unfamiliar to me as they probably are to you. But it had a nice cool, bracing taste.

Freeman also serves a tasting of three “solid cocktails” ($12), captioned Cuba Libre, Ramos Gin Fizz, and White Russian. The menu is unhelpful—it lists only the short names—and I wasn’t about to give the bartender the third degree. I’d describe them as interesting, rather than good, and they disappear awfully quickly.

tailor02.jpgI asked the bartender about a mysterious unlabeled bottle, which he said was tobacco-infused bourbon. None of the cocktails on the printed menu actually uses that ingredient, so I asked him to make one up for me. So he put some tobacco-infused bourbon, Jim Beam, and a couple of different bitters into a mixing vessel, and voila! Out came the drink shown on the left, which resembled an Old Fashioned.

Last week’s Time Out New York named Tailor “Best restaurant you were sick of before it opened.” That captures the contradiction, which is that Tailor is very good, but suffered badly from early over-exposure. I didn’t eat any of the food this time, but it looks like Tailor has matured. Those who were sick of it should consider a second look.

Tailor (525 Broome Street between Sullivan & Thompson Streets, SoHo)

Food & Drink: **
Ambiance: **
Service: **
Overall: **



The exterior, clearly unfinished. Across the street, the no-photo rule clearly doesn’t apply!!

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Tailor.

Sam Mason is the latest pastry chef to open his own restaurant, following in the footsteps of Will Goldfarb at Room 4 Dessert (now closed) and Pichet Ong  of p*ong. Mason’s solo act is called Tailor. The website says that it’s “named as an ode to the skills of a seasoned craftsman.” Tailor shares with R4D and p*ong a creative approach to desserts. This is no cherry pie and vanilla ice cream place. Mason’s former gig was as at the avant-garde WD–50, of which Tailor’s cuisine is strongly reminiscent.

For a while, I wondered if Tailor would open in my lifetime. Grub Street had a recurring feature called The Launch, chronicling Mason’s pre-opening adventures. As of last December, Tailor’s debut was expected in “late February or the beginning of March.” After a while, the delays became almost comical, and Mason wisely stopped posting. Well, Tailor is finally here, and eGullet is ecstatic.

I was happy to find that Tailor is only about 5 minutes’ walk from the subway station I use to get home, so I thought I’d drop in after work. The bi-level space is modern chic, but nicely done. There is an ample bar area downstairs with a dining room on the ground level. The dining room is arguably more comfortable than WD–50, and it is certainly more so than p*ong or the late lamented Room 4 Dessert.

Service was as polished as at just about any three-star restaurant. Although there are no tablecloths, there are cloth  napkins. Silverware was promptly replaced. Empty glasses and finished plates were promptly whisked away. My bar tab was transferred to my table without complaint. And when I asked the bartender about an unusual pear cider in one of the specialty drinks, he volunteered a free taste of it.

The food has three-star potential, but with some serious limitations. At the moment, only six savory courses and six desserts are on offer, making Tailor’s menu the skimpiest of any comparable establishment. None of the items individually is very expensive (sweets $11; savories $12–15), but as the servings are small, the costs can mount in a hurry.

Mason made a considered decision to feature cocktails, rather than wine. The cocktail menu features twelve very clever selections by mixologist Eben Freeman, but only five wines by the glass (none by the bottle). Freeman’s offerings ($12–15 each) are excellent in their own right, but they are small, and they overpowered the food.

Frank Bruni thrives on the unpredictable, but if he is unwilling to award three stars to WD–50, it seems unlikely he’ll do so here, as Tailor is in many ways far more limited. Two stars seems to me about the best Tailor could expect, unless the menu choices expand and a real wine list is added. It seems almost a crime to have such a polished service brigade, and so little to serve.

Although the dining room was empty, the staff insisted that I not take photographs. Why Thomas Keller can permit this with a full dining room at Per Se, while Mason won’t allow it in an empty one, is beyond me. Apparently he wants to keep the food a secret. I will therefore accommodate him by not describing what I had. I’ll say that there was an amuse-bouche. Of the two dishes I paid for, one was very close to the best thing I’ve had all year; the other one wasn’t.

I had planned to order more, but after the no-photography edict I decided to go home. What’s the deal with the no-photo rule? Gordon Ramsay was the last jerk to pull that stunt, and look where it got him?

Tailor (525 Broome Street between Sullivan & Thompson Streets, SoHo)

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