Entries in Ed Brown (8)


Ed's Chowder House

I’ve written before about the shortage of good pre-concert dining in the Lincoln Center area. After Picholine and Bar Boulud, your options—at least the good ones—tail off considerably. This remains a mystery to me. There are 10,000 seats across the street, their occupants generally have sophisticated tastes, and they have to eat. Why aren’t there better restaurants catering to them?

Lately, Ed’s Chowder House has been my go-to pre-concert restaurant. Sam Sifton gave it zero stars in the Times, and that’s not right. Ed’s isn’t better than Picholine or Bar Boulud, but it’s good, and you can always walk in and get seated at the bar.

I wrote my last review after a visit on opening night. I won’t repeat the long history of the space: briefly, it’s a Jeffrey Chodorow restaurant, built (like most of his places) where a previous Chodorow restaurant failed. It looks like this one will last. Periodic checks on OpenTable suggest that it’s at least doing a solid pre-concert business.

The eponymous Ed Brown’s main restaurant, eighty one, has closed, so he is probably spending more time here (he is listed as the “Chef Collaborator”). That is a good thing: the man knows fish.

Blissfully, this doesn’t feel like a Chodorow place. The reasonably-priced menu doesn’t ramble, and for the most part it’s free of gimmicks. The servers don’t upsell. The host even seated me early, even though my party was incomplete, which has never happened before at a Chodorow restaurant.

I do think they should merge their bar and dining room menus. They aren’t all that much different, and as they’ll allow you to order from either one, in either room, there is little point in having two.

The bread service (above) remains terrific, as it has been each time I’ve visited.

The food I’ve tried is simple and well done, and doesn’t require much elaboration: a clam chowder ($11.50; above left), an asparagus salad ($14.00; above right). On another occasion, I had the lobster roll, which at $26 is a bit on the expensive side, but very good indeed.

The mains are either “composed” and “simple,” a slightly irritating trend that I cannot blame on Jeffrey Chodorow. But “simple” sea bass ($26; above left) was excellent, and so was a Pat La Freida burger ($17; above right) from the bar menu. The fries, however, had been seasoned with something awful, perhaps truffle oil, that basically ruined them.

The food was good, the service was good, the room is comfortable and unhurried, and they got us to our opera on time. What more could you ask from a Lincoln Center restaurant?

Ed’s Chowder House (44 W. 63rd St. btwn. Broadway & Columbus, Lincoln Center)

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


Sad News: Eighty One closing

Steve Cuozzo in the Post has the sad news that Eighty One will be closing after service on Sunday, April 4. Cuozzo, who was always a fan of the place, thought that it served “possibly the best food in the Upper West Side’s history.”

Chef Ed Brown summarized Eighty One’s problem eloquently:

We started as a destination restaurant in a destination location. When the world fell apart, we changed to cope with it, with a lower-priced menu and more accessible food. But we weren’t able to change people’s perceptions that we were a special-occasion place — which is why we were always full for special occasions, but not on a daily basis.

He might also have mentioned Frank Bruni’s respectful but not ecstatic two-star review—probably one less than it deserved—and the fact that the hotel entrance was hidden by scaffolding for much of the two years the restaurant existed.


Review Recap: Ed's Chowder House & Tanuki Tavern 

Today, Sam Sifton filed the expected two-fer on Ed’s Chowder House and Tanuki Tavern. We were correct that Sifton would uncork his first zero-star review; but wrong about which one would be the victim.

He clearly “gets” what the owner, Jeffrey Chodorow, is about:

For more than two decades he has run counter to restaurateurs interested in rubbed-wood authenticity and locavore cuisine. He has stood, always, for brash showmanship, the belief that in restaurants, the whole and complete point of the business is volume. In the face of recessions and in boom times alike he has accumulated more than 25 restaurants and bars in close to a dozen cities, all of them tied to the idea of dazzling, low-cut, cocktail-fueled good times…

From his first foray, the flashy China Grill, to his latest, Tanuki Tavern in the Hotel Gansevoort and Ed’s Chowder House in the Empire Hotel, he has promised that opportunity: fun, against the customer’s outlay of cash.

To our surprise, he thinks that Tanuki is the one that comes the closest to meeting those modest objectives:

The concept at Tanuki Tavern is that it’s an izakaya, or Japanese-style tapas bar. That is not entirely accurate. Really Tanuki is Ono, the immense Japanese-style restaurant Mr. Chodorow opened five years ago, now in a smaller space with almost the same number of seats. He sublets the rest of the space to the nightclub Provocateur. (Mr. Chodorow isn’t in this racket to spill soup.)

The result is young and exciting, with food from the same larder as Ono’s: respectable, perfectly good quasi-Asian fare. Also like Ono, it is pretty in design and execution: Japanese cabinetry and piped-in ’80s rock, LED candles, paper lanterns and two floors of tables full of men and women in clothing inappropriate to the weather. Tanuki is a fine place to drink sake, eat chicken wings and visit a simulacrum of South Beach, Sunset Boulevard, the timeless thump-thump-thump of Saturday night on the Vegas strip. It provides direct transport, in other words, to Chodorowland.

At Ed’s Chowder House, Sifton wonders if the restaurant’s namesake, Chef Ed Brown, has been watching the kitchen:

There was, one night, something of his style and worth in a terrific dish of smoked Chatham cod cakes with a roasted tomato-chili jam… But none of his delicacy was apparent in other meals — in greasy, overdone fried calamari with saffron aioli, for instance, or in celery-heavy, muddy-hued steamed clams with plonk broth…

Did Mr. Brown personally have something to do with the ammonia taste of a particularly elderly wing of skate served with horseradishy mashed potatoes and left untouched on the plate (to the shrug of a waiter)? It seems somehow unlikely.

We lose $2 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets. Eater wins $2 on Tanuki Tavern, but loses $1 on Ed’s Chowder House, for a net of $1.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $6.00   $8.00
Gain/Loss +$1.00   –$2.00
Total $7.00   $6.00
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 5–3

Life-to-date, New York Journal is 74–31 (70%).


Review Preview: Ed's Chowder House & Tanuki Tavern

Tomorrow, Sam Sifton files his first double-review, hitting Jeffrey Chodorow’s latest failures restaurants: Ed’s Chowder House and Tanuki Tavern. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows:

Ed’s Chowder House: Goose Egg: 10 - 1; One Star: 3 - 1; SIFT HAPPENS: 5-1; Three Stars: 20 - 1

Tanuki Tavern: Goose Egg: 3 - 1; One Star: 2-1; SIFT HAPPENS: 7 - 1; Three Stars: 25 - 1

Despite my incessant joking at Chodorow’s expense—let’s face it, who doesn’t joke about this guy—I actually liked Ed’s Chowder House when I dropped by in September. I was there for a drink last night, and we’re going again in January. I sampled only a little of the menu on that earlier visit, but it strikes us as a quintessential one-bagger.

Chodorow is the past master of building new restaurants on the smouldering husk of previous failures, and Tanuki Tavern is one of these. We’ve avoided the place like the plague. We have no intel at all, but if Sifton is ready to give his first goose egg, this would be a perfect time for it.

We predict that Sifton will award one star to Ed’s Chowder House and zilch to Tanuki Tavern.


Ed's Chowder House

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Ed’s Chowder House.

A new Jeffrey Chodorow restaurant is a bit like a NASCAR race. You suspect there will be a crash. The only question is when?

You have to at least admire Chodorow’s tenacity. After failures at Mix, Rocco’s, Brasserio Caviar & Banana, Tuscan, Tuscan Steak, English is Italian, Wild Salmon, Kobe Club, and Ono, it’s amazing he has any capital left over. Or patience.

When Chodorow opened Center Cut across from Lincoln Center last year, I thought: “Here, finally, is a restaurant he can’t screw up.” Steakhouses seldom fail in New York, and this is a neighborhood that cries out for more dining options. The Lincoln Center restaurants are packed almost every night, despite the fact that very few of them are great. The area needed a place like Center Cut.

I actually liked Center Cut. I didn’t love it, but it was convenient before a show. It was also a place you could get into, and therein lay the problem. Even in a neighborhood that needed more restaurants, the crowds didn’t warm up to Center Cut: I gave plenty of reasons in my review. Once again, Chodorow had screwed up, as only he can.

Now comes Ed’s Chowder House, built on the carcass that was Center Cut. Chodorow has wisely enlisted Ed Brown of the Michelin-starred eighty one, who knows a thing or two about seafood from his thirteen-year stint at Rockefeller Center’s Sea Grill.

This isn’t a gut renovation—Center Cut’s wine wall still separates the bar and the dining room—but the space is now much brighter and livelier. It’s tough to compare a steakhouse and a seafood shack, but prices here are much lower. Center Cut had $17 cocktails (one of Chodorow’s many errors), but they top out here at $12. There are acceptable wines below $50, which Center Cut didn’t have.

The front area, where I ate, is called the “Chowder Bar.” It has its own menu that partly overlaps the dining room menu, but has a few of its own items—a burger ($15) and a lobster roll ($24), for instance. But the servers there offer you the dining room menu too, which leaves you with a lot to ponder.

Too much, in fact. This is the failing of every Chodorow restaurant I’ve visited. At Wild Salmon, even a physicist couldn’t have calculated the number of variations. Chodorow is positively restrained here, but there are still twenty-five entrées in two categories ($17–35)—half of them in a boxed-off list captioned “simply,” the other half being composed plates.

I would far prefer to see the list of the entrées that the restaurant can do really well—and I guarantee you it’s not all twenty-five of them.

The appetizer list is a bit more sensible, with ten choices ($9–16), but there are four soups ($9–15), nine sides ($6), and the obligatory raw bar. Both menus (dining room and chowder bar) have dates printed on them, which suggests they’ll be revised frequently.

Center Cut had a terrific bread service, and so does Ed’s Chowder House (above left). Among the soups are three kinds of chowder, or you can get a sampler for $12 (above right). I loved the New England clam chowder and the sweet corn chowder, but the Manhattan-style chowder tasted like Campbell’s.

A Savory Lobster Crumble ($16; above left) is listed as an appetizer, but it’s hearty enough to be a small entrée. I would be happy to eat this again. I asked a server to recommend her favorite side dish, and she suggested the Jalapeño Creamed Corn (above right), and this was also very good.

This was the first night for Ed’s Chowder House, so consider this a preliminary view. The Chod himself was in the house. Servers were more polished than I would expect at a brand new restaurant. A cocktail took a bit too long to appear, but the staff got me out in time for my 7:30 concert. There was no attempt to upsell me—a first in a Chodorow restaurant.

If this were really Ed Brown’s Chowder House, I would confidently predict success. But this is also Jeffrey Chodorow’s House, and he’s proved there’s no restaurant he can’t foul up. I’ll be rooting for this one, not for any partisan reason, but simply because it’s always good to have another option at Lincoln Center.

Ed’s Chowder House will get a repeat visit from me. I can only hope that after Ed Brown decamps uptown, the China Grill Management folks don’t screw it up.

Ed’s Chowder House (44 W. 63rd St. btwn. Broadway & Columbus, Lincoln Center)


The Payoff: Eighty One

Today, Frank Bruni awards the expected two stars to Eighty One, finding the ambitious food over-thought and over-wrought:

Maybe it’s an inevitable consequence of so many restaurants vying to be noticed. Maybe it’s an attempt to justify entrees sailing far north of $35. Maybe it’s a reflection of chefs too neurotic or vain to commit to one strategy or to dwell on one note.

Whatever the reason, the high-end New York dining scene is awash in troikas of pork, trilogies of tuna and the like. A meat that does a wholly satisfying turn as a chop, or a fish showcased adequately in a fillet, appears in many guises, as if it’s an actor doing one of those multi-part tours de force.

The spectacle is impressive to a point, but exhausting, too.

He awards points for the wine list, but subtracts them for the room:

Eighty One certainly preens. It goes so far as to title a section of the menu in which it lists spotlighted dishes the “tasting collection.”

When you see something like that, you’re less inclined to overlook a restaurant’s shortcomings. In Eighty One’s case, they include a sprawling dining room with unflattering lighting and oversize red velvet booths that look as if they were carted in from a bordello on some planet where the prostitutes are 12 feet tall.

We win $4 on our hypothetetical one-dollar bet. Eater, who had predicted three stars, loses a dollar.

              Eater          NYJ
Bankroll $88.50   $99.67
Gain/Loss –1.00   +4.00
Total $87.50   $103.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 39–17   40–16

Rolling the Dice: Eighty One

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 gives us another pulse check on the Upper West Side’s fine dining revolution, with a review of Ed Brown’s Eighty One. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 10-1
One Star: 5-1
Two Stars: 4-1
Three Stars: 5-1 √√
Four Stars: 12-1

The Skinny: This week’s Eater odds reflect the lack of consensus on Eighty One, with anywhere between one and three stars being realistically possible.

Of the reviews so far, the worst came from Paul Adams in The Sun. Adams doesn’t award stars, but he called the restaurant “a sad disappointment.” At the other extreme was Steve Cuozzo in The Post, who doesn’t do stars either, but said he would award three. Adam Platt in New York was in the middle, awarding the deuce.

For the record, we gave Eighty One 2½ stars. If we were using Bruni’s system, which does not have half-stars, we’d have rounded down to two. We think that’s the most likely outcome here—not just because it conforms to our own verdict, but for other reasons too.

First, Bruni is seldom impressed with the trappings of luxury, which he usually calls “fussy.” I abhor the word, but if ever there was a fussy restaurant, Eighty One is it.

Second, Eighty One is more expensive than nearby Dovetail, to which he awarded three stars. Given that Bruni is highly sensitive to price, Eighty One would need to be a lot better than Dovetail to receive the identical rating. It’s hard to see that happening, given that his review of Dovetail was a rave. Most critics, regardless of their rating, have had their complaints about Eighty One. If Bruni does too, it’ll be enough to withhold the third star.

Bruni has been pretty generous with three-star reviews this year. Maybe they’re putting happy pills in the water over at Times HQ. The year’s not half over, and three new restaurants have received that honor. In all of 2007, none did. As the honor comes rarely, and Frank can time his reviews however he wants, we doubt he’d do two of them in a row. Last week’s review, of course, was three-stars for Momofuku Ko.

Lastly, there’s the Cuozzo effect: he and Bruni seldom see eye to eye. Cuozzo loved Eighty One.

We’re a little perplexed as to what has taken Bruni so long to file this review. The place has been open for months, and Platt’s review appeared more than six weeks ago. We can only guess that Bruni really wanted to love this place—it’s in his neighborhood, after all—but in the end, couldn’t quite make the case.

Why not one star? For a restaurant at Eighty One’s level, a measly star would be close to insulting. Bruni is quite capable of delivering that kind of smackdown, but usually only when he feels he has to. Given how long he’s waited, we figure he has something nice to say—just not three stars’ worth.

The Bet: We are betting that Frank Bruni will award two stars to Eighty One.


Eighty One


Note: Eighty One closed after service on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010. The space is now occupied by Calle Ocho, which moved from its former home on Columbus Avenue.


The Upper West Side isn’t known for destination dining, but that has changed with the arrival of three wonderful new places, all within the first three months of 2008: Dovetail, Bar Boulud, and now Eighty One.

eightyone_logo.gifSo far, Eighty One is a hit, with prime-time tables regularly selling out on opentable.com. Longer-term, Eighty One could face tougher challenges. Bar Boulud, with its modest prices and its Lincoln Center perch, is almost surely there for the long haul. Dovetail, which is about four blocks south of Eighty One, racked up nine stars from the city’s major restaurant critics; it’s a bit cheaper and a lot more casual than Eighty One.

At Eighty One, entrée prices average in the mid-thirties. If you want black truffles shaved over any of them, it will set you back another $42. Appetizers are $15–19, but another section of the menu, peculiarly named “Tasting Collection,” offers another half-dozen appetizer-sized items from $15–39. These aren’t “neighborhood” prices. Luckily, Eighty One resides in the tony Excelsior Hotel, from whence it will no doubt draw many of its customers.

The décor screams “upscale chic,” though we felt that the deep red-velvet hues sucked up the available light, and made the dining room seem a bit depressing. (The drapes were drawn when we visited.)


Chef/owner Ed Brown runs the kitchen, coming off a thirteen-year stint at Rockefeller Center’s Sea Grill. Chef de Cuisine Juan Cuevas has stints at Alain Ducasse, Bruno Jamais, and most recently Blue Hill on his resume. They’re doing a terrific job, serving what I assume is intended to be three-star food, but to which most critics will probably give two.


We loved the amuse-bouche, a square of Hiramasu crudo with a Hawaiian seaweed salad. Bread service came with nice soft butter at room temperature, but the accompanying bread rolls were pedestrian.

eightyone02a.jpg eightyone02b.jpg
Sea Scallop & Foie Gras Ravioli (left); Tuna Tartare Tasting (right)

I started with the Sea Scallop and Foie Gras Ravioli ($16) in a straw wine sauce, a buttery ethereal pleasure.

My girlfriend had the Tuna Tartare Tasting ($21), with three half-dollar-sized cylinders of tuna, each in a different preparation. Our favorite the one on the left, with an Indonesian soy sauce, wasabi leaves and a dollop of cream. The other two weren’t bad either: blood orange (center) and olive oil with chervil (right).

eightyone03a.jpg eightyone03b.jpg
Lamb Three Ways (left); Dry-Aged Black Angus Sirloin (right)

Lamb Three Ways ($39) was a beautifully composed plate, with sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi, pine nuts, wild mushrooms and braised butternut lettuce hearts. There was a wonderfully smooth potato purée, served on the side. The “three ways” conceit is becoming a bit cliché, and perhaps it would be better to hit a home run with just one way. I loved the juicy and well marbled rack of lamb, but neither the roasted loin nor the confit shoulder rocked my world.

eightyone04.jpgMy girlfriend was happy with a Dry-Aged Black Angus Sirloin ($37), which also included the short rib.  We didn’t quite understand the point of an accompanying Caesar wedge with aged parmigiano. The preparation was just fine, but it would have made more sense as a salad or mid-course.

The wine list includes plenty of bottles at reasonable prices, though you can splurge if you want to. We enjoyed a 2003 Château Lafleur Pomerol ($60). I don’t believe I’ve ordered a Pomerol before, but this bottle made me want to explore more of them.

Service was generally smooth and professional, but the staff paid decidedly less attention to us near the end of our meal, after the restaurant had started to fill up. Our appetizers came out awfully fast (it seemed like just moments), so we had almost half-an-hour to kill later on, before we headed over to Lincoln Center for our show.

Of the three new Upper West Side restaurants that I mentioned at the top of this post, Dovetail and Eighty One are the most similar, with broadly comparable culinary ambitions, and located within a few blocks of each other near the Museum of Natural History. Indeed, based on one visit apiece, I can’t really separate the two in terms of food, though the service and ambiance at Eighty One are considerably better—with prices to match.

Most of the critics in town will have their swords drawn when they review an expensive place with luxury trappings.  That explains why Adam Platt awarded two stars to Eighty One, though he had given Dovetail three. I suspect that Frank Bruni will do the same. I give them identical 2½-star ratings. You can decide for yourself if Eighty One’s more comfortable atmosphere and smoother service is worth a few extra dollars.

Eighty One (45 W. 81st Street between Columbus Avenue & Central Park West, Upper West Side)

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