Entries in Ed Cotton (6)


Plein Sud

Note: Plein Sud closed in August 2013. This is a review under chef Ed Cotton, who left the restaurant in October 2011. Reviews were mostly unfavorable, but Cotton lasted for quite a while afterward, so there may have been other reasons for the split.


Hotel Restaurants have rules all their own. Practically all hotels must have a restaurant, so they bring in an established operator, who can be guaranteed—at least, as much as anything in this business can be—to run a reliable operation.

The operator gets a subsidy, which limits his downside risk. In exchange, he must offer room service and serve three meals a day. The menu can’t be anything so terribly challenging that guests will find it off-putting. Of course, what works in the Four Seasons would fail in the Holiday Inn, but the principle remains the same.

The Thompson Hotels, a boutique chain with five New York City properties, offer an eclectic mix of restaurants: Kittichai at 60 Thompson, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill at 6 Columbus Circle, The Libertine at Gild Hall, Shang at the Thompson LES, and now Plein Sud at the Smythe. I suspect that at least two of the five (Shang and The Libertine) would be doomed as stand-alone restaurants.

Plein Sud adheres to the pattern of the other Thompson hotels, in that it has an operator with established credentials: Frederick Lesort of the now-shuttered Frederick’s Madison; along with a chef, Ed Cotton, who worked at (and was fired from) three-star Veritas.

The South-of-France cuisine seems calculated to meet the hotel’s requirements, with safe choices that won’t offend any guest. Even those who didn’t take French in high school will guess the contents of Le Burger Royale au Fromage, Coq au Vin, and Pasta Printemps. The menu does not stray far beyond these brasserie standards.

Over the course of half-a-dozen visits (the first chronicled here) I’ve found the cooking always at least competent, though singularly lacking in ambition. One wants to think that Cotton, who has worked at much better places (and is a current contestent on Top Chef), is not content to stop at this.

There’s a range of appetizers in various categories to satisfy bar grazers. On another visit, I tried the Tart Flambé, an oven-baked flatbread with smoked bacon, onion, and cheese. It’s a perfect snack, though better for sharing, as it wears out its welcome. (Gael Greene has a photo on her blog.)

We tried the large charcuterie board ($21; left), which allows you to choose five of the six meats on the menu. They were all just fine, though served with not enough bread. Dozens of places in town offer the same.

We wondered: if all you have are six selections, why not just give slightly less of each, and serve all six? Figuring out which one to leave out—we chose the air-dryed Wagyu beef—seemed odd. (There is also a small charcuterie board that offers three of six for $15.)

Steak au Poivre ($32; above left) was clearly better than the average non-steakhouse New York Strip, though well short of Minetta Tavern level. The fries were perfect. Pasta ($21; above right) with Merguez sausage and goat cheese was another solid effort.

Over the course of my visits, I’ve found a mixture of considerate and clueless service—never offensive, just sometimes aimless. Having now seen the AvroKO décor from every angle, I am inclined to be less charitable than before. Like everything else at Plein Sud, it won’t offend anyone, but it seems to be a retread of ideas the firm has used before, with filament bulbs hauled in from the company store room.

What we have here is a solid and reasonably priced neighborhood restaurant that seldom disappoints but never wows. I freely admit to a bias in favor of this type of cuisine. Most of the New York City critics will be bored by such a place. Do the owner and the chef aspire to anything more? Or are they happy to serve hotel guests and curiosity-seekers who happen to just wander by? That’s an open question.

Plein Sud (89 West Broadway at Chambers Street, TriBeCa)

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

Plein Sud on Urbanspoon


First Look: Plein Sud

Plein Sud is the new Southern French-themed brasserie in Southern Tribeca, in the swanky Smythe Hotel. It has top-drawer names behind it, including restauranteur Frederick Lesort (who previously ran the now-shuttered Frederick’s Madison mini-chain) and design firm AvroKO.

The chef here, Ed Cotton, has a blue-chip background, with stints at Veritas and BLT Market on his resume. He’s also a competitor on the coming season of Top Chef. If he survives deep into the season, Plein Sud could start to get a lot of attention.

The restaurant has been open since May, but it only received its liquor license yesterday. In honor of that event, they were offering wine on the house. Where the alcohol is free, New York Journal is on the case, so I dropped in. Service at the bar was a bit inattentive, but considering that they didn’t even have a bar until yesterday, it is too soon to reach any judgment.

The space is easy on the eyes, as you’d expect from an AvroKO production. The only food I sampled was an excellent Duck and Foie Gras Terrine that could withstand comparison to anything served at Bar Boulud, the city’s charcuterie capital. The young lady seated next to me at the bar offered me a taste of her Loup de Mer entrée, which had a nice crisp skin and a medley of roasted vegetables.

This is a take-no-risks menu, but if you love French classics, you’ll like Plein Sud. There are more pâtés and terrines to be tried, charcuterie, and baked flatbreads, along with the usual appetizers and entrées. It’s the kind of focused menu that David Bouley’s failed Secession, nearby, should have had.

Cotton was fired at Veritas, probably because he was serving two-star food in a three-star restaurant. Plein Sud doesn’t aspire to three stars (and won’t get them), but it doesn’t have Veritas’ high prix fixe. That terrine was just eight dollars, and most entrées are in the twenties. If he can keep serving food this good, he’ll do just fine. If he wins Top Chef, he’ll do even better.

Plein Sud (89 West Broadway at Chambers Street, TriBeCa)


Revolving Door: Ed Cotton Out at Veritas

veritas_inside1.jpgEater reports that Veritas chef Ed Cotton has been fired. Gregory Pugin, currently sous chef at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, will be replacing him.

There’s no doubt that Cotton is gone: his name is now completely banished from the Veritas website. The second half of the story is mere rumor, but believable enough that we’ll run with it. [Update: The Times confirms the story.]

Historically, the food at Veritas has been very good, but low-key and not-at-all showy, which allowed the restaurant’s nonpareil wine collection to take center stage. We thought that Ed Cotton’s menu at Veritas still merited three stars, but as we were never there under founding chef Scott Bryan, we had nothing to compare it to. Some people thought that Veritas had lost a step.

If they’ve hired Pugin, it surely means the owners are ready to serve food that can command as much attention as the wine list does.



veritas_inside1.jpg veritas_inside2.jpg

Note: This is a review under chef Ed Cotton. Click here for a review under the current chef, Sam Hazen.

Ten years ago, Park. B. Smith figured out that if he opened one bottle a day from his massive wine collection, it would take 119 years to drink it all. It was that scary thought that led him to open Veritas, the lovely 65-seat wine-themed restaurant in the Flatiron District.

Acclaim came quickly, with a three-star rating from Ruth Reichl in the Times, and much later a Michelin star. Veritas has hummed along quietly, less publicized than showier restaurants, but still doing a brisk business. In October, founding chef Scott Bryan left suddenly, “with no destination decided.” Ed Cotton, who was to have opened Bar Boulud for Daniel Boulud, replaced him.

As it was a decade ago, wine is the story at Veritas. Even then—when it was far less common—Veritas’ wine list was available online. It is divided into two sections, a smaller and less expensive “market list,” and the longer “reserve list.” The large volume is one of the heftiest in New York; you could get lost in it for hours. There are bottles under $60 and bottles over $10,000. We chose the 1998 Le Crau de ma Mère ($115) from the reserve list. It’s a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Park B. Smith’s favorite French wine.

While we were ordering, we couldn’t help overhearing the spectacle at the next table. An elderly solo diner was presented with his bill, $999, which had to have been mostly wine. And the bottle on his table, which must have cost $800, was still half full. The gentleman, clearly a Veritas regular, left without settling his bill (he was short of cash), telling the staff that he would be back for dinner the next evening. The wine he left over was, we are sure, shared and enjoyed by the restaurant staff.

The menu is $82 prix fixe, with tasting menus available at $110 (five-course) or $135 (seven-course). There are ten appetizers, eight entrées, and six desserts.

veritas01a.jpg veritas01b.jpg

The amuse-bouche (above left) was house-cured salmon with a small vegetable medley. My girlfriend and I both started with the Wild Game Bolognese (above right) with butternut squash, wild chestnuts, and house-made cavatelli.

veritas02a.jpg veritas02b.jpg

I enjoyed the Red Wine Braised Short-Ribs (above left), though they were slightly stringy. My girlfriend adored the Slow Baked Loch Duart Salmon (above right).

veritas03a.jpg veritas03b.jpg

Finally, there was a terrific Banana Cream Tart (above left), while my girlfriend had the Chocolate Caramel Torte (above right).


Service was smooth, alert, friendly and professional. Our wine was, of course, decanted for us, a practice that too many fine restaurants have abandoned.

The cuisine at Veritas might be described as safe and traditional, but everything we tried was beautifully assembled, impeccably prepared, and just complex enough to be interesting.

The wine’s the show at Veritas, but it’s served in a serene setting, with food more than good enough to deserve admiration and praise.

Veritas (43 E. 20th St. between Broadway & Park Avenue South, Flatiron District)

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


Update: BLT Market


Note: Click here for a more recent visit to BLT Market.

We last visited BLT Market on opening week, finding it promising but not yet polished. Since then, the reviews are in, most of them favorable (Platt, Cuozzo, Lane, Tables for Two).

Frank Bruni issued a peculiar dissent, relegating the restaurant to Dining Briefs (i.e., not a full review). He found much of the food very good, but called chef Laurent Tourondel “a slacker” for opening “assiduously promoted, trend-conscious restaurants” instead of making the “real impact on the city’s dining scene” that he’s capable of.

I agree with Bruni to an extent. My meals at the BLT restaurant brood have generally been very good (with a few odd lapses), but you always feel you’re getting something less than Tourondel’s best effort. With his large restaurant family now numbering fifteen, he cannot be spending much time at any one of them.

Nevertheless, you’ll pass a happy time at Tourondel’s latest New York restaurant, BLT Market, though you won’t get out cheaply. On a recent visit, Amish Chicken ($30) was among the less expensive entrées. Rock shrimp risotto ($36) and a pork chop ($38) were both wonderful, but no one would call them bargains at a restaurant this informal. Cocktails at the bar (technically part of the hotel, not the restaurant) were staggering: $16 for a Whisky Sour, $17 for a Negroni.

The menu has been expanded to include separately-orderable side dishes that it lacked before—always a sure way to plump up the bill (though we didn’t bite). At all the BLT restaurants, the menus are printed on thin, cheap paper with a half-life that couldn’t be more than a day or so. So why are the specials printed on a separate sheet of paper, of which we were given only one copy? Surely a restaurant so expensive could get this right.

We were on our way to a show, so I was pleased to find that they got us out in an hour without rushing. The amuse-bouche was the same pigs-in-a-blanket as before, but more enjoyable this time. The garlic bread is still superb.

BLT Market  (1430 Sixth Avenue at Central Park South, in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, West Midtown)

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


BLT Market

BLT Market postcard, based on art work displayed in the restaurant

Note: Click here for more recent visits to BLT Market.

You would have every reason to be a little cynical about the opening of yet another “Bistro Laurent Tourondel” restaurant. In a matter of three years, Tourondel has launched almost a dozen of them, the majority being clones of the very first one, BLT Steak. To date, the best of the brood has been BLT Fish, which earned three stars from Frank Bruni, as well as a Michelin star, which it promptly lost.

Main Menu

Now comes BLT Market, which occupies the former Atelier space in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Central Park South. To Tourondel’s credit, this is his first restaurant in quite a while that isn’t a mindless clone of a previous endeavour. The idea of a restaurant focused on seasonal ingredients is hardly original, but Tourondel’s version of it could become one of the better ones.

I walked in on impulse at around 6:30 p.m. on a weeknight. The dining room was booked, but I got an outdoor table immediately with a nice view of Central Park. Typical of a BLT restaurant, the server presented me with several loose sheets of paper: a menu, a specials menu, and a wine list supplement. (I didn’t ask to see the full wine list, but they have one.)

I ordered a cocktail called the Apricot–Mint Caiproska ($14). Like other cocktails I’ve had at BLT restaurants, it was too small, and almost all ice. I felt like I had paid about $1 per sip. I wasn’t shown the full wine list, but the paper supplement showed ten selections by the glass and bottles from a variety of regions. It included eight choices from New York state, something you do not normally see. With bottles priced mostly above $60, there were few bargains to be had.

Specials Menu

The menu is focused and not unduly long. There are seven appetizers ($12–25), one soup ($12), two pastas ($14–24 as appetizers; $23–38 as entrées), six entrées ($26–43), six desserts ($10–11), and a cheese course ($14). A sidebar lists all of the vegetables and fish that are in season. The specials menu added an additional appetizer, two entrées, and one dessert. While the prices are obviously expensive, they are all-inclusive, unlike the other BLT restaurants, where the side dishes cost extra, and drive up the bill considerably.

I wasn’t that hungry, so I ordered two appetizers. Grilled Octopus ($18) came with a fresh cranberry  bean salad and bergamot dressing. The octopus was nicely charred, and thick enough to have the consistency of a steak, but it upstaged the accompanying salad, which was dull. Raw and Confit Big Eye Tuna ($18) came with a tonnato sauce, garnished with avocado and fresh heart of palm. This was a lovely dish, attractively plated. The raw tuna was especially good, but the confit version seemed not as flavorful.

The amuse-bouche was a riff on “pigs in a blanket”—a small slice of frankfurter wrapped in a pastry shell with a mustard and relish dressing. It was a cute idea, but a bit messy to eat, and the hot dog didn’t seem fresh. The bread service was spectacular: a long hot garlic bread, served in a paper bag. Say what you want about Tourondel, but the breads in his restaurants are great.

The space is a bit more elegant than the other BLT restaurants, but with many informal touches. Tables are bare wood, with cloth napkins but paper placemats. Servers wear striped aprons, but the captains wear suits. The artwork, which I understand Tourondel selected himself, consists of large pastel paintings showing fruits and vegetables, such as the tomato still life shown at the top of this post.

Service was friendly, but slow, with a rather long gap between my first and second appetizer. The amuse and bread courses left my placemat festooned with crumbs, but they didn’t replace it until after the meal was over. I wasn’t smitten with BLT Market, but the restaurant shows promise. With the menu still technically in previews, I assume there will be refinements, and some of the service glitches will be smoothed out.

BLT Market (1430 Sixth Avenue at Central Park South, West Midtown)

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