Entries in Elizabeth (2)


The Month in Bruni

Our weekly BruniBetting contest with Eater has been on hiatus for the past couple of months. That included a couple of weeks when we were on vacation, and another few when Eater posted its predictions too late in the day for us to respond. (Is that a conscious strategy on Eater’s part?)

Five weeks ago, Bruni awarded one star to Persimmon. We were a touch more impressed here, awarding two, but we probably would have agreed with the Eater assessment that one star was more likely.

Four weeks ago, Bruni awarded three stars to Matsugen. We were quite a bit less impressed, awarding two for the food, but deducting a half-star for ambiance. Eater made its most reckless bet ever, putting its dollar on four stars at 9–1 odds, while conceding that three stars was the more likely outcome. We would certainly not have taken the four-star bet. Knowing that Bruni actually awards bonus stars to restaurants without tablecloths, we probably would have taken the three-star bet.

Three weeks ago, Bruni awarded two stars to Perbacco. Eater, overriding his own odds for the second straight week, bet on two stars at 4–1 odds, while admitting that one star was the more likely outcome. We’re not sure how we would have bet, but Eater’s logic was compelling: “The Bruni loves Italian food and loves putting a legitimate sleeper on the map,” and “The other thing that’s in play this week is the Little Owl Theorem, which gets very small restaurants with moderate price, earnest service and overachieving food two stars.” We have no personal experience here, but our sense is that Bruni, as is his wont, rated, the unassuming neighborhood one star too high.

Two weeks ago, for the second time this year, Bruni took the week off.

Last week, Bruni couldn’t find a real restaurant to review, so he awarded one star to the NoLIta train wreck, Elizabeth. We awarded one star too, but that was probably generous, and it was before they fired the chef. Bruni doesn’t normally pull marginal candidates out of the woodwork only to destroy them, so we would have agreed with Eater that one star was the only possible bet.

Finally, we come to this week’s review, arguably another wasted slot: no stars for Michael’s. No one that pays the slightest attention to the food scene has paid attention to Michael’s since the Clinton administration, but it actually had two stars at one time. We’ll allow Bruni one diversion per year to slay a celebrity icon past its prime. Eater took the one-star bet, but I suspect we would have put our buck on zero.



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Note: There was a series of chef chuffles after this review was written. Elizabeth finally closed in early 2011.


The new restaurant Elizabeth showcases several recent trends.

In the first place, we have a former three-star chef working in much humbler surroundings—trying to “make it small” after he’d already made it big. That chef is Doug Psaltis, who worked at both The French Laundry and Country. In the second place, Psaltis is merely consulting, with another former colleague from Country, John Iconomou, in the kitchen day-to-day.

Lastly, there’s a “small plates” format, which at its best encourages grazing and sharing, but at its worst encourages over-ordering or leaves the customer confused about how much to order.

In part, these trends reflect the preferences of some younger diners, who want to enjoy haute cuisine without putting on a coat and tie, who don’t want to be locked into the standard three-course meal, and who don’t want to pay the higher prices that fancier restaurants need to charge to recover their overheads. These trends also reflect tough economic times: the risks and the capital required to open a multi-starred restaurant.

Some of the post-modern, deconstructed restaurants are terrific. Others are derivative—pedestrian—ordinary. Elizabeth is in the latter camp.

The space is configured somewhat like a railroad apartment, with several dark rooms in sequence, leading to a bright, cheery garden space with a large skylight. The garden looks like it dropped in from another restaurant; it looks like nothing like the indoor space. Most patrons seem to prefer the garden. It was full at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday night, but the dark indoor rooms, where we were seated, were empty. They started to fill up a bit later on.

The menu is divided into three categories with five dishes apiece: First ($8–14), Second ($11–13) and Third ($14–19). Naturally, the idea is to encourage you to order one from each category, though we ignored that advice. If our experience is any guide, one appetizer and one entrée (selected from the third category) is sufficient unless you’re unusually hungry.

For the record, desserts are $7–9, a cheese plate $13. House cocktails, at $12–14, are a bit over-priced in relation to the rest of the menu. The wine list is more reasonable, though it is less than half a page, with about 10 choices by the glass and another 10 by the bottle. We had a respectable Shiraz for $45.

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A Green Gazpacho ($9) with cucumber and passion fruit was probably the best thing we tasted, cool and summery. In the middle of the bowl was a scoop of mango sorbet; the soup was poured over it at tableside.

A lettuce salad ($8) was competently done.

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Pork Tenderloin ($14) was prepared in the traditional manner, with applesauce, sour cream, and potato latkes. A Crispy Cheese Burger ($14) wasn’t tender enough. It was served with a bizarre frisbee of burnt cheese that was twice the diameter of the bun. Fries ($5) were huge and far too mushy on the inside. I called them “horse fries,” meaning that only a horse could love them.

The restaurant has been open for about six weeks. Some early reports complained about service, but we found it mostly under control. We found nothing at Elizabeth that was worthy of the former chef de cuisine at the French Laundry. The kitchen serves decent comfort food.

Elizabeth (265 Elizabeth Street between Houston & Prince Streets, NoLIta)

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