Entries in Frederick Lesort (3)


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)


Frederick's Madison

Note: Frederick’s Madison has closed, after its corporate parent filed for bankruptcy.


There isn’t a whole lot to say about Frederick’s Madison, which a friend and I tried on Monday night. I agree with Frank Bruni’s one-star verdict:

Frederick’s neither composes an interesting enough menu nor performs consistently enough to lure many diners with no other business in the East 60’s.

Yet Bruni was in a very different world when he wrote:

Frederick’s seems to exist in very large measure for people who want to feel, and want restaurants to make them feel, that they have reached the very apex of privilege. In that pampering clime they find an Upper East Side neighborhood bistro recast as an unabashedly expensive validation of their social and economic stations.

Our take on the ambiance was so much different that I almost wonder if they’ve dumbed the place down since his review. We found Frederick’s utterly forgettable — certainly no “apex of privilege.” And there was no $26 foie gras, nor any $42 veal chop on the menu (both of which Bruni mentioned).

Frederick’s is carb-happy. Two kinds of bread come to the table. A while later, there’s a hot sliced bread with a garlic, olive oil and manchego cheese. About the best thing we sampled was a filet mignon tartar appetizer with dijon mustard ($14), which came with yet more bread (which I left alone). Sea scallops ($26) were about as boring as scallops could be. They came with an over-powering cauliflower puree and raisin sauce (I tasted no raisins). A Pot de Crème trio ($10) was a pleasant dessert.

My companion had an Alaskin King Crab Legs cocktail ($15), Poached Snapper ($22) and Chocolate Tartufo ($10) that were just fine, but unremarkable.

Frederick’s Madison (768 Madison Avenue at 66th Street, Upper East Side)

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