Note: General Assembly quickly flopped, and closed in September 2014. The transfer of the same owners’ Park Avenue [name-your-season] concept from its original location (where it lost its lease) has replaced it. This will be the third concept in the space in a matter of a few short years. Park Avenue was a long-term success in its first home, so if it fails here, I have to think the owners will give up on the location.
For about 10 minutes in 2010, it looked like Tiki Bars were going to make a comeback. Hurricane Club was the glitziest of them all, a 250-seat behemoth that could’ve put Tahiti out of business. If it had worked.
By mid-2013, it was called Hurricane Steak and Sushi, and by late 2013 it was kaput. What must’ve been the most expensive AvroKO design concept ever was hauled out to trash, and replaced with another expensive AvroKO design concept called General Assembly.
The bright, airy space is an Art Nouveau revival. The cuisine is either “a market-driven grill” or “a bistro with . . . French and Italian influences.” It’s a crowd-pleaser without a point of view. Craig Koketsu, the corporate chef at Fourth Wall Restaurants, has long since proven that he can run a competent kitchen, and he does so here. If there are no revelations on the menu, there are no weak spots either. It won’t enter the culinary conversation, but most diners in its target demographic will go home happy.
During our visit, the restaurant was subjected to one of the few forms of legalized terrorism, a visit from the Department of Health. For the record, GA’s predecessor, Hurricane Club (with the same operators), earned an “A” grade a year ago. A repeat visit in January netted just 2 violation points. Three of its four sister restaurants currently have “A” grades; one has a “B”.
Despite this exemplary record, an inspector shut down the whole restaurant between 6:00 and 8:30pm on a Friday evening. No parties were seated. At the bar, the staff tossed all of the prepared sodas and syrups, apparently as a precautionary measure. Wine and beer were served on the house, while they awaited the all-clear. After a couple of hours, runners brought out canapés, free of charge. I was determined to support the restaurant, but by then many parties with reservations gave up and left. General Assembly passed its inspection, but I’ll bet the visit cost them $10,000 or more in lost business and food/drinks both given and thrown away.
This is not the first time I’ve visited a perfectly safe restaurant during a DOH inspection, and it is not unusual. In 2013, the DOH shut down La Grenouille twice during dinner service (once with then-Mayor Bloomberg present), both times renewing its “A” grade (see stories here, here). These terror inspections at perfectly clean establishments ruin dinner for dozens or even hundreds of people, and impose huge costs on restaurant operators.
Due to the length of our wait, and perhaps because I was recognized, General Assembly comped the entire meal for our party of four. (I couldn’t tell for sure if anyone else was comped.) The online menu does not show prices, and we didn’t receive a bill. As I recall, prices were in line with other Fourth Wall places, with entrées generally in the $20s and $30s, and some steaks above that level.
The bread (above left), served warm in a cast-iron pan, was terrific. We started with the Raclette (above right), which came with sliced meats, grilled potatoes, and pickled vegetables.
I didn’t try the Sea Bass with avocado, snow peas and shiitake (above left), but our friend seemed pleased with it. Lamb Ribs (above right) were terrific, but the menu failed to state that this is an extremely spicy dish, which I wouldn’t have minded, but the companion who ordered it did.
Wendy wasn’t that hungry, so she ordered a soft-shell crab appetizer as her main course (above left), and was quite satisfied. I ordered the duck confit with gingered kumquats and apricots (above right), a good preparation of this classic dish.
Three of us ordered desserts. I didn’t note the description of the first two, but my own choice, the lemon–blueberry chiffon ice cream (far right, above) was a fine way to end the meal.
A DOH visit makes for a stressful evening. The staff handled it calmly, keeping us abreast of the situation while we waited, and serving us promptly after it was over. I wouldn’t call General Assembly an ambitious restaurant in any sense, but it offered exactly the kind of experience our guests wanted. It took two hours more than we’d planned, but I’m glad we offered our support while the health department terrorist inspector shut down a perfectly safe restaurant for no reason.
General Assembly (360 Park Avenue South at 26th Street, Gramercy/Flatiron)