Entries in Geoffrey Zakarian (11)


The National

Who am I to tell Geoffrey Zakarian that he should be doing More Important Work? Although he clearly has the talent, or at least used to, the chef who gave us Town and Country is now content to consult on phoned-in hotel menus.

He has opened two of these in the last few months, The Lambs Club and The National. The Lambs Club purports to be a much fancier place, and therefore its unevenness and lack of ambition are harder to forgive. At The National, with entrées hovering in the mid-twenties, you can be happy with unoriginal ideas skillfully executed, and that’s what you get.

The National has a prominent street-level perch in the Benjamin Hotel, but I doubt it was hotel guests alone that accounted for a packed dining room on a Thursday evening. Just steps away from the busy 6 Train stop at 51st & Lex, The National is in the perfect location to be a cafeteria for the East Midtown office crowd, and I suspect that’s where many of the guests came from.

At 7:00 p.m., there were no tables and only a couple of bar stools available. It’s the kind of place where the bartenders are so busy that they won’t open a tab without taking custody of your credit card, and where I never got to order a second drink because they were too preoccupied to notice that I’d finished the first one.

But the kitchen serves a great pork chop (above left), especially bearing in mind that it’s only $24, and it comes with broccolini and a side of excellent cheese grits. One doesn’t really need another vegetable, but I had to try the Crispy Brussels Sprouts ($7; above right) with pancetta and whole mustard, one of the best sides I’ve had in a while.

The diner to my right invited me to take a photo of his steak frites ($28; above). I didn’t taste the steak, but it was a thick hunk of New York Strip, and it appeared to be perfectly cooked to medium rare. I did try the hand-cut fries, which were great. Another diner gave me a taste of her Baby Artichoke Sandwich ($13) with feta, hummus, eggplant, and pepperoncini. I would never order that, as I dislike eggplant and only tolerate artichokes, but I have to admit it was tasty.

If The National doesn’t attempt very much, it is at least good at what it purports to do, and it doesn’t charge very much. The David Rockwell interior looks like half-a-dozen other places he’s done, but it’s fine for what it needs to be.

The National (557 Lexington Avenue at 50th Street, East Midtown)

Food: *
Service: Satisfactory
Ambaince: *
Overall: *


The Lambs Club

Why do theater district restaurants have to be snoozers? Sure, a lot of the area’s eating places are just conveyer belts with seating, designed to produce factory-made food at exorbitant prices. But there are some theater-goers with more sophisticated tastes. Why shouldn’t there be a restaurant for them?

I thought the Lambs Club just might be that restaurant. Located in a landmarked boutique hotel (The Chatwal), with a multi-starred chef on board as consultant (Geoffrey Zakarian), a former Alain Ducasse chef in the kitchen (Joel Dennis), and a luxe space that took three years to build, why wouldn’t this be the place?

On the other hand, Zakarian is the guy who fiddled while his two previous restaurants, Town and Country, imploded. And Joel Dennis is the guy who got bounced from Adour after it lost a Michelin star.

Unfortunately, the Lambs Club reminds me of Town and Country in their sad last days, as well as of our meal at Adour, which I described at the time, as “downright soporific: one yawn after another. There’s no excitement on the plate at all.”

Although the food is dullsville, you’ll eat in a bright, attractive, and comfortable room, and you’ll experience something close to three-star service. Bring grandma here for her 80th birthday. She’ll be well treated, and there’s plenty on the menu she can eat.

For a restaurant this nice, the prices aren’t bad, with most of the appetizers in the high teens, and most of the entrées in the high twenties. But you’re paying for ambiance, as the food is nothing special. Bread service, at least, is better than average, with doughy parker-house rolls, baguettes, and crudités to start (above left).


Heritage Pork Ravioli ($15; above left) with broccoli rabe was practically devoid of flavor. Couldn’t they at least have added some butter? A foie gras terrine ($26; above right) with black mission figs and grilled country bread was luxurious by default, but Salon Millesime served us a nicer one last week for $10 less.


There was nothing impressive about Roasted Lamb Saddle (above left), and there didn’t seem to be much on the plate for $35. A prime Delmonico steak (above right), served off the bone, wasn’t bad at all, but at $46 there are better options in town. A side dish of fingerling potatoes ($8) was predictably dull.

You probably won’t be surprised when I say the wine list skews expensive. A 2006 Tard-Laur St. Joseph was $75, and there wasn’t much of interest below that price. It was, at the very least, an enjoyable wine, and we were well tended by the sommelier. I am always worried when the bottle doesn’t remain on the table, but he kept our glasses replenished. The glassware here, by the way, is some of the most elegant I have seen. Too bad you can’t eat it.

Service overall was perfectly attentive, and aside from the lack of bread knives I cannot find fault with it. The only thing lacking is food that lives up to the setting.

The Lambs Club (130 W. 44th St. between 6th & 7th Avenues, West Midtown)i

Food: ★
Service: ★★½
Ambiance: ★★½
Overall: ★½


Breakfast at the Lambs Club


Geoffrey Zakarian has been quiet for the past year or two, ever since his three-star restaurants, Town and Country, imploded under the weight of mismanagement and a poor economy. Now he’s back at The Lambs Club, a fine-dining restaurant in the new Chatwal Hotel on 44th Street.

A chef with Zakarian’s resume shouldn’t have to prove himself. He rose through a long line of serious restaurants where excellence couldn’t be hedged or faked. But the rapidity of his demise at Town and Country, and the decline of those places long before that, raises difficult questions. Does he still have fire in the belly, or is this just another consulting contract? Opening in a hotel is usually good insurance against failure, but the last two places were in hotels too.

The Lambs Club—named for a famous theatrical club that formerly occupied the space—is not yet open for dinner. As I happened to have business in the area, I dropped in for breakfast. The dining room is comfortable, decked out in lipstick red furniture and dark wood paneling. There is an 18th-century fireplace, though it appears to be re-configured with a gas burner.


Breakfast has nothing to do with dinner, but this was a very good meal, and not as ridiculously over-priced as hotel food sometimes can be. That said, it wasn’t cheap either. I loved a nectarine smoothie ($9) and an egg sandwich ($13) with bacon, cheddar, and tomato confit.

Will this be the place where Geoffrey Zakarian retakes his place on the culinary stage, or will dinner just be a succession of better-than-average hotel dishes? We’ll find out in a few weeks.

The Lambs Club (130 W. 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Avenues, West Midtown)


The Café at Country


Note: Country closed in summer 2010. Its replacement is Millesime, under chef Laurent Manrique.


The Greek tragedy that is Country continues. Geoffrey Zakarian ran his top-tier three-star restaurant into the ground. The gorgeous upstairs dining room is now closed indefinitely, supposedly to re-open as Country Steak sometime next year. Don’t all yawn at once. The downstairs café is now in the hands of Blake Joyal, who replaced Willis Loughhead, who replaced Doug Psaltis.

A friend was staying in the area, and I was curious to see what has become of the café, so I made a reservation. I wasn’t pleased with the café the first time I visited, but that was nearly three years ago, and Country was a very different place. Today, it feels like a hotel lounge—which it basically is. “A lot’s changed,” said a sullen bartender. He didn’t sound pleased.

I was surprised to find that the menu is reprinted daily, which suggests that Chef Joyal isn’t just phoning it in. The menu might not be adventurous, but at least it isn’t cast in stone. There are nine appetizers ($11–18), ten entrées ($18–39) and five sides ($8–9): a reasonable compass that a good kitchen should be able to manage. Except for the dry-aged sirloin ($39), entrées are all in the mid-twenties or lower.


The Café at Country was never the most comfortable place to eat, but it is not doing much business, so you’ll get a good table. The bartender clearly preferred to be somewhere else, but at the table our server was friendly and efficient. A warm mixed bean salad ($14; above left) was respectable, but I didn’t detect much of the cured pork belly that was supposed to be lurking under those green leaves. Brased shortribs ($26; above right) were acceptable, but not as tender as they should be. I didn’t note my companions’ entrées, but both of them raved about an onion soup appetizer ($14).

As of now, the Café at Country is serving above-average hotel food, but it’s a far cry from what this wonderful restaurant was once capable of.

The Café at Country (90 Madison Avenue at 29th Street, Gramercy/Flatiron)

Food: Satisfactory
Service: Average
Ambiance: Hotel Lobby
Overall: Satisfactory


Exit Country, Enter Country Steak


Note: After a failed Department of Health inspection, Country gave up the ghost. Plans for Country Steak, described below, were quietly abandoned. The downstairs café persisted a while longer, before it closed too. The upstairs space re-opened as Chef Laurent Manrique’s Millesime, while the downstairs is now known as Salon Millesime.


Yesterday brought the depressing news that Country will close at the end of the summer. Chef/owner Geoffrey Zakarian will replace it with a steakhouse, Country Steak. What a creative name!

We adored Country. I awarded four stars to my first visit there, and over three subsequent visits we continued to find it enchanting. Unfortunately, it was in a slow but steady decline. After our most recent visit, about two months ago, we thought the food barely merited three stars. The new chef de cuisine, Willis Loughhead, had turned the formerly exciting menu into an uneven lineup of mostly snoozers. But Loughhead was still in transition after the departure of the former chef de cuisine, Doug Psaltis. We hoped the downturn was temporary.

The market, alas, decided otherwise. About a month ago, Eater put Country on Deathwatch, after the restaurant offered a summer “Pay What We Pay” wine list promotion, among other distress signals. Zakarian retorted that reservations were up, and that they “look forward to business as usual in the dining room.” Readers were right to be skeptical, when the restaurant was giving away its wine list at wholesale prices—clearly not a show of strength.

We now learn that Zakarian was lying through his teeth. Here’s the explanation for the new steakhouse idea:

I’ve been trying to do a steakhouse concept for a while… I was looking for a location, and we’re already doing a lot of head-to-tail cooking at Country. So we’re just going to do it here. I’m installing a wood grill, and we’re going to open after our usual summer hiatus in September… We’re still looking at different woods, different methods.

Yeah, right. And when he denied the restaurant was in trouble—just four weeks ago—the steakhouse concept wasn’t already in the works?

The shift was enough to awaken Frank Bruni from his blogging slumber. He wonders why steakhouses — as if we didn’t have enough of them already — have been immune to the economic downturn. It’s the only populist restaurant genre where à la carte entrées routinely hover at $40 or higher; yet, you hardly ever see a steakhouse fail. Most of them, in fact, are routinely full, despite a steakhouse glut over the last few years.

It remains to be seen how far Zakarian will wander from the traditional steakhouse model. BLT Steak, Quality Meats, and Craftsteak are all examples of successful re-imaginings of the genre. V Steakhouse was perhaps the most conspicuous failure of that kind. One wonders whether Zakarian will leave the dining room’s refined elegance intact, or if he’ll try to make it “look” more like a steakhouse.

One hopes, as Bruni put it, that “the food at the forthcoming Country Steak will be more imaginative and surprising than that name.”




Note: The upstairs dining room at Country has closed, to be replaced around October 1 March 2009 with Country Steak. The downstairs Café at Country remains open.

Update: Forget Country Steak. Millesime, under chef Laurent Manrique, opened here in fall 2010.


Country is one of our favorite special-occasion restaurants. It may not be the best of those restaurants, but we adore the luxurious, spacious, old-school dining room, the first-class service, and food that usually exceeds our expectations.

The new chef: Willis Loughhead [Country/Grub Street]
We paid our fourth visit to Country on Saturday to check out the menu by Willis Loughhead, Country’s new chef. Loughhead, who made his reputation in Miami, arrived here without much of a publicity footprint. He quickly set about rectifying it.

We’re doing everything differently now,” he told Grub Street. “We’re breaking down whole animals, making our own charcuterie… And now that the Greenmarket is about to explode, you’re going to see so much from us based on that. It’s going to be very market-driven. Right now, I’m waiting for ramps, for instance. Just wait till they come in.”

Earlier this week, Gothamist had a “nose-to-tail” piece, with a photo of lamb and pig carcasses hanging on meat hooks:

Hanging in the wine cellar at Country’s Dining Room are, from left to right, lamb pancetta, pork pancetta, house-cured pigs’s leg prosciutto style, house-cured pig’s leg Serrano-style, Bresaola-style beef tenderloin and lastly imported Serrano with hoof.

“It’s not something you’re going to do unless you buy the whole animal,” Loughhead says of making charcuterie. As for the nose-to-tail aspect, the only folks who seem to be freaked out are the hotel staff: “The room service people complain when there’s a big pig or lamb’s head outside there office.”

country_inside2.jpgOne eGullet poster proclaimed the charcuterie in the Café at Country, the casual sister to the main dining room, was as good as or better than the offerings at Bar Boulud and Benoit—tall praise indeed if it is true.

But Loughhead is taking his sweet time about reforming the flagship restaurant. We found a new menu that still needs a lot of work, and that falls short of the rapture that a restaurant on Country’s level ought to deliver. There are just four appetizers, four mid-courses, five entrées, and four desserts—a perplexingly low total.

The appetizers and mid-courses were uniformly good, but except for rhubarb in one dish, we didn’t see the “haute barnyard” influence that Loughhead has been selling to bloggers and publicists.

The entrées on a recent menu at Country

The entrées were shockingly unimaginative, in addition to being over-cooked and tough. If Loughhead is breaking down whole animals, then why are most of the entrées just the standard rectangle of protein with a medley of vegetables? And why are they all cooked the same way? Every one we asked about, the server said: pan-seared, then roasted. The menu style shown above is reflected throughout: a main ingredient in capital letters (“PORK”), with little indication of what is done with it.

The menu at Country is priced at $75 for three courses, $89 for four courses, or $135 for the chef’s tasting menu. The middle option, which we had, is probably the best one, given that an extra savory course is only $14 extra. All of the menus at Country include canapés, an amuse-bouche, a plate cleanser, petits-fours, and one of the best bread services in town. We also received a complimentary glass of champagne to start. I am not sure if that is the norm, or if it was because the staff recognized us.

country_inside3.jpgDespite my dismay at Loughhead’s half-hearted re-boot of the menu and the disappointing entrées, there are still many reasons to love Country. It sports one of the loveliest dining rooms in town, elegant service, and candle-lit tables widely spread out. There is hardly a better place to enjoy a leisurely, romantic meal. And given the number of excellent courses served for $89, I am almost ready to forgive the flawed entrées. Well, almost.

The restaurant was not full, and our 8:00 p.m. table, nestled in a quiet alcove, was ours for the evening. Two dainty canapés arrived quickly. I neglected to photograph them, but one was a cube of seared tuna, the other a small, deep-fried risotto ball.

country05a.jpg country05b.jpg

The amuse-bouche was a frog leg in a garlic cream and watercress purée. The bread service, I am glad to say, has not changed: a large, warm Parker House roll. When we were about 2/3rds done with it, the staff brought another one, which we most reluctantly had to leave untouched.

country06a.jpg country06b.jpg

Four our first course, I had the White & Green Asparagus with Serrano ham, mustard vinaigrette and fried quail eggs. My girlfriend raved about the Sea Trout Tartare, with barbequed eel, yuzu and cucumber.

country07a.jpg country07b.jpg

I can’t identify the foam that came atop a grilled sea scallop; pork belly on the left-hand side of the plate didn’t make quite the impression that it normally does. But my girlfriend’s seafood risotto was the knockout dish of the evening. It was chock-full of chunky lobster, squid, cockles and dorade.

country08a.jpg country08b.jpg

Our entrées were “DUCK” (left) and “PORK” (right). I loved the sear on the duck, but it was a bit tough; but that was nothing compared to my girlfriend’s pork, which was dry and even tougher. “They were probably cooked by the same heavy-handed guy at the meat station,” she suggested.

country09a.jpg country09b.jpg

There clearly is a great talent in the pastry kitchen here. I neglected to photograph the palate cleanser, which was one of the most creative dishes we had: a lime granité with coconut foam, lemon pearls and sweet soda, served with a long spoon that doubled as a straw.

Both desserts were excellent: “YOGHURT” with guava, grapefruit and sesame (above, left) and “MILLE FEUILLE” (above, right) with raspberry, gianduja and fromage blanc.

country10a.jpg country10b.jpg

Last, came perhaps the best petits-fours cart we’ve seen since Alain Ducasse.

country11.jpgWilliam Rhodes is now in charge of the wine program. The bottles are generally expensive, as one would expect, but Rhodes is stocking whites as low as $40 and reds as low as $50. Throughout the list, there are wines touted as “Sommelier Selections,” and they aren’t just the expensive ones. Based on our 2005 St. Joseph, Rhodes’s instincts can be trusted.

There were minor service hiccups, none of which seriously undermined our evening, but which should not happen at a restaurant at this level. All were probably attributable to a server who, though eager to please, was error-prone.

Though I’d ordered one of the sommelier-recommended reds, a white wine was brought to our table. It’s a rather peculiar foul-up to bring a bottle many pages away from the one you picked. To his credit, the server admitted the error, and the restaurant had to eat the mistake.

We were given plenty of time to order, but we actually had to ask for a wine list. During the meal, runners at least twice were mixed up about which dish was mine, and which was my girlfriend’s.


If I had never before dined at Country, I would award 2½ stars. That is my usual rating for a restaurant that very clearly has the potential for three stars, but hasn’t quite lived up to them. Given our long history with Country, we assume that we caught the dining room in transition. Chef Loughhead has a vigorous publicity machine behind him. Now, he needs to deliver the goods.

Though I am coming down a bit hard on Country, it’s because we know from experience that transcendent meals are possible here. By and large, this was a transcendent meal, but for the entrées. However, it is a significant problem when both meat dishes fall as flat as they did here.

Diners lured by the press coverage are going to have high hopes for a restaurant with such a high price tag. We will be back, as the wonderful dining room and luxurious service will always have a tug on our affections. But for the new clientele that Country is trying to attract, there might not be a second chance to make a strong first impression.

Country (90 Madison Avenue at 29th Street, Flatiron District)

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


Valentine's Day at Country


Note: Click here for a more recent review of Country.

It’s a little late to be blogging about Valentine’s Day. I hadn’t planned to say anything about our excellent meal at Country, as we went there last year too, and the format was fairly similar.

This time, there were two four-course menus captioned pour lui and pour elle, though we were allowed to mix-and-match between them—we both had the foie gras, for example. I wonder if any gay couples were offended by the presumption that every couple would be a man and a woman?

Willis Loughhead has taken over as executive chef, replacing Doug Psaltis, who left last November. We’re not exactly sure when Loughhead started. His name was printed on the Valentine’s Day menus, but his appointment wasn’t announced in the Times until April 2. “We’ve changed everything,” he told Grub Street.

Quite a few of the menu items currently shown on the Country website strongly resemble those served on Valentine’s Day, such as the Apple Velouté, the Chicken, the Sea Scallop, and the Bison. It struck us then as a first-class meal (especially for a holiday), though not perhaps the same extraordinary experience that Country seemed to us when it was new.

My girlfriend and I still love Country, and we look forward to sampling Chef Loughhead’s menu again on a more relaxed occasion.

Country (90 Madison Avenue at 29th Street, Flatiron District)

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


Valentine’s Day at Country


Note: Click here for a more recent Valentine’s Day visit to Country.

It was only a couple of weeks after New Year’s Eve, and we were faced with a new dining dilemma: where to book for Valentine’s Day? It’s one of those days when restaurants tend to serve sub-par menus at exorbitant prices. I have generally not had good luck on such occasions, although last New Year’s Eve we hit the jackpot at WD-50.

I do understand the restaurants’ position. Valentine’s Day is their single busiest day of the year. It’s a day that attracts guests for whom a three-star meal is a once-a-year occasion. The restaurants respond by offering a simplified and unchallenging menu that will offend no one, and that can be turned out efficiently for as many covers as possible.

One eGullet poster went into the bar at Picholine, and was told the only option was the “price-inflated, dumbed down Valentine’s menu.” As he put it, “there’s no way in the world I’m going to pay a premium for a more boring version of your normal menu.” And then he walked out, and headed over to Café Gray. Another eGulleteer walked into Eleven Madison Park, where they wouldn’t serve him at the bar at all.

countryA.jpg countryB.jpg
The tables set for Valentine’s Day — all two-tops.

We decided to give Country a try, remembering our four-star meal last year. It would have been madness to expect Country to reach those heights again. But considering the occasion, Executive Chef Doug Psaltis’s menu was impressive indeed, and everything that came out of the kitchen was uniformly excellent. Service was a bit sloppy, but the only real annoyance was the rather tardy appearance of the wine list.

For Valentine’s Day, Country was serving six-course tasting menus for $135—their usual price. However, the restaurant took my credit card at the time of the reservation and charged $270 a month in advance. I see the need to protect against no-shows, but I thought that this went beyond what is reasonable.

countryVmenu1.JPG countryVmenu2.jpg

After we were seated, the server presented us with printed menus that appeared identical on the outside, but were in fact quite different. I am not sure if he was supposed to tell us this, or if we were meant to be surprised. (We had checked the website in advance, but I’m sure many diners did not.)

In any case, I thought it was a neat idea, as we both had different meals and got to sample each other’s plates. And it showed that Country was not satisfied merely to do the obvious. Psaltis could easily have served the same menu to everyone, and no one would have complained. He went the extra mile.

We begain with gougères spiked with truffles, which could easily be the world’s most addictive snack food. Warm Parker House rolls were as good as I remembered them, but the butter was cold.

country01a.jpg country01b.jpg

The amuse bouche was a delicious cream of mushroom (above, left) so thick that it could have been a pudding. Heirloom potato velouté (above, right) sounded all the right notes. I tasted a bit of my girlfriend’s foie gras torchon, which was one of the softest and richest preparations of that dish that I’ve ever encountered.

country02a.jpg country02b.jpg

I was similarly enchanted with the black truffle risotto (above, left) and the grilled sea scallop (right).

country03a.jpg country03b.jpg

The next two courses weren’t as exciting. Bison bordelaise (left) may have sounded daring, but it was boring. I didn’t taste much truffle in brie de meaux (right), which was a forgettable sliver of soft cheese, with a tiny slice of bread and a bit of apple jam.

country04a.jpg country04b.jpg

My girlfriend hit the dessert jackpot. I had never heard of “Pavlova,” which was a half-moon shaped mound of baked frosting, with a running river of red berries inside. It was as enchanting and seductive as it sounds. My dark chocolate dessert (above, left) couldn’t stand up to this. Memo to Country: If you can’t think of two great desserts, then just serve us both the same thing. After dessert came a bowl of sugar-coated baked macaroons (above, right).

There were several service lapses, most of which I would ignore at a lesser restaurant. Inexplicably, we weren’t offered a wine list. By the time I realized it, the food had already started coming. When I brought this to a server’s attention, he presented a small pre-printed card with just three whites, three reds, and three champagnes. I flagged him down again. He explained that these were the sommelier’s recommended wines to accompany the evening’s tasting menu. The lowest-priced red wine was $97 per bottle. I asked to see the full wine list. There was another delay before this was presented, and yet another delay before he showed up again to take our order. By the time we finally had the bottle we wanted, we were already past two courses.

On this day, Country had no interest in serving leisurely, multi-hour meals. The courses came lickety-split, and I think we were out of there in two hours flat. I have no serious complaints about what we were served, but it was probably only 80% of what the restaurant was capable of. Even at that level, I rate the hit-to-miss ratio higher than we experienced a year ago, in a very respectable Valentine’s Day meal at three-star Oceana.

The setting was lovely as ever. The remodeled ball room, with its gorgeous Tiffany skylight, is one of New York’s great romantic dining spots. Some may argue that my original four-star rating was overly exuberant, but I don’t think any major restaurant does its best work on a major holiday, so for now I will leave Country in the top echelon.

Country (90 Madison Avenue at 29th Street, Flatiron District)

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



Note: Town closed over the Easter weekend in April 2009. A branch of David Chang’s Momofuku chain, Má Pêche, took over the space.


Geoffrey Zakarian operates two upscale restaurants in Manhattan. Country has garnered tons of press this year, including a three-star review from Frank Bruni, a star from Michelin, and if I may humbly say so, four stars on this website. Its older sibling, Town, doesn’t get the buzz any more, as if the hip crowd has moved on—perhaps to Country. Town’s website announces a $71 prix fixe at dinner, but on Sunday night the menu was available à la carte.

This is a hard review to write, because the savory courses my friend ordered were a lot better than mine. Lobster bisque, a steal at $13, had great chunks of succulent lobster floating in a broth that was just about perfect. Filet mignon ($39) was almost tender enough to cut without a knife and had a beautiful exterior char. It was one of the few times I’ve been impressed with steak in a non-steakhouse restaurant.

But my choices, Tuna Tartare ($21) and Bass Papillote ($36), correct and proper, did nothing to set themselves apart, which at those prices I believe they should do. There was nothing wrong with them—they just did not wow. When I think back on the meal, it will be tastes of my friend’s lobster bisque and filet that I remember.

About the dessert there was no doubt: we ordered the chocolate soufflé for two ($20), a large gooey serving of what must be the dessert served in heaven, with an accompanying hunk of spearmint spumoni. The next day, my friend e-mailed me, “Bring me a soufflé. I need another one.” (I replied that they don’t travel well.)

Inexpensive wines aren’t abundant at a restaurant like Town. My friend was content to nurse a glass of rosé champagne ($24), while I had two contrasting wines by the glass ($13–14).

The imposing multi-level space is beautiful to look at. Service is elegant and polished.

Town (15 W. 56th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, West Midtown)

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


The Dining Room at Country

Note: Click here for a more recent visit to Country.

Like a number of upscale restaurants (Gramercy Tavern, Aquavit, Jean Georges, The Modern, BLT Fish), Geoffrey Zakarian’s new restaurant Country has an upscale dining room attached to an informal sister establishment that offers a similar but less elaborate menu in humbler surroundings. My friend and I tried the Café at Country a few months ago, and we weren’t impressed. It was loud, uncomfortable, and pretentious.

But we knew that the main Dining Room was designed to offer a far more luxurious experience, so we were willing to entirely forget our unpleasant memory of the Café downstairs. I should add that, despite Frank Bruni’s imprecise co-mingling of the two in his three-star review, the Dining Room and the Café should be thought of as entirely separate restaurants under one roof.

Your choices in the Dining Room include an $85 four-course prix fixe, a five-course tasting menu at $110, and a seven-course tasting menu at $145. We were in a celebratory mood, and chose the seven-course tasting. Our server then asked us which dishes from the à la carte menu we wanted included — a flexibility I don’t recall at any other restaurant that offered a tasting menu. We named four particular items that interested us. Our server advised that he would confer with the kitchen, and in fact all of our choices were included in the meal.

I didn’t take detailed notes, and the online menu is outdated, so I can describe our experience only in general terms. There was a trio of amuses to start, of which the most memorable was a gougère filled with spinach. Another amuse was a delectable miniature poultry leg (I’m not sure of which bird). Perhaps I am forgetting a third amuse course. Along the way, we received a melt-in-your-mouth parker house roll with soft butter.

Our seven course meal consisted of the following:

  1. Foie gras terrine
  2. Grilled white asparagus
  3. Shrimp ravioli
  4. Crisp Berkshire pork
  5. Bison filet
  6. Cheese course
    (Palate cleanser)
  7. Hot apple crisp
    (Petits fours)

This was the best meal I have had in the last twelve months. While both Per Se and Alain Ducasse offered individual courses that were superior to anything at Country, each of them had at least one course that I rated—in relation to the price range—a disappointment. But there were no disappointments at Country, nor anything even remotely close to it. Just one outstanding preparation after another. We kept thinking, “It can’t last; there must be a dud.” But there wasn’t.

Service was highly attentive and nearly impeccable. We were also impressed with the timing of the courses, which came neither too quickly nor too slowly. I would have liked a bit more time to relax after our cocktails, but as the overall meal was spaced over nearly three hours, I could hardly call it a rush job.

The wine staff upsells a bit too aggressively. When we asked the sommelier for a bottle of red under $100, her recommendation (a wonderful burgundy) came in at $110. We could, of course, have refused, but I suspect she realized that we weren’t going to quibble over $10. And when our foie gras arrived, we were asked if we’d like a glass of sauterne to go with it. (Even downstairs, the waitstaff on our previous visit had done the same.) With our still-unfinished cocktails and the just-opened burgundy already on the table, this would have been more alcohol than the table would bear, and we declined.

The Dining Room was formerly the hotel ballroom. It retains the original beaux arts tile floor and a gorgeous tiffany skylight, and is open to the lobby below. The period details are wonderful, but as the hard tile floor reflects sound, the restaurant is just a touch noisier than I would like. Somewhat in compensation, the tables are generously spaced.

It would take many more visits to determine whether Country is a four-star restaurant. But as I rate this one meal at least as highly as those I enjoyed at Alain Ducasse and Per Se, for now Country is four stars in my book.

Country (90 Madison Ave at 29th St, in the Carleton Hotel, Flatiron District)

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