Entries in Jason Hicks (3)


The Peacock

The Peacock strutted into town in late 2013, aiming to prove that British pub food is fit for fine dining.

The British invasion is hardly big news any more: The Spotted Pig opened in 2003, and there have been many that followed, including Jones Wood Foundry on the Upper East Side, whose owners are also behind this new venture.

But these older places are fundamentally casual, reflecting the cuisine’s humble origins. The Peacock asks diners to contemplate $26 fish and chips in sumptuous rooms, alongside three-figure Bordeaux served by suited sommeliers.

We liked it, but I’m not sure it will last.

The two adjacent townhouses on a Murray Hill side street were formerly the Williams Club, one of many establishments that catered to affluent alumni of Northeast liberal arts colleges. It was a place where locals congregated with their fellow grads, where those not based in New York could find a place to stay. As the Wall Street Journal explained:

The demise of the university clubs comes not from economic recession or a dwindling population of grads but a change in leisure interests. Younger generations of men and women, for good or ill, seem to prefer boutique hotels to the gilded clubhouse. They perhaps don’t see as much prestige in drinking and dining in swanky clubs with their alma mater’s name, when they can just as easily stay in touch with college friends on Facebook.

(There are still a few of these around: the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton clubs are in no danger of disappearing.)

The Williams site was acquired by restaurateur Yves Jadot, who converted it into a boutique extended-stay hotel (30 days minimum) called The William. There are two restaurants, The Peacock and a casual pub called The Shakespeare. Jadot’s other properties supplied the culinary talent, chef Jason Hicks of Jones Wood Foundry (who is listed as a co-owner), and Meghan Dorman of the speakeasy-style cocktail bar, Raines Law Room. Robert Aikens, formerly of Stephen Starr’s The Dandelion in Philadelphia, is executive chef.

There are two lounges with wing-back chairs and plush sofas, where you can kick back on Dorman’s painterly cocktails. They’re over-priced at $16–18, and the pours are not generous, but you are paying for atmosphere. For dinner, you move onto one of two comfortable, dimly-lit dining rooms, where tables are generously spaced and you will not struggle to hear your companion. (See Eater’s photo essay for a look at the décor.)

There are no tablecloths, but everything else about the place screams fine dining, and I don’t take issue with that. I just wonder about the viability of Gammon steak and bangers & mash in this setting. The quality of the cooking is better than most pubs, but it still feels like eating a pub menu at Per Se. Prices are not out of line, considering the elegance of the room and the skill of the cooking, with starters $11–18, mains $21–33, and sides $9.

The wine list (available online) runs to five pages, with a good range of selections below $60. A 2005 Château Ramafort was fairly priced at $55.

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Slightly Oliver

Slightly Oliver is a new “cocktail-themed gastropub” on the Upper West Side. That description is both a selling point and a constraint, the former because there isn’t much like it nearby, the latter because in any other neighborhood it would seem derivative.

The basic idea, we must admit, has been tried before—but not here. If you’re in the area, you ought to be delighted to find Slightly Oliver (Cockney slang for “slightly drunk”), which is unique, as far as I know, on the Upper West Side.

The formula is tweaked for uptown sensibilities. The “commonwealth-inspired” menu (mostly comfort-food standards) breaks no new ground, but it is extremely well made. We tried eight dishes, and I’d be happy to have them all again. Prices are low: most entrées are $20 or less. Cocktails are in three categories: punches ($7); house recipes (described somewhat annoyingly as “tasty” cocktails) ($9), and prohibition-era classics ($12) — a good deal less than you’d pay downtown.

The owner is Stanton DuToit, who also runs Tolani Wine Restaurant a few blocks away, and formerly Sojourn on the Upper East Side. I didn’t much care for Tolani, though I haven’t been back in a while. The idea here seems more carefully edited and focused. DuToit is a trained winemaker, and the wine lists are a strength at both restaurants. As at Tolani, there’s a glass-enclosed wine room visible from the dining room; here, it shares space with a mad-scientist chemistry set that’s used to make home-brew infusions.

There are three connected spaces: a bar in front, a narrow corridor with several comfortable booths separated by gauze curtains, and a dining room in back. It feels more spacious and comfortable than most downtown restaurants with a similar proffer. We visited on New Year’s Day, when neither of the two back rooms were very crowded. There are plenty of exposed hard surfaces (brick, wooden tables) that could reflect sound, if the space were full.

Dislosure: My visit wasn’t pre-arranged with the management, but Mr. DuToit recognized me. He sent out eleven(!) different cocktails, all at no charge, and four comped dishes, in addition to the four we ordered and paid for.

We sampled a wide swath of the cocktail menu. There is a tendency to sweetness; I best liked the ones with offsetting bitter or spicy flavors. Among the punches, try the Last Night in Paris (Claro rum, spiced rum, absinthe, fresh mint reduction, pink grapefruit juice, house blended spices, whisky bitters).

Among the house cocktails (left), I preferred Oliver’s Cilantro (infused gin, Lillet Blanc, house made sour, and cucumber) and the Slightly Green Martini (vodka, green pepper reduction, dill elixir, house made sour mix). I did wince at the idea of calling something a martini that isn’t.

I especially liked the old standards, even if by then I was too, er, Oliver to finish them. The Negroni and the Manhattan, while both recognizable as the classics they are, both had an extra tang of spice that I don’t recall in other versions of them.

Over now to the food, the Chicken Liver & Foie Gras Pâté ($8; above left) was luscious and creamy, though there is not enough toast for it. The staff offered to send more, but I declined, knowing how much was coming.

There are several pizza-like dishes, which they call “flats.” The Spaniard ($12; above right) with chorizo, manchego, and piquillo peppers, was especially good.

There’s a section of the menu called “Stacks” (all $16) and though I’ve no complaints with these items, perhaps they’re comparatively skippable. Duck Spring Rolls (above left) made for a tasty snack food. Kobe Beef Sliders and Bittermilk Chicken Sliders (below left) were just fine, although you’ve had others just as good elsewhere.

Swiss Chard and Ricotta Ravioli ($14; above right) probably violated the legal limit on the amount of butter and cream allowed in one dish, but, oh my! They were absolutely fantastic.

There’s also an excellent rendition of braised short ribs ($18; above right), served here with celery root purée, braised leeks, and apple gastrique.

I would describe the Sticky Toffee Pudding ($8; right) as my dessert of the year, but it was New Year’s Day, so that isn’t saying much. I don’t remember a more enjoyable dessert last year either. Other desserts shown on the menu (a pecan bourbon pie, an apple–huckleberry crisp) sound equally appealing.

If I have a concern about Slightly Oliver, it’s the over-reliance on consultants. Jason Hicks of Jones Wood Foundry helps out in the kitchen (Mr. DuToit says he is there twice a week). Pre-opening publicity also included cocktail whiz Albert Trummer. You’d prefer to see a restaurant grow organically, rather than leaning on people whose main focus is elsewhere.

But in these early days the cocktails are mostly quite good, and if the menu is somewhat predictable by downtown standards, at least the kitchen is acing it. The location at Amsterdam & 85th doesn’t attract a destination crowd, so if Slightly Oliver is going to work, neighborhood folk will have to embrace it, which they should.

Slightly Oliver (511 Amsterdam Ave. between 84th/85th Streets, Upper West Side)


Jones Wood Foundry

Could the Upper East Side be the next bastion of hip restaurants? I admit it’s far-fetched, and we’re a long way from that happening, but the essential requirements are there. East of Third Avenue, real estate is inexpensive by Manhattan standards, making it attractive both for restaurants and the young, single, urban professionals they hope to attract.

Jones Wood Foundry, a gastropub that opened in February, has the same rough-and-tumble vibe as many an East Village or Williamsburg restaurant. Whether it’ll succeed is not for me to say, but a young crowd had packed the place by 8:00 p.m. on a Monday evening, and the pro reviews have been favorable (Cuozzo for the Post, Moskin for The Times, Sietsema for the Voice).

I’m assuming the customers are mainly locals, as most Manhattanites can’t escape the impression—although it is decidedly false—that the Upper East Side is the bastion of trust fund babies and and ladies who lunch. That may be true on Fifth and Park Avenues. Take the Lexington Avenue Subway uptown, and turn right as you leave the station, and you find a much more diverse community.

This section of the Upper East Side was once called Jones Wood: it was even a candidate location for what became Central Park. The building itself, dating from the late nineteenth century, was once a foundry that manufactured manhole covers, among other things. Descendants of the original occupants, the Eberhart Brothers, still own the building.

The chef, Jason Hicks, worked in New York at Aureole, La Goulue, and Orsay, but he’s a native of the Cotswolds region of England. He’s partnered here with Yves Jadot, who also runs the Petite Abeille chain and the excellent cocktail lounge, Raines Law Room.

The menu here may remind you of April Bloomfield’s places (Spotted Pig, Breslin), but it’s more of a full-on English pub, with heavy doses of Bangers & Mash ($17), Steak & Kidney Pie ($18), Mushy Peas ($7), Haddock & Chips ($22), and so on. There are also fall-back dishes for the less adventurous, like a DeBragga dry-aged burger for $18 (which I didn’t order, but looked wonderful), roast chicken ($22), or a Niman Ranch pork chop ($28).

Most appetizers are below $15, most entrées below $25, so you can get out of here easily for $50 a head before drinks. There’s an ample list of beers on tap or by the bottle and a pretty good wine list too, though no hard liquor is served. The wine-based cocktail list is by Meghan Dorman of Raines Law Room and the Lantern’s Keep.

Celery root and blue cheese soup ($7; above left) with croutons and crispy bacon was a perfect starter for autumn. But my friend Kelly thought that Sweet pea soup ($7; above right) was overpowered by olive oil. She also found jumbo lump citrus crab salad ($14; no photo), with avocado, roasted tomato, and frisée, just average.

There were four announced specials — why should this be necessary on a menu reprinted daily? — including Partridge ($42), “just shot this weekend in Scotland.” It was served deboned, on a rich root vegetable stew. The server warned us to be on the lookout for birdshot, but all I encountered was a stray bone the butcher’s knife had missed.

Kelly has a hypothesis that food with a narrative (i.e., “just shot in Scotland”) is never worth the tariff, and this dish bore that out. I haven’t ordered partridge before, so I have no idea how it is supposed to be. It tasted slightly gamey, as you’d expect, but it was also a bit tough. A domestic, farm-raised bird on the same bed of vegetables would have been twice as good, and would have cost half as much.

We concluded with an excellent milk chocolate and sea salt pie ($7; left) with Chantilly cream.

The three-room space is smartly decorated in distressed pub chic. There is a long bar in the front room, a banquet-length communal table in the middle, and a dining room in the back. It was not terribly loud, although the crowds did not arrive until the end of our meal. Service was fine for a restaurant on this level: an incorrect order was dropped off, but promptly replaced after we pointed it out.

We didn’t really love anything, and a couple of dishes seemed off-kilter. But I adore the menu, and given the reviews it has received, I suspect we ordered wrong, or caught the place on chef’s night off. Despite the tone of the review, I’d happily rush back, next time I am in the area.

Jones Wood Foundry (401 E. 76th St. between First & York Avenues, Upper East Side)

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