Entries in Jeffrey Chodorow (12)

Tuesday
Feb252014

All'onda

Welcome back! It’s been far too long since Chris Jaeckle earned three stars at Ai Fiori, and since Chris Cannon ran what were arguably the best Italian restaurants in New York. Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich might disagree with me about that last statement, but if it comes down to pistols at dawn, I’ll take Cannon’s side.

Jaeckle and Cannon have now opened All’onda (named for a style of soupy risotto served in Venice) in a smart casual space near Union Square. The cuisine is dubbed Venetian, although most diners won’t know the difference. Early publicity mentioned Japanese influences (Jaeckle once worked at Morimoto), which have since (quite sensibly) receded.

For the record, restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow is an investor here, but his China Grill Management does not operate it, which is why it doesn’t suck. Let us all say a prayer that Chodorow will never operate another restaurant again.

To recite the history just briefly: Cannon was in partnership with the chef Michael White at two terrific Italian restaurants, Alto and L’Impero (later rechristened Convivio). At the height of the Great Recession, they brought in high-roller Ahmass Fakahany as an investment partner and opened Marea, taking a big bet on fine dining at a time when everyone else was running the opposite way.

Soon, they were rolling in dough and opened two more Italian restaurants, Ai Fiori and Osteria Morini. At about that time, and for reasons that have never been fully explained, Fakahany and White ditched Cannon, who was left with just his two original restaurants, Alto and Convivio. Shortly thereafter, both places closed suddenly—on the same day, in fact—and Cannon headed home to New Jersey.

For more than three years, Cannon didn’t say a word about the split, and a recent interview with the Village Voice still leaves many questions unanswered. It ought to be noted that Cannon is no stranger to culinary divorces, having suffered a similar split with the chef Scott Conant.

Jaeckle left Ai Fiori (which Cannon had helped open) in November 2011, and it wasn’t difficult to guess that he wanted his own place. All’onda was announced in September 2012, with Cannon on board as a consultant while his newest project, Jockey Hollow, remained under construction at the Vail Mansion in Morristown, New Jersey.

Originally announced for a November 2012 opening, All’onda endured all of the usual delays, and finally served its first risotto in early January 2014. A photographer with a tripod was shooting the space when we visited, so the first pro reviews will probably start to appear within the next week or so.

All’onda, as Chris Jaeckle told the Times, is “the most casual restaurant I’ve ever worked in.” That is probably almost true for Chris Cannon as well, at least since he became famous: except for Osteria Morini, opened in his dying days with White and Fakahany, he’s known almost exclusively for fine dining.

They probably could have aimed higher. With the Torrisi boys serving $30 pastas and $50 veal parmesan to packed houses at Carbone, All’onda is a steal, with no pasta above $19 and no entrée above $29.

The ten-page wine list, Cannon’s specialty, has plenty of drinkable bottles below $50, and about 90% of the list is below $100; they serve it in the right glassware. In a town where $15 cocktails are commonplace, and the Torrisi team gets $20 at ZZ’s Clam Bar, they’re just $12 here. I enjoyed the Basil Gimlet (photo above; with gin, lime, basil syrup), and they transferred the tab to our table. I splurged just slightly on the wine (a 2007 Travaglini, $65), ordered an after-dinner drink, and still kept the bill below $200 (before tip).

For a restaurant of this quality, All’onda is remarkable. Of course, if the reviews are as favorable as I believe they will be, these prices won’t last. They never do.

 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Dec132011

Kutsher's Tribeca

Note: This is a review under the opening chef, Mark Spanganthal, who left the restaurant in early 2013. Kutscher’s isn’t really a chef-driven restaurant, so I doubt that much has changed.

*

When I heard that Jeffrey Chodorow, the prolific creator of failed restaurants, was opening a “Catskills Jewish” place in Tribeca, I thought: Mr. Gimmick has struck again. The idea seemed patently absurd.

Kutsher’s Tribeca isn’t absurd at all. It’s actually kinda fun, and the food isn’t bad. The Chod’s role is minimized: he’s an investor, leaving the running of the place to Zach Kutsher, a fourth-generation descendant of the family behind the eponymous Kutsher’s Resort and Country Club in Monticello, New York.

Zach Kutscher is an earnest and sincere fellow (nothing like the Chod), and you want only the best for him, but it is not quite clear how they’ll make it work. There are 167 seats to fill, in a huge space where Drew Nieporent failed twice, most recently with Mai House.

The popularity of the so-called Catskills Jewish cuisine is long past a zenith reached decades ago. The region was once considered a prime summer vacation spot for Jews, but it went into a long decline after the 1950s, owing to the three A’s: assimilation, airplanes, and air conditioning. Most of the resorts are now abandoned, no longer Jewish, or are run as summer camps for the ultra-orthodox.

Kutsher’s, in fact, is the last kosher resort in the Catskills still operating year-round—but just barely. A couple of years ago, Mark and Helen Kutsher were ready to shut down after years of declining business. They got a reprieve when Yossi Zablocki, a lawyer from New Jersey, took over the place and injected much-needed capital. But the resort is still in poor shape, suffering from decades of under-investment. Many of the reviews on various travel sites are downright terrible. If Zablocki hopes to recapture the glory, he will have his work cut out for him.

I never visited Kutsher’s, but my girlfriend did. She even worked there one summer. She says Kutsher’s Tribeca doesn’t resemble the Catskills place at all. I don’t know what a modern version of Catskills décor would look like, but this ain’t it. But it’s pleasant enough, bedecked in bright blonde woods and soft banquettes. There’s a slightly over-loud, but inoffensive soundtrack that, like the décor, could be found anywhere. Should Kutsher’s fail, Chodorow could install his next gimmick with a minimum amount of retooling. Indeed, this must be the plan at any Chodorow establishment, given that they fail at around a 75 percent clip.

If you’re Jewish, you’ll recognize a lot of the menu: charoset, knishes, latkes, gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, potato kugel, chopped liver. Most of these are re-interpreted, served not quite the way you remember them. There’s no traif, but the restaurant is not kosher. Chef Mark Spangenthal adds a handful of neutral items like tuna crudo, beet and goat cheese salad, grilled duck breast, and the Creekstone Farms bone-in ribeye for two that mysteriously finds its way onto every menu in town, regardless of cuisine. These dishes are like the maroon sweater in your closet: they go with everything.

To me, this menu has a great nostalgic appeal. It remains to be seen how it will play to non-Jewish diners. There is something slightly comical when you hear an obviously non-Jewish bartender say, “I just love the kreplach.” Really?

The bread service (above left) was somewhat perfunctory, but I appreciated the soft butter. The Crispy Potato Latkes ($9; above right) with apple compote and sour cream were slightly less hearty versions of the ones I remember from childhood.

For $18, you can get the latkes topped with caviar, an absurdity that has Chodorow’s fingerprints all over it. How good can nine-dollar caviar be? For photos of this monstrosity, have a look at Gael Greene’s blog.

My girlfriend had the Matzo Ball Soup ($11; above left), which she said was terrific.

On the bartender’s recommendation, I decided to take a chance on the Gefilte Fish ($12; above right). This was a considerable risk, as the traditional version is the most vile concoction legal for human consumption: “a tan lump sitting in goo,” as Chef Spangenthal explains. The last time I tried it, I nearly gagged.

So Spangenthal set out to make a modern version that was…edible. For the usual mixture of pike, whitefish, and carp, floating in a jellied broth, he substituted sushi-grade halibut, bound with challah crumbs, beets, and horseradish. No jellied goo. He spent two months refining the dish. (There’s a longer explanation in New York.)

The good news is: he succeeded. This gefilte fish is actually enjoyable. I do wonder, though, how much appeal it’ll have for those who don’t have a nearly-inedible precursor to compare it to.

The Delicatessen ($16; left) came with three meats. Pastrami had a delicious smokey flavor (though not as good as Katz’s), but it was offset by listless veal tongue. The chopped liver was excellent.

I wasn’t able to properly enjoy the Romanian Steak ($26; right), as we had over-ordered. Whether Romanian Jews ever had steak like this is an open question. I was expecting something more like the flat strip served at Sammy’s. This version was sliced and served in a mound, topped with caramelized onions. The beef was cooked to a bright medium rare, and unlike Sammy’s, it was prime and without gristle. A mushroom knish on the side was rather dull.

We were too full for dessert; the meal ended with a packet of “Rabbi Mints” (left), the Catskills alternative to petits fours.

There are no traditional Jewish wines worth serving at such a restaurant, so the wine list here is a generic mix that could be served anywhere: once again, the Chod protects himself against failure.

The cocktails (all $12) have witty names, like “Bug Juice” and “Bungalow Bunny.” Bug Juice is better remembered in the non-alcoholic version of your youth. Try the Milton’s Mark (Maker’s Mark, sweet vermouth, maple syrup, Amargo pisco bitters).

The staff is knowledgeable about the menu and reasonably attentive. The relentless upselling for which Chodorow’s restaurants are so well known, is held mostly in check.

The dining room was about 2/3rds full by 8:00 p.m. The question for Kutsher’s Tribeca is how many of those guests will want to return. Will this be a go-to restaurant, or a gimmick to try once? The answer to that question will determine whether Kutsher’s is still on the scene a couple of years from now.

Kutsher’s Tribeca (186 Franklin St. between Greenwich & Hudson Sts, Tribeca)

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

Monday
Oct252010

Bar Basque

Note: Bar Basque closed in April 2012: yet another Jeffrey Chodorow place that folded after a brief, undistinguished run. At some point, you’d think the guy would stop wasting his money.

*

For a Thursday evening dinner with out-of-town friends whom I hadn’t seen in a year, I took a grave risk: I booked a Jeffrey Chodorow restaurant, sight unseen, which has (as yet) been reviewed by no one.

Bar Basque’s concept intrigued me. Basque cuisine is not exactly over-represented in Manhattan, and the chef, Yuhi Fujinaga, has worked at some serious places, including Eighty One, Alain Ducasse, Lespinasse—and of course, in Spain. But this is a Chodorow restaurant, so you know it will be weighed down with gimmicks, the service will be terrible, and in all likelihood it’ll be irrelevant or closed within a couple of years.

I took a shot anyway, and my predictions were right on most counts. The food wasn’t bad (nor was it great); the concept is weighed down with gimmicks, and the service is terrible. For the record, the Chod himself was in attendance, entertaining guests at a six-top.

Bar Basque is in the Eventi Hotel, which is home to another Chodorow gimmick-fest, FoodParc—basically, a shopping mall food court with the mall omitted—which the Village Voice has already slammed with a scathing review.

Both FoodParc and Bar Basque were designed by futurist Syd Mead, who is supposed to have “called science fiction ‘reality ahead of schedule’.” He is best known for such films as Blade Runner, Tron, Aliens, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Mead’s all-red vision of the future looks like it could have been designed ten years ago. Given the crimson overload at The Lambs Club and and Nuela, both recently opened, Bar Basque is like the third girl showing up to party in the same dress.

More importantly, what does it have to do with the Basque theme? Answer: nothing. If this restaurant fails (as most Chodorow restaurants do), he can quickly substitute the cuisine of some other nation, and re-open with the same, equally irrelevant décor.

Even the name, Bar Basque, seems passé. A couple of years ago, every other restaurant was Bar This or Bar That, even without being bars in the strictest sense. “Bar Basque” is so 2008. Then again, look across Chodorow’s portfolio, past and present: Hudson Cafeteria wasn’t a cafeteria; Kobe Club wasn’t a club; Tanuki Tavern isn’t a tavern.

The service was Chodorrific, meaning not great. I arrived five minutes early; naturally, the hostess would not seat me, even though (at 6:00 p.m.) the restaurant was practically empty, and at no point in the evening would it be full. I ordered a cocktail, and just moments later my friends (who do not drink) arrived. Naturally (this being a Chodorow place) they would not transfer it to the table. That would make too much sense.

About that cocktail, by the way: there’s a Gin & Tonic section of the menu, offering half-a-dozen versions of the classic with different gins, a multiplicity of tonics, and various additives. I can’t really complain, since I’m a G&T guy from the dark ages, but it isn’t exactly a fashionable drink, so I couldn’t help but laugh to see a cocktail menu with six of them. The server pours tonic water from a screw-top bottle on top of gin already in the glass, so I cannot say they are being carefully measured and mixed.

We were seated and menus arrived. They’re in folders nearly big enough to be cheap bathmats. You can’t open them comfortably without knocking something over. We were still studying them, and the server arrived, intent on upselling us into Pintxos (tapas) to start. No menu for these had been supplied, but the server knew which ones we ought to have (hint: the most expensive), and “I’d be happy to put in an order right away.” We demured. Having checked the website afterwards, it appears she was trying to add another sixty bucks to the bill.

When we placed our order a few minutes later, she seemed quite dismayed: “So, you’ve decided not to order the Pinxtos?” Negatory.

Upselling quite this brazen is not a characteristic of New York restaurants, in general. It has to be carefully taught—in this case, at the University of Chod, where the first required course is how to upsell, deny seating to incomplete parties, and refuse to transfer the bar tab—all mandatory subjects in the practicum before graduation. Successful students are guaranteed placement in one Choddy restaurant or another.

Bread service came after a delay, but at least it was fresh.

All of this, mind you, was in the first fifteen minutes, whereupon we were feeling foul about Bar Basque, no matter how good the food might be. While we waited for our food, I narrated for my out-of-town friends the legend of the Man Named Chod, all of his failed restaurants, and how there is invariably something crass about them, even when the food is successful.

The menu is on the expensive side. Sharing plates come in a wide range, $4–34 (the high end being the Iberian ham); appetizers $12–19; entrées $28–39; side dishes $7–9. More than half of the twenty entrées are in a sub-section captioned “From the Grill,” a distinction that (one quickly learns) means they come with no accompaniments, and you will need a side dish if you want more than just protein on a plate.

I started with the Crispy Farm Egg ($12; above left), with olive oil crushed potatoes, peppers, Serrano ham, and cheese broth. It is hard to go wrong with a runny egg and Serrano ham, although I thought the egg was slightly over-cooked.

The restaurant plans to feature the menus of guest chefs every other month. Through the end of October, Daniel Garcia of Zortziko in Bilbao, Spain, is on hand. His entire six-course meal is $89 (it’s a special insert to the menu), but the components are also available à la carte. I couldn’t resist trying the Squab Five Ways (above right), although it will be offered for only another week. The breast was very good (a bit like duck in miniature), but the other four ways were forgettable, particularly a mousse (right-hand edge of the photo) that was served without anything to spread it on. I believe the squab was supposed to be $32, but I didn’t realize until I got home that it was left off the bill. I am fairly certain that it was not a deliberate comp.

I didn’t photograph or taste my friends’ choices, which they found underwhelming: beet salad, monkfish, cod, a side of grilled vegetables.

The main dining room is on a terrace with a retractable roof (it was closed on this occasion) and a view onto a courtyard, with a jumbotron screen that displays soothing graphics having nothing at all to do with, really, anything. But that terrace is actually a very nice place, with tables widely spaced, and mercifully free of the overbearing all-read décor inside. If the whole restaurant had been designed with the same taste, it might have been a lot better than it is.

Perhaps I’ll return in a couple of years, on a nice summer day, when the roof is open. By then, Bar Basque will probably be Swedish. Or something.

Bar Basque (839 Sixth Avenue at 29th Street, in the Eventi Hotel, Chelsea)

Food: Satisfactory
Service: Chodorrific
Ambiance: Ten Years Too Late
Overall: Satisfactory

Friday
May142010

Ed's Chowder House

I’ve written before about the shortage of good pre-concert dining in the Lincoln Center area. After Picholine and Bar Boulud, your options—at least the good ones—tail off considerably. This remains a mystery to me. There are 10,000 seats across the street, their occupants generally have sophisticated tastes, and they have to eat. Why aren’t there better restaurants catering to them?

Lately, Ed’s Chowder House has been my go-to pre-concert restaurant. Sam Sifton gave it zero stars in the Times, and that’s not right. Ed’s isn’t better than Picholine or Bar Boulud, but it’s good, and you can always walk in and get seated at the bar.

I wrote my last review after a visit on opening night. I won’t repeat the long history of the space: briefly, it’s a Jeffrey Chodorow restaurant, built (like most of his places) where a previous Chodorow restaurant failed. It looks like this one will last. Periodic checks on OpenTable suggest that it’s at least doing a solid pre-concert business.

The eponymous Ed Brown’s main restaurant, eighty one, has closed, so he is probably spending more time here (he is listed as the “Chef Collaborator”). That is a good thing: the man knows fish.

Blissfully, this doesn’t feel like a Chodorow place. The reasonably-priced menu doesn’t ramble, and for the most part it’s free of gimmicks. The servers don’t upsell. The host even seated me early, even though my party was incomplete, which has never happened before at a Chodorow restaurant.

I do think they should merge their bar and dining room menus. They aren’t all that much different, and as they’ll allow you to order from either one, in either room, there is little point in having two.

The bread service (above) remains terrific, as it has been each time I’ve visited.

The food I’ve tried is simple and well done, and doesn’t require much elaboration: a clam chowder ($11.50; above left), an asparagus salad ($14.00; above right). On another occasion, I had the lobster roll, which at $26 is a bit on the expensive side, but very good indeed.

The mains are either “composed” and “simple,” a slightly irritating trend that I cannot blame on Jeffrey Chodorow. But “simple” sea bass ($26; above left) was excellent, and so was a Pat La Freida burger ($17; above right) from the bar menu. The fries, however, had been seasoned with something awful, perhaps truffle oil, that basically ruined them.

The food was good, the service was good, the room is comfortable and unhurried, and they got us to our opera on time. What more could you ask from a Lincoln Center restaurant?

Ed’s Chowder House (44 W. 63rd St. btwn. Broadway & Columbus, Lincoln Center)

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

Monday
Apr192010

Tanuki Tavern

Note: Tanuki Tavern closed in May 2012. It will be replaced by Toy, a new concept and menu from the same owner, Jeffrey Chodorow. The countdown on its eventual closure begins in 5, 4, 3, 2,….

*

When maestro of mediocrity Jeffrey Chodorow replaced his Meatpacking District Japanese restaurant Ono with Tanuki Tavern, I did not rush to dine there. His restaurants are never great, and often suck. Nobody in this town has had so many restaurants spectacularly flame out. How is he still in business?

Coverage on Eater.com made Tanuki Tavern sound more like a gimmick than a serious restaurant. When I learned that the menu would have 70 items, I was not impressed. In the Times, Sam Sifton awarded one star, which is one more than I figured it would get.

The excuse to try Tanuki Tavern came last weekend, when my son was in town and my original dining plans fell through. Much to my surprise, Tanuki Tavern is decent. Actually, it is not bad.

That epic-length menu is mostly Japanese, hedging itself as only Chodorow can, with nine categories, and interlopers like a Pat LaFreida burger and a Creekstone Farms bone-in steak. Many dishes are cross-overs not found on most Japanese menus, like Tuna Sliders and Spicy French Fries.

Aside from the steak ($58), nothing is very expensive. Three appetizers (“snacks” in Chod-speak) and a plate of rolls were $67. It was hard to tell how much food to order, which is surely what the Chod-meister wants, as you are encouraged to spend in excess; fortunately, it was exactly the right amount.

There are no great discoveries here (you knew that, right?), but everything was enjoyable.

Fish & Chips ($9; above left) were exactly what you’d expect. Flecks of yuzu in the tartar sauce were the only connection to the restaurant’s Japanese theme. We loved the Tori Dongo ($7; above right), three chicken meatballs in rice crust with spicy ponzu.

If you grill chicken wings with citrus salt, the result is Tebayaki ($9; above left), and it was very good indeed. The four half-rolls we tried (above right), ranging from $7 to $14 apiece, were on the level of any decent neighborhood sushi place.

Chodorow did a nice job with the rehab, making Tanuki Tavern seem a lot less cavernous and corporate than Ono. Actually, you don’t feel like you’re in the Meatpacking District, which is an accomplishment.

The sushi chefs are Japanese, but none of the servers are. The restaurant is not full, and yet, when you need them they aren’t around. Plates that clearly call for silverware are initially served without any. An empty glass goes unnoticed. When you do get the servers’ attention, they are friendly and efficient. And at least you never want for paper napkins, which are rolled up and kept in a mug by the side of the table.

One wonders how long it will be before Tanuki Tavern joins the Chodorow restaurant cemetery. On a Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m., just a few tables were occupied. It was about half full when we left, and clearly not setting the world afire. There was an unusual abundance of all-girl parties and families with children. This kind of patronage is fleeting. If Chodorow has another restaurant concept up his sleeve, he might as well start getting it ready.

But in the meantime, Tanuki Tavern feels a lot less cynical than many of its Meatpacking District brethren, despite the over-reaching Chod-speak menu. I wouldn’t mind going back.

Tanuki Tavern (18 Ninth Avenue at 13th Street, Meatpacking District)

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

Tuesday
Dec152009

Review Preview: Ed's Chowder House & Tanuki Tavern

Tomorrow, Sam Sifton files his first double-review, hitting Jeffrey Chodorow’s latest failures restaurants: Ed’s Chowder House and Tanuki Tavern. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows:

Ed’s Chowder House: Goose Egg: 10 - 1; One Star: 3 - 1; SIFT HAPPENS: 5-1; Three Stars: 20 - 1

Tanuki Tavern: Goose Egg: 3 - 1; One Star: 2-1; SIFT HAPPENS: 7 - 1; Three Stars: 25 - 1

Despite my incessant joking at Chodorow’s expense—let’s face it, who doesn’t joke about this guy—I actually liked Ed’s Chowder House when I dropped by in September. I was there for a drink last night, and we’re going again in January. I sampled only a little of the menu on that earlier visit, but it strikes us as a quintessential one-bagger.

Chodorow is the past master of building new restaurants on the smouldering husk of previous failures, and Tanuki Tavern is one of these. We’ve avoided the place like the plague. We have no intel at all, but if Sifton is ready to give his first goose egg, this would be a perfect time for it.

We predict that Sifton will award one star to Ed’s Chowder House and zilch to Tanuki Tavern.

Friday
Sep182009

Ed's Chowder House

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Ed’s Chowder House.

A new Jeffrey Chodorow restaurant is a bit like a NASCAR race. You suspect there will be a crash. The only question is when?

You have to at least admire Chodorow’s tenacity. After failures at Mix, Rocco’s, Brasserio Caviar & Banana, Tuscan, Tuscan Steak, English is Italian, Wild Salmon, Kobe Club, and Ono, it’s amazing he has any capital left over. Or patience.

When Chodorow opened Center Cut across from Lincoln Center last year, I thought: “Here, finally, is a restaurant he can’t screw up.” Steakhouses seldom fail in New York, and this is a neighborhood that cries out for more dining options. The Lincoln Center restaurants are packed almost every night, despite the fact that very few of them are great. The area needed a place like Center Cut.

I actually liked Center Cut. I didn’t love it, but it was convenient before a show. It was also a place you could get into, and therein lay the problem. Even in a neighborhood that needed more restaurants, the crowds didn’t warm up to Center Cut: I gave plenty of reasons in my review. Once again, Chodorow had screwed up, as only he can.

Now comes Ed’s Chowder House, built on the carcass that was Center Cut. Chodorow has wisely enlisted Ed Brown of the Michelin-starred eighty one, who knows a thing or two about seafood from his thirteen-year stint at Rockefeller Center’s Sea Grill.

This isn’t a gut renovation—Center Cut’s wine wall still separates the bar and the dining room—but the space is now much brighter and livelier. It’s tough to compare a steakhouse and a seafood shack, but prices here are much lower. Center Cut had $17 cocktails (one of Chodorow’s many errors), but they top out here at $12. There are acceptable wines below $50, which Center Cut didn’t have.

The front area, where I ate, is called the “Chowder Bar.” It has its own menu that partly overlaps the dining room menu, but has a few of its own items—a burger ($15) and a lobster roll ($24), for instance. But the servers there offer you the dining room menu too, which leaves you with a lot to ponder.

Too much, in fact. This is the failing of every Chodorow restaurant I’ve visited. At Wild Salmon, even a physicist couldn’t have calculated the number of variations. Chodorow is positively restrained here, but there are still twenty-five entrées in two categories ($17–35)—half of them in a boxed-off list captioned “simply,” the other half being composed plates.

I would far prefer to see the list of the entrées that the restaurant can do really well—and I guarantee you it’s not all twenty-five of them.

The appetizer list is a bit more sensible, with ten choices ($9–16), but there are four soups ($9–15), nine sides ($6), and the obligatory raw bar. Both menus (dining room and chowder bar) have dates printed on them, which suggests they’ll be revised frequently.

Center Cut had a terrific bread service, and so does Ed’s Chowder House (above left). Among the soups are three kinds of chowder, or you can get a sampler for $12 (above right). I loved the New England clam chowder and the sweet corn chowder, but the Manhattan-style chowder tasted like Campbell’s.

A Savory Lobster Crumble ($16; above left) is listed as an appetizer, but it’s hearty enough to be a small entrée. I would be happy to eat this again. I asked a server to recommend her favorite side dish, and she suggested the Jalapeño Creamed Corn (above right), and this was also very good.

This was the first night for Ed’s Chowder House, so consider this a preliminary view. The Chod himself was in the house. Servers were more polished than I would expect at a brand new restaurant. A cocktail took a bit too long to appear, but the staff got me out in time for my 7:30 concert. There was no attempt to upsell me—a first in a Chodorow restaurant.

If this were really Ed Brown’s Chowder House, I would confidently predict success. But this is also Jeffrey Chodorow’s House, and he’s proved there’s no restaurant he can’t foul up. I’ll be rooting for this one, not for any partisan reason, but simply because it’s always good to have another option at Lincoln Center.

Ed’s Chowder House will get a repeat visit from me. I can only hope that after Ed Brown decamps uptown, the China Grill Management folks don’t screw it up.

Ed’s Chowder House (44 W. 63rd St. btwn. Broadway & Columbus, Lincoln Center)

Saturday
Feb212009

Almond


[Kreiger via Eater]

At the risk of repeating myself, casual French cuisine seems to be making a comeback. It is all the more remarkable, given that most of the city’s critics don’t give a damn (“French = boring”).

This week’s exhibit: Almond, which opened about four months ago, cloned from a popular Hamptons restaurant. It occupies the cursed space that has been home to three Jeffrey Chodorow failures (Rocco’s, Brasserio Caviar & Banana, and Borough Food & Drink). Chodorow still owns the space, but as far as we can tell, he has no other role in this new venture. As long as he stays away, Almond should have a chance.

The critics have mostly ignored Almond, as you’d expect for any French brasserie that doesn’t have a well known chef (such as Ducasse, Bouley, or Boulud). Bob Lape awarded two stars in Crain’s, while Frank Bruni relegated it to Dining Briefs.

I was smitten the moment I arrived, and the hostesses offered to seat me, although I was twenty minutes early. It so happened there were plenty of empty tables, but in a Chodorow-run restaurant that would not stop them from shooing you to the bar, which at 7:40 p.m. was completely full. Later on, the restaurant filled up too—not completely, but better than most places we’ve visited lately.

The menu consists of French brasserie standards at recession prices, with starters $9–14 and entrées $15–29 (most $18–24). There’s a broad selection of side dishes ($7). Burgers and sandwiches are $15.

Both appetizers were wonderful: Duck Confit with creamy lentils and banyuls vinegar ($12; above left) and Salt Cod Croquettes with saffron aioli ($10; above right).

Aged New York Strip ($29; above left) was one of the better non-steakhouse steaks we’ve had in quite some time, and the fries were perfect. Daube of Lamb Belly ($23; above right) was competent comfort food; it tasted better than it looked.

The space is not especially charming or memorable, and it gets loud when full, but service was just fine. The wine list has plenty of decent choices below $50, including the 2005 Languedoc we had for $38.

Almond (12 E. 22nd Street between Broadway & Park Avenue S., Flatiron District)

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

Sunday
Jan182009

Center Cut

Note: Ka-Boom! Jeffrey Chodorow fails again: Center Cut closed in August 2009. Ed’s Chowder House, from chef Ed Brown of eighty one, replaced it.

*

I dropped in at Center Cut a couple of weeks ago for a pre-show dinner. I wasn’t feeling very hungry, so I ordered the $39 prix fixe. You choose four dishes, served in pairs on rectangular plates that look like two normal dinner plates fused together.

An heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad was very good, but so-called five-alarm chili tasted about three alarms less bold than it should be. Despite the standard advice about non-steak entrées at steakhouses, I ordered shrimp scampi, which turned out to be excellent. But a side dish of Balsamic Caramelized Cippolini Onions misfired: I gave up after a few cloying bites.

The prix fixe comes with a cookie plate as a standard dessert. The cookies looked terrific, but I was full and didn’t try them.

The bread service is wonderful—a fluffy roll the size of a large brick, served hot. The rest of the service was also very good—a significant improvement over my last visit. The only Chodorow Moment® was the attempt to upsell a Wagyu steak for $10 more.

There have been some menu tweaks. The “Flintstone Ribs” I had last time are no longer available. So too the Glazed Korean Short Ribs that Gael Greene had. Those, unfortunately, were two of the more interesting items on the original menu.

Business was much more brisk than I expected. Center Cut isn’t selling out, but I suspect they’re more than covering the rent.

Center Cut (44. W. 63rd St. between Broadway & Columbus Ave., Upper West Side)

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

 

Monday
Nov172008

Center Cut


[Horine via Eater]

Note: Center Cut closed, replaced by Ed’s Chowder House.

In the increasingly compelling Lincoln Center pre-theater market, the latest entry is Jeffrey Chodorow’s new steakhouse, Center Cut. With 27 restaurants to his name—I think that’s the correct count, unless another has opened or closed in the last 15 minutes—Chodorow doesn’t linger over his projects. He’s had some hits (Asia de Cuba), which are enough to subsidize his many failures.

Center Cut is in the Empire Hotel, directly across the street from Lincoln Center. You’d think it’s the perfect location for a restaurant, but many have come and gone over the 27 years I’ve been watching. Center Cut ought to make it. Steakhouses seldom fail in New York, and this one pushes plenty of populist buttons. The space is lovely, albeit over-built. The menu is straightforward. It’s neither as silly as Chodorow’s now-closed Wild Salmon, nor as cynical as his still-open, but deathwatched, Kobe Club.

This is, of course, a Chodorow production, so you should expect to be mildly annoyed. They wouldn’t transfer our bar tab to our table. Although the restaurant was almost empty, they seated us right next to another party. The hostess supplied menus, “And your server will be able to give you a wine list.” We waited a while, and no server appeared, but fortunately the table next to us had a wine list they no longer needed. I guess there was a good reason, after all, for seating us so close together. The server finally arrived, with Jeffrey Chodorow’s patented Treatise on Upselling firmly in tow.

There are a baker’s dozen signature cocktails, many of them with operatic names (“The Tristan,” “The Isolde”). When you see that they’re $14–17, perhaps you’re not surprised that management is pushing them hard. I think we were asked three times if we’d like to order one. Classic cocktails, such as a Tom Collins or a Side Car, are a few dollars cheaper.

Like most of Chodorow’s places, the menu offers a lot to ponder. For starters, there are eight appetizers ($12–19), five soups ($13–15), and six salads ($9–15), plus a raw bar. For the main course, there are sixteen composed dishes in various categories ($29–41, not counting lobster, for which no price is listed) and six “center cuts,” served à la carte ($35–41 for one, $59–78 for two). For steak, the filet seems to be the best option: you can have it four different ways. There is no porterhouse, though there’s a T-bone for two ($56). There are six available steak sauces and ten sides ($7 each). On top of that, there’s a $39 pre- or post-theater prix fixe, served from 5–7 p.m., or after 10 p.m.

The restaurant’s mantra is, “Where Style & Sustainability Meet.” On the wine list, purveyors are marked with little logos if they’re “Organic,” “Sustainable,” or “Biodynamic.” If you don’t know what those terms mean, don’t worry: there’s a little essay that explains it. The steaks, from Brandt Beef, are alleged to be “natural, humanely-raised, antibiotic and hormone free.” Perhaps I spoke too soon when I said the concept was free of sillyness or cynicism.

Bread service was terrific—a hot Parker House roll (above)—though the butter needed to be softer.

 

I started with the Slow Roasted Berkshire Bacon ($12; above left), which would have been fine enough on its own, and didn’t need a bed of bitter-tasting “beer roasted onions.” A Caesar Salad ($13; above right) was over-dressed.

 

The menu warns that its “Flintstone” Brandt Beef Ribs ($32; above left) are “for two or one ‘really hungry person’.” That warning is accurate. The foreshortening of the photo doesn’t do justice to the amount of food you get. Two could easily share this dish, especially if you also order sides. According to the server, the BBQ sauce is a hand-me-down from chef Bradley Day’s family. If so, the Day household was probably a pretty good place to eat. Both the sauce and the meat were done perfectly.

My girlfriend found the prime rib ($35; above right) a bit too salty and not flavorful enough, though I had no objection to the small piece of it that I tasted.

 

Both side dishes, Potatoes Dophinoise (above left) and Roasted Corn & Manchego Gratin (above center) were excellent. It was good to see compelling options beyond the usual steakhouse classics. Eggplant Fries don’t float my boat, but the Wild Mushroom Strudel is one to try next time.

The wine list is almost all young (2004 or later), and there aren’t many bargains. Except for Beaujolais, nearly all the red bottles are above $65. If three-star restaurants like Café Boulud and Corton can offer a whole page of wines under $60, surely other places can too. I ordered a 2006 Brouilly at $40, mainly because we were going to the opera and I knew we weren’t going to finish it. With most reds by the glass priced at $14 or higher (and I wouldn’t have ordered the ones that weren’t), it seemed like the way to go.

For a nearly-empty restaurant, service ought to have been a bit more attentive. A manager buzzed around the few occupied tables, correcting the staff’s many oversights. The server was a decent enough fellow when you had his attention.

There were hits and misses here, but it looks like one can put together a respectable meal at Center Cut. Most steaks are priced below $40, and there are even some entrées in the high $20s. Those prices aren’t low enough to qualify as bargains, but they are below a number of other steakhouses that have opened in recent years. The bill mounts quickly if you order wine and side dishes, but you can still put together a decent meal here for less than the average Manhattan steakhouse.

Service was uneven, and I’d like to think it will get better with time, except that this is a Jeffrey Chodorow restaurant, and some of the glitches seem to be in China Grill Management’s corporate DNA. I’d certainly like to see more people in the cavernous dining room, lest this restaurant suffer the fate of so many others in the Empire Hotel.

Center Cut (44. W. 63rd St. between Broadway & Columbus Ave., Upper West Side)

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