Entries in John McDonald (6)


Bowery Meat Company

Every chef wants a steakhouse. What’s not to like? Steakhouses are expensive, popular, and predictable.

Once they’ve sourced the beef, there’s not that much difference in what two properly-equipped kitchens will do with it. And yet, people flock to designer steakhouses as if the chef’s name mattered.

Mind you, I don’t deny that there’s room at the margins for a chef’s personality to shine. But a great steakhouse is mostly about the steak. There’s hardly any other restaurant with entrées in the $50s and $60s that is so likely to succeed, and where that success depends so little on the chef’s contribution.

So that’s why we’ve had such establishments as Arlington Club (Laurent Tourondel), Craftsteak (Tom Colicchio), V Steakhouse (Jean-Georges Vongerichten), Charlie Palmer Steak NY, American Cut (Marc Forgione), and now Josh Capon’s Bowery Meat Company.

These places aren’t fool-proof, as Colicchio and Vongerichten learned. But you’ve got to try really hard to foul up a steakhouse. Craftsteak and V Steakhouse failed because the two chefs over-thought them. If they’d just opened normal steakhouses, those establishments would probably still be with us today.

Josh Capon has made no such mistake. Bowery Meat Company is straight out of the celebrity-chef steakhouse playbook, with enough creativity to distinguish it from the national chains and Luger clones, but enough of the familiar features that meat-&-potatoes carnivores will expect. The comfortable décor features low lighting and plenty of dark wood trim: if Capon fails, Wolfgang could take it over, and he wouldn’t need to change a thing.

Capon made his name with seafood at the Soho standout Lure Fishbar, where he also serves a killer burger so successful that it morphed into its own restaurant, Burger & Barrel. There’s nothing that screams “steak savant” in his background. He’s doing it because the market will bear it.

For a designer-label New York steakhouse, the prices are surprisingly sane, though still not cheap. Steaks and chops will set you back anywhere between $29 (hanger steak) and $55 (NY strip) for one, $110 and $144 for two. There’s a small selection of pastas ($19–24) and non-steak mains ($29–34). Starters and salads are $15–21, side dishes $10. The one constant across Capon’s restaurants, the burger, is $22.

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The White Truffle Burger at Burger & Barrel

Go ahead, call me a sucker. When I heard that Burger & Barrel was serving a white truffle burger, I had to have one.

It’s a gimmick dish, but B&B is not a gimmick restaurant. The chef, Josh Capon, knows his burgers. (We tried his burger at Lure Fishbar last year, and thought he nailed it.)

The truffle burger will be on the menu only for a few months, while the fungi are in season. The rest of the menu is classic bistro comfort food, ranging from an old-fashioned cheeseburger for $13, up to a grilled ribeye for $38.

On a cold, rainy Thursday evening at 7:30, the place was packed. The wait for a table would have been over an hour. Even at the bar, I waited about fifteen minutes for a stool to free up.

At $48, Capon isn’t exactly giving these burgers away, but he gives you plenty of truffles for your money. Actually, I tasted them more than I tasted the beef. He uses a Pat LaFreida blend (doesn’t everybody?) that was a shade over-cooked: the specimen he served to A Hamburger Today looked distinctly rarer. The fries were spot-on, and so were the two onion rings, which seem to come with every burger he serves, truffled or not.

It’s not a dish that any sane person will order twice, but I was happy to try it this once. I look forward to sampling more of the menu—perhaps when the place settles down.

Burger & Barrel (25 W. Houston Street between Mercer & Greene Streets, SoHo)


The Burger at Lure Fishbar

Lure Fishbar is best known as a seafood restaurant (click here for our review), but chef Josh Capon cooks a surprisingly good burger. His entry won the People’s Choice award at the recent Rachel Ray Burger Bash, part of the New York Food & Wine Festival.

The burger he serves at Lure regularly appears on various “best burger” lists, so I was eager to give it a try. It sells for $15, which seems to be the going rate for burgers at upscale restaurants (not counting the crazy Black Label Burger $26 at Minetta Tavern).

Sure enough, he nails it. It’s not a match for the Minetta Burger (the $16 cheap option at the Tavern), but still plenty good—and unlike Minetta, you have a shot at getting a bar stool here at meal times. Capon doesn’t complicate matters. He just serves a simple burger, with enough heft that you can ask for medium rare and see red. It comes with a blizzard of condiments, but I didn’t need any.

Lure Fishbar (142 Mercer Street at Prince Street, SoHo)


Chinatown Brasserie


Note: Chinatown Brasserie closed in June 2012. The owners say it will relocated to an as-yet unidentified smaller space. The current space will re-open as a French restaurant helmed by Andrew Carmellini, with whom the same owners are in partnership at Locanda Verde and The Dutch.


Chinatown Brasserie is another of the high-concept big-box Asian palaces that have opened in recent years. But my girlfriend and I found it more pleasant and less cynical than many of its brethren. It’s owned by the same team as Lever House and Lure Fishbar, and once again they seem to have hit the mark.

The restaurant’s specialty is Dim Sum (various items, $8–22). We ordered a selection, of which I’m afraid I don’t have a specific recollection. The pièce de résistance was the traditional Peking Duck for Two ($48), which fully lived up to the better preparations of it that I’ve enjoyed elsewhere. (Other entrées were priced $17–28.)

Dim Sum

Peking Duck

Chinatown Brasserie (380 Lafayette St. between Great Jones St. and E. 4th St., NoHo)

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


Lure Fishbar


Note: Click here for a review of the burger at Lure Fishbar.


It’s easy to get the idea that all SoHo restaurants are cynical ploys to separate gullible diners from their hard-won cash. That was Frank Bruni’s take when he first visited Lure Fishbar in September 2004, not long after it opened. He awarded one star in a lukewarm January 2005 review, setting a new indoor record for most nautical puns per column inch. But in New York, Hal Rubenstein was “Hooked, and the Post’s Steve Cuozzo wrote, “This is serious seafood.”

The restaurant was nearly shipwrecked in January 2006, when a fire engulfed the Prada store that occupies the same building. Most of the expensive teak wood was saved, but it still took four months for the interior to be restored. Version 2.0 features a new sushi bar and a remodeled lounge area.

Lure Fishbar’s owners, John McDonald and Josh Pickard, also own Lever House in midtown, which I visited last year. (I wasn’t wowed.) The two restaurants share a similar design idea, but the nautical theme that Lever House only hints at has reached full bloom here, in a subterranean dining room fully transformed into a luxury cruise ship. All of this might seem like a gimmick, but it turns out the food is terrific.

Reservations at Lure Fishbar seem to be readily available any night of the week on OpenTable, so I hadn’t expected it to be quite so crowded. I arrived at about 6:45 p.m. to find a buzzing bar scene. Neither a seat nor any of the bartenders’ attention were to be had. I did finally manage to order a cocktail, but it was so unpleasant (the service, not the drink) that I would not order another. The host had no intention of seating me in the dining room before my friend arrived, so I was left with nothing to do but pace the room. Fortunately, the service got much better after my friend arrived, and we were seated.

Lure_inside1[8].jpgAs you might guess, the hard wood surfaces reflect sound, and on a Friday night there’s plenty of it. This is not the place for a heart-to-heart chat, and I found myself cupping my ear to hear my friend speak. But for food this good, I’m willing to put up with the inconvenience.

We started with the Bloody Mary Royale ($14) to drink. A standard large Bloody Mary is garnished with a piece of shrimp and a stick of olives. It comes with a shot glass on the side, with more Bloody Mary and an oyster shooter. This must be one of the cleverest drinks in town, and a bargain too, considering that some restaurants have already surpassed the $15 barrier for conventional mixed drinks. (Lure’s other house cocktails are $11.)

The menu is a bit overwhelming, with an extensive raw bar, sushi and sashimi, traditional appetizers, entrees, and side dishes. It is hard to know how much to order. My friend Kelly knew she wanted oysters, scallops, and the salmon tartare; she left the rest up to me. We gave our server a large order, and left the sequencing up to the kitchen.

Four pcs. raw scallops (top left); yellowtail jalapeno roll (center); lobster tempura roll (bottom)

First to come out was a plate of four raw scallops ($3.50 ea.), the yellowtail jalapeno roll ($16), and the lobster tempura roll ($16). All were fresh and beautifully presented, with the jalapeno roll our favorite.

Salmon Tartare / Creamy Horseradish / Salmon Roe / Dill

The chef must be proud of the Salmon Tartare ($16), since it is shown prominently on the restaurant website. That pride is justified, as this is one of the best raw fish dishes I’ve had. The only flaw is that the three small pieces of melba toast were insufficient, so we just dug in with our forks: we weren’t going to let any of this go to waste.

Medium Shellfish Platter (6 oysters, 4 shrimp, 4 clams, 4 stone crab claws, seafood salad)

Three shellfish platters are offered, with the medium platter ($49) being an ample portion for two. There is not much preparation involved here. It comes down to the freshness of the ingredients, and in that respect we could find no fault.

For a restaurant this busy, service was remarkably good. The timing of the courses was just right. Used plates and silverware were promptly cleared and replaced. We were given extra plates for the detritus of our shellfish, which were taken away when full. At the end of our meal, we received warm towels to wash our hands. These are small points, but often overlooked.

I was also impressed with the warm, bread rolls and the soft butter that came with them.

Lure Fishbar is clearly the product of a modern era in which restaurants feel they need eye-popping décor to get noticed. But despite the bar scene and the SoHo crowds, the fresh seafood here is worth the voyage.

Lure Fishbar (142 Mercer Street at Prince Street, SoHo)

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


Lever House

Final Update: As of 2010, Lever House became Casa Lever, an Italian restaurant from the Sant Ambrosius team.

Update 2: As of Friday, April 10, Lever House is “closed for renovations.” We put that in quotes because many such closures turn out to be extremely long-lasting, or indeed permanent. It certainly seems that if Lever House re-opens at all, it will be in a much altered form.

Update: As of April 2008, Scott Bryan was announced executive chef at Lever House, replacing Dan Silverman. But just days later, he quit. As of June 2, 2008, Bradford Thompson was announced as the new chef at Lever House. The alum of several Daniel Boulud restaurants, Thompson was previously chef de cuisine at Mary Elaine’s at the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he won the James Beard Best Chef (Southwest) award for 2006.


I dined at Lever House in late May with two colleagues. The modernist space is striking, with the abundance of hexagonal shapes almost letting you forget that the walls are a plain-Jane light brown. Tables are comfortable and impeccably set, but they are exceedingly close together, with waiters performing Olympic-class gymnastic manoevers to get to your table. The noise level is uncomfortably loud.

The cuisine is a mostly undistinguished New American. Roasted asparagus with duck egg and parmigiano reggiano ($17) sounded promising, but a puddle of fried egg somewhat overwhelmed the asparagus. I was pleased to find that Colorado rack of lamb ($38) came with two thick double-cut chops, which were lusciously tender. They came with a spicy lamb sausage that was the evening’s highlight, along with a salad of parsley and mint that didn’t wow me. Strawberry cheesecake for dessert ($12) brought the evening to a fitting close.

I enjoyed a cocktail called the Bourbon Smash, although it was over-priced at $15. I was annoyed when the server removed it before I was finished. He asked if I’d like some wine with dinner. I hadn’t had time yet to peruse the list, so I entreated him to return in a few minutes. We never saw him again till dessert, so I drank water.

The bill for three was $200 including tax, before tip. That was for food only, as we drank no alcohol. (My cocktail was ordered at the bar.) At that price, you certainly expect the food to be good—which this was—but I prefer quieter surroundings and more attentive service. I won’t be rushing back.

Lever House (390 Park Avenue at 53rd Street, East Midtown)

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