Entries in Lincoln (3)


Lincoln Ristorante

I’ve dined at Lincoln Ristorante several times since it opened a year ago. It is not my favorite Lincoln Center restaurant, but it is certainly the most convenient, and it is very good.

I just wish I liked it better. I want to like it better. People I respect like it better. But it usually leaves me wanting more.

Lincoln opened with the proverbial thud, getting lukewarm reviews from most of the city’s critics. I had a long list of complaints in my original review, and I stand by most of them. Lincoln is too corporate: it screams of design by committee. The room and the building are unattractive. These things are unfixable.

What Chef Jonathan Benno and Restaurant Director Paolo Novello have done, is to fix what they can. Lincoln is not bargain dining, but prices now are a shade lower. An expensive tasting menu and an absurd $130 ribeye are no longer offered. Portion sizes, which for some dishes were insultingly small, have been increased.

Benno has found his inside voice. Though I am not fond of the open kitchen, at least you no longer hear a drill sergeant commanding the Normandy invasion. We sat right next to the glass partition at dinner a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t think we heard him once. What a relief!

Service, which was already excellent, has continued to improve. The staff know they need to get you to your show on time—all of my visits have been pre-concert or pre-opera—and they do it well, without ever seeming to be in a rush. Ask about any item, and a clear, patient, encyclopedic explanation will follow.

On the current menu, antipasti are $17–25, pastas $20–28, entrées $30–45, side dishes $10–15, and desserts $10–12. A traditional four-course Italian meal will thus set you back around $90 to $100 a head before wine, but I seldom eat that much before a show, and I am probably not alone. Indeed, the staff actively suggest that pasta dishes be ordered as mains or in half-portions.

We shared the Reginette Verdi al Ragú Bolognese ($24; above left), which the kitchen divided and served in separate bowls. This was one of the more enjoyable pastas I’ve had in quite a while. The reginette is a fascinating noodle, shaped like a long, thin, green zipper. The ragú was a rich mix of veal, pork, and beef, topped with just the right kick from parmigiano-reggiano.

But Halibut ($36; above right) was on the dry side. It was served over excessively salty lentils baked in chicken stock and pig trotters, but I couldn’t taste those ingredients. This seems to be my fate at Lincoln, where the wonderful dishes are offset by the less successful ones.

With the petits fours (right) there’s no argument. They may not be the fanciest, but they are more than sufficient.

So that’s the status of Lincoln circa late 2011. The professional reviews have started to improve. Esquire’s John Marianai called it one of the best new restaurants of the year. Gael Greene in Crain’s recently gave it “three hats” out of four, noting, “It is thrilling to watch a shy, insecure adolescent grow into a magnetic, irresistible beauty.”

But even allowing a year for Lincoln to improve, the Post’s Steve Cuozzo could only give it two stars recently, just slightly better than his 1½ stars a year ago.

I’m with Cuozzo. I very much want to like it better, but still cannot.

Lincoln (142 West 65th Street at Lincoln Center)

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


NYC's Ten Most Disappointing New Restaurants of 2010

In a previous post, I listed my top ten new restaurants of 2010. Now, here are my top ten disappointments. The list ranges from those that were truly bad (Kenmare), to those that merely failed to live up to outsized expectations (Lincoln).

As before, the list is based on my actual experiences at the restaurants, not what others have said, what the chefs are theoretically capable of, or what may have changed since I visited. Some of these places will eventually earn return visits, but remember: I’m spending my own money. I usually wait a while before giving a second chance.

1. Lincoln. No restaurant opened with higher expectations than the new luxe Italian restaurant at Lincoln Center with former Per Se chef Jonathan Benno. I’ve read reports of some great meals here, but ours was mediocre, and most of the pro critics were unimpressed. The space is terrible, and that can’t be fixed, but Benno won’t go down without a fight. If Lincoln is the year’s biggest disappointment, it’s also the one most likely to improve.

2. Colicchio & Sons. Coming from a chef with Tom Colicchio’s pedigree, this place figured to be excellent. But Colicchio botched the roll-out, opening with an à la carte menu, switching to an expensive prix fixe after just a month in business, and then switching back less than a month later. Practically all the reviews were negative, except for a bizarre trifecta from Sam Sifton of the Times. The restaurant is now off the radar, and we’ve heard nothing that would justify a return visit.

3. John Dory Oyster Bar. The re-located April Bloomfield/Ken Friedman seafood place bears no comparison to the original John Dory, which was in a poor location, but was otherwise a very good restaurant. Our meal here wasn’t bad, but it’s nowhere near what this team is capable of. Let’s hope that April is able to find her mojo, as she has done at The Spotted Pig and The Breslin.

4. Kenmare. This Italian restaurant from chef Joey Campanaro was probably the worst new restaurant we visited in 2010. Given Campanaro’s track record (Little Owl, Market Table, and before that The Harrison and Pace), who would have expected it to be this bad? Was ever a “consulting” gig more phoned-in than this one?

5. Zengo. This restaurant, built on the site of four failed Jeffrey Chodorow places, is so comically bad that the critics couldn’t even bring themselves to review it. The Latin–Asian fusion concept is unfocused and poorly executed. The nominal chef, Richard Sandoval, has fifteen restaurants in five U. S. cities and three countries. This one never got the attention it needed.

6. Lotus of Siam. This is the New York branch of a legendary Las Vegas standout, which Gourmet critic Jonathan Gold anointed the “best Thai restaurant in North America.” But none of the Las Vegas staff moved to New York: the original chef spent just a few weeks training the New York staff, and then went back home. The result is a watered-down version of the original. It’s such a pity to see a great opportunity missed.

7. Bar Basque. I had high hopes for this place, despite the involvement of Jeffrey Chodorow, who builds failed restaurants at a prolific pace. There’s a serious chef here, and a number of critics have had better meals than we did. But there is no getting around the Chodorrific service and the irritating space. Over/under on a new chef or concept: 18 months.

8. The Lambs Club. This was supposed to be Geoffrey Zakarian’s big comeback, after his pair of three-star standouts, Town and Country, imploded after long declines. Our meal here did not live up to Zakarian’s talents, to the space, or to the excellent service team. On the first night of service, we saw Zakarian dining at Lincoln, which tells you how committed he is to the project. We’ll be giving a pass to his other new restaurant, The National.

9. Nuela. This pan-Latin restaurant was in gestation so long that the original chef, Douglas Rodriguez, gave up. With Adam Schop now in charge, we found an overly long menu (60+ items) with far too many duds, a horrific décor and an overly-loud sound track. This restaurant concept was sorely in need of an editor.

10. Plein Sud. Here’s another case of missing expectations. Plein Sud offers serviceable comfort food, but chef Ed Cotton (who made it to the finals of Top Chef Season 7) did far, far better work at Veritas and BLT Market.



Note: Click here for a more recent review of Lincoln Ristorante.

Restaurants attached to performing arts centers, much like those attached to airports, don’t have the best reputations.

Why, then, did Jonathan Benno, the former chef de cuisine at Per Se, attach himself to the corporately-named Lincoln, owned and run by specialists in mediocrity, the Patina Restaurant Group?

There was much navel-gazing as the owners debated what to call the place. “Benno” was a possibility, but what if the chef left? “Sud” (suggesting its Southern Italian emphasis) was considered, but diners might’ve thought it rhymed with “dud.” (The correct Italian pronunciation is more like “sood.”)

So they arrived at the generic “Lincoln,” which tells you where you are, but nothing about what you will eat. That name, like everything else at this restaurant, screams “compromise.” The architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro built a spectacular glass-enclosed space with vistas onto the Lincoln Center performing campus, and a slanted lawn on the roof. The owners presumably got their wish: if Chef Benno moves on, another culinary concept could quickly be substituted without re-decorating.

The half-open kitchen is a severe blunder, inviting customers to dine on the shrill sound of Benno barking out orders at the pass. The lack of tablecloths doesn’t offend us, but we suspect it was yet another compromise, intended to make Lincoln seem more inviting to casual diners. But who exactly would those diners be, when the antipasti and pastas are mostly in the mid-to-high $20s, and entrées mostly in the mid-to-high $30s?

The question here is not whether Chef Benno can cook, but whether the concept makes sense as a restaurant. As presently conceived, I do not think it does. But there are some very smart people with a lot of money invested in this place, and I assume they will make adjustments.

My photo of the bread service didn’t come out, but it began with crackers slathered in pork fat and addictive bread sticks. Later, three different kinds of bread came out, along with soft butter and olive oil. The amuse bouche (below left) was an underwhelming deep-fried chickpea cake with eggplant dip.

We ordered the terrine of foie gras, rabbit, and sweetbreads to share ($28; above right), and the kitchen sent out two half-portions on separate plates. It’s a rich, deeply enjoyable starter.

The Lasagne Verde ($26; below left) appears on the menu without quotation marks, but perhaps it needs them. Made with veal, beef, pork, and a béchamel sauce, it’s a play on the traditional dish, rather than a faithful recreation, but extremely good in its way.

The current menu offers a white truffle pasta dish for $100. For that, they bring out the truffle on a silver platter and shave it tableside.

We got a junior-sized version of the dish with the kitchen’s compliments, as our entrée was taking a while. It may seem ingracious to complain about a dish served for free, but the gnocchi were leathery, and served in a pool of pedestrian veal jus. I wouldn’t be a happy man if I had paid for that.

There’s always a steak for two on the menu. Sometimes it’s ribeye ($130); on other days, its sirloin ($90). On Saturday, it was ribeye, presented at the table (above left), then whisked away to be sliced (above right).

While $130 isn’t too far above the going rate in New York for a premium aged prime ribeye for two, this wasn’t one of the better ones. There was no exterior char, and it lacked the deep, dry-aged flavor that steakhouses far less expensive than Lincoln have mastered. It came with a side order of potatoes (below left) and a perfunctory plate of greens.

We were too full for dessert, but the petits-fours (above) were a pretty good substitute, even if they weren’t a patch on what came out of the kitchen at Per Se—not that they should be.

Service was commensurate with the three-star rating Lincoln aspires to. Our reservation was at 8:00 p.m., around the time I expected Lincoln to be slowing down, on the assumption that most of its business comes from those attending concerts. It actually got busier after 8:00, so it is clearly not relying on the performing arts center.

The foie gras terrine and the lasagne demonstrated the potential of Lincoln’s kitchen; the gnocchi and the steak demonstrated that it still has a long way to go. I am sure that Chef Benno will do his damnedest to iron out the mistakes, but diners will be paying the freight while he does. Dinner for two, including a $60 bottle of wine, was $282 before tax and tip.

Lincoln (142 West 65th Street at Lincoln Center)

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