Entries in Matthew Hamilton (2)




Note: Matthew Hamilton left Belcourt in December 2011, and the restaurant closed in 2012. It was replaced by Calliope, by Waverly Inn chef Eric Korsh and his wife, Ginevra Iverson.


Matthew Hamilton is a chef you want to root for. His two previous gigs fell apart for reasons not his fault. At Uovo, he couldn’t get a liquor license. At Pair of 8’s, he arrived too late to save a restaurant already on life support.

Things are going better at Belcourt, where he’s into his second year and appears to have a solid East Village neighborhood following, supplemented by a few folks like me who are curious enough to make the trek.

He’s got a lovely space, with spectacular picture windows looking out on East 4th Street and Second Avenue. A striking old-fashioned bar, distressed mirrors, a pressed tin ceiling and an antique tile floor suggest the kind of unfancy bistro you dream about but seldom find any more.

Belcourt stayed off most of the critics’ radar. In the Times, Frank Bruni gave it the Dining Briefs treatment, noting that “this charming, happy restaurant…wants to hit your comfort-food sensors.” That’s accurate.

The menu notes with laconic modesty, “Everything that can be made in house, is.” That includes a variety of sausages, cured meats and pâtés. There’s also the usual comment about local organic farmers and organically-raised meats, which is a fixture on menus all over town.

We assume bread (served in a bucket) is home-made, along with the butter, which was soft the way we like it. A selection of the house charcuterie ($16; above right) was more than ample for two to share as an appetizer.

Prices are gentle on the pocketbook, with soups and salads at $7–9, starters $8–15, mains $12–24, and sides $5–6.

The pork chop ($24; above left) was as large as a truncheon and very good too, but the vegetables underneath it seemed dull and over-salted. My girlfriend thought the burger (above right) was one of the best she’s had in a long time. The bun, naturally, is house-made. It’s a bargain at $12 (cheese and onions $2 extra apiece), and the fries that come along with it are perfect.

The wine list is too expensive, with no reds I could trust below $50. I don’t care how high the list goes, but a restaurant at Belcourt’s overall price level needs to go a lot lower.

The food at Belcourt is very well made, service in hearty portions and at low prices. I can’t quite call it destination cuisine, but it’s a place I’m glad to have around. Our dinner here was one of the more enjoyable inexpensive meals we’ve had in a while.

“This,” my girlfriend said, “is what Secession should have been.”


Update: Belcourt has brought its wine list in line with the humble atmosphere. On a recent visit, a respectable Corbières was available at $31. That is much more like it. Bone marrow tacos ($10) are one of the strangest dishes I’ve had, but they were excellent. The pork chop (now $21) remains excellent.

Belcourt (84 E. 4th Street at Second Avenue, East Village)

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


Pair of 8's


Note: Pair of 8’s closed in June 2007. The Chef, Matthew Hamilton, moved to Belcourt in the East Village.


Remember Uovo? It was a sleek restaurant in the East Village (Avenue B & 11th Street) that got plenty of buzz when it opened in June 2005. But what it didn’t get was a liquor license or a review from Frank Bruni. Fifteen months later, the place closed. Chef Matthew Hamilton has now resurfaced at the other end of town, at Pair of 8’s, a restaurant that takes its name from the nearest cross street: 88th Street on the Upper West Side, a neighborhood not known for fine dining.

That background has nothing to do with my reasons for visiting Pair of 8’s last night. It caught my eye after a reasonably enthusiastic one-star review from Frank Bruni about a year ago. It was one of the few serious restaurants close enough to Lincoln Center that I hadn’t tried yet. I don’t know what happened in the meantime, but the original chef is gone. Matthew Hamilton is now in charge of the kitchen. As of last night he’d been there less than a week.


We weren’t that hungry, so we ordered entrees only. Our server recommended Coffee Barbecue Braised Brisket ($24), which was as good as it sounds. But the accompanying homemade sauerkraut and chick pea pancake were both extremely dull.

That was nothing compared to the Pair of 8’s Burgers ($16), which my friend considered an over-priced outright disaster. Two three-ounce mini-burgers (one beef, one lamb) were more like meatballs, overcooked, and overwhelmed by two little buns. French fries were soggy.

Spiced apple bread pudding for dessert ($9) came piping hot, and was delicious. My friend played it safe with vanilla ice cream ($7).

For what is basically a modestly priced neighborhood restaurant, Pair of 8’s has far too few wines below $45. However, there’s a good selection by the glass, and each pour comes in a quartino (really a glass and a half). We weren’t that hungry, so we settled on a nice cabernet at $14 by the glass. A program of humorous themed wine pairings (e.g., “Frankenwine”), mentioned in the Bruni review, seems to be gone now.

Our server was a bit confused about the menu, telling us there were no specials, even though we very clearly heard servers recite them at other tables. He was a bit irritating in other ways too—for instance, asking us if we’d like our check, instead of waiting for us to tell him when we were ready to leave. (Though doing a good business, the restaurant was not yet full when we left at 7:30 p.m.)

The room is attractive and comfortable. What it needs is more competent execution from the kitchen. As this was Matthew Hamilton’s first week, it is clearly too soon to judge his work. On the other hand, there is no real excuse when a restaurant is charging full price. I’m willing to give Pair of 8’s another chance—but I’ll probably have to find another friend to try it with.

Pair of 8’s (568 Amsterdam Avenue between 87th and 88th Streets, Upper West Side)

Food: Fair
Service: Acceptable
Ambiance: Good
Overall: Uneven