When chef Michael Lomonoco signed the contract to open Porter House New York at the Time-Warner Center, he agreed not to open any other restaurants for a certain number of years—five, I believe. It was a substantial commitment, especially in a genre (the steakhouse) that doesn’t offer much compass for originality.
That commitment finally expired, but Lomonoco’s second effort remains close to home: Center Bar, a lounge and small-plates restaurant on the fourth floor of the Time-Warner Center, just steps away from Porter House.
The photo above, taken from the website, shows Center Bar in broad daylight when no one is around. The one below shows Center Bar as you’re likely to find it in the early evening—say, at 7:30 pm on a Friday. It’s an after-work, shopping, tourist, and perhaps pre-concert crowd, but not many of the latter. Reservations aren’t accepted, but we waited only about 20 minutes for a table.
The design team has done the best they can with the space. Admirably, in fact. But unlike Per Se and Masa, located on the same floor, you can’t go inside and forget where you are. There’s no escaping that you’re in a shopping mall, albeit a very upscale one.
The menu consists entirely of small plates suitable for sharing. Aside from caviar ($95; American sturgeon with blini), the plates range from $11–21, and a party of two will need four to six of these to make a full meal. There’s also charcuterie ($5 for one; $22 for a platter) and cheese ($5 for one, $24 for a platter).
The Foie Gras Parfait ($18; above left) was excellent. A few tiny Lincoln log-shaped pices of toast were nowhere near enough, but the staff quickly produced more, when asked. A Red Romaine Salad ($14; above right) was competently done, but we found only two of the promised anchovies.
Halibut ($17; above left) is an especially good deal, nearly entrée sized, served with tapenade, lentils and a Moroccan spice dust. I’m not sure if the Wagyu beef ($21; above left) is worth it. Although rich and tender, as Wagyu should be, you get only five small slivers of meat, which comes out to $5.20 a bite.
The house cocktails are decent, though on the expensive side, ranging from $15–22. I would avoid the Maxim ($19) with Ketel One vodka and wasabi-caviar stuffed olives, which came with no caviar that I could detect. (Earlier, the staff delivered the wrong cocktail, for which I wasn’t charged.) The wine list is minimal, but I suspect they have use of the Porter House wine list, for high rollers who may wish to indulge.
Aside from the cocktail snafu, the staff are on top of things in Center Bar’s early days, but your server may disappear for long intervals. There was no attempt at upselling and the plates came out in a reasonable sequence, neither of which you can count on at a “small plate” restaurants.
The food here is generally competent. It will probably stay that way and might even get better, if the experience of Porter House is any guide. At the price, you have plenty of better options for a full meal in the neighborhood. I’d visit again for a drink and a snack.
Center Bar (10 Columbus Circle, Time-Warner Center, Fourth Floor)
Food: Small plates, attractive and usually pretty good
Service: Generally good, but perhaps more servers are needed at busy times
Ambiance: An upscale hotel lobby, transplanted to a shopping mall
Why? A lot better than your average shopping mall