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)