Entries in Peter Poulakakos (5)



Note: Well, that was fast. Four months in, chef Scott Bryan left the restaurant to take over at Corvo Bianco on the Upper West Side. That’s not exactly a hotspot, so the difference of opinion between Bryan and the owners here must have been substantial. As noted below, it seemed to us that there was a disconnect between Bryan’s inexpensive casual menu here and the deep wine list. Alas, the new chef at Bacchanal, couldn’t rescue the concept either, and the restaurant closed at the end of 2015.


Years from now, perhaps the early twenty-teens will be called the VeriCru diaspora. Veritas and Cru, perhaps the two best wine restaurants the city has seen, both expired in 2009–10, victims of the Great Recession.

(For the history buffs out there, I do realize that Veritas re-modeled and somehow soldiered on until 2013. I prefer to remember Veritas as it was conceived, not the watered-down replacement that tried and failed to replace it.)

Since then, we’ve seen openings like Pearl & Ash and Charlie Bird, where great (but not “VeriCru” epic) wine lists pair with good (but not great) food in drastically pared-down rooms. To me, it seems odd to pair a $250 Brunello with a $29 roast chicken, in a room where you can barely hear yourself talk. But if you want it, you can have it. Veritas and Cru had it all; these places do not.

Welcome to Bacchanal, the latest entry in the genre. The pedigree is obvious, starting with the chef, Scott Bryan, who opened Veritas (lasted eight years there), consulted a bit, spent five years at the mediocre Apiary, and is now back in his element.

Owner Peter Poulakakos has a stable of Financial District restaurants, anchored by Harry’s at Hanover Square and the more recent Vintry Wine & Whisky, where the reserve list goes as high as a 1945 Château Haut-Brion for $9,975. No doubt Poulakakos borrowed from those superb lists to open Bacchanal, as it’s almost unheard of to build such a cellar from scratch at an untried restaurant.

On a wine and spirits list that runs to 40 pages, you’ve got 1970 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti ($9,125), 1978 Château Pétrus ($2,900), and 1982 Château Mouton Rothschild ($1,950), to name a few. For those who don’t want to spend a mortgage payment on dinner, there are many excellent offerings in the $45–60 range. But how can you not splurge, at least a little bit? A 2001 Château Moulinet, which the sommelier decanted, was well worth the tarrif at $75.

The knock on Scott Bryan at Veritas, was that the food never approached the wine list’s pyrotechnics. It was quietly competent and seldom disappointed, but it never left you with enduring memories, the way the wine did. He has built a similar menu here. It is surprisingly affordable, with no entrée more expensive than a $26 steak.

I am still left with the question that left me perplexed at Charlie Bird and Pearl & Ash: who is ordering three- and four-figure wine bottles, but demands a food menu that is practically budget-priced by today’s standards? Where’s the 28 dry-aged prime ribeye that Harry’s Steak sells for $48.

On paper, the food doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing. Listen to this list of entrées: pasta, ricotta agnolotti, risotto, chicken, codfish, salmon, skirt steak. As he did at Veritas, Bryan executes all of this with cool precision that makes it worthwhile, especially if the prices remain as low as they are now. If the food doesn’t get in the wine list’s way, it has done its job.


An Escarole Salad ($10; above left) wasn’t as blurry in real life as my lousy photo, but it was exceedingly pedestrian, with an anchovy vinaigrette that barely registered. Why not charge a couple of bucks more, and give us real anchovies? But Bryan can still cook. A Chilled Corn Velouté ($10; above right) was a soup of astonishing clarity, drizzled with roasted poblanos, sweet tomatoes, and basil.


Both entrées were wonderful, bearing in mind the price point: Atlantic Codfish ($26; above left) with white bean purée, manila clams, roasted garlic, and parsley; Roasted Chicken ($22; above right) with polenta, chanterelles, madeira, and tarragon.

Dessert was a delightful Peach Tarte Tatin ($10; left) with créme frâiche ice cream and caramel.

Bacchanal occupies the southern frontier on the new Bowery, with its own street entrance in the boutique Sohotel. It is a more polished restaurant than Charlie Bird or Pearl & Ash, but like those establishments, it has a distinctly downtown vibe. Low ceilings and brick walls ensure a punishing sound level. My wife and I had to shout at each other all evening, and we were seated at a two-top in a corner, with no one on either side of us.

The well-executed food and excellent wine list are somewhat undermined by the service, which was a bit slow. The restaurant was close to full on a Wednesday evening.

It will be interesting to see how Bacchanal and other restaurants of the VeriCru diaspora evolve. If you want vast wine lists without paying three-star prices for the food, these restaurants are the places where you find them. But such a large room is hardly the place where I would contemplate a three-figure Brunello. The chef does a thoroughly professional job, especially at the absurdly low price point. You have to wonder how the clash between such luxurious wine and the quotidian surroundings will eventually be settled.

Bacchanal (146 Bowery at Broome Street, Soho)

Food: Casual American, mostly well executed at a surprisingly low price point
Service: At times slow, but otherwise good
Ambiance: A punishingly loud, low-ceilinged room

Rating: ★★


Harry's Steak


I’ve written about Harry’s Steak twice now (here; here), and normally wouldn’t have thought there was any more worth saying about the place.

But the other night they were offering a special so unusual that I had to blog about it: a bone-in filet mignon. Filet is virtually always served off-the-bone, so I was sufficiently curious that I ordered it. Steaks cooked on the bone are usually more flavorful, and that certainly seemed true here. The combination wet–dry aging process left it with a cool mineral flavor. It was cooked with a nice char, to the requested medium-rare temperature.


Harry’s offers all of the usual steakhouse sides, but I ordered the Peas & Bacon ($8.50), which is a bit more offbeat. It was the kind of dish that could make me into a pea-lover (not an easy task), though I didn’t taste much of the bacon.

When the bill arrived, I was surprised to learn that the filet was $55. The other steaks at Harry’s, including their off-the-bone filet, are around the $40 mark (the going rate in Manhattan), and I had no reason to expect the filet would be any different. Most restaurants don’t recite the price of the specials unless you ask. But I do think they have an obligation to say something if one of the specials is significantly more expensive than the rest of their menu.

In multiple visits to Harry’s, I’ve never found it crowded. Servers are friendly and competent, but as noted here and on past occasions, they have a tendency to up-sell. However, for the pure steak lover, Harry’s gives the better places in town a run for their money.

Harry’s Steak (97 Pearl Street at Hanover Square, Financial District)

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


Gold St.


Note: Gold St. closed on April 1, 2009. It re-opened as Harry’s Italian.


Has a diner ever had so much attention? Practically every newspaper, magazine, or blog in town that chronicles restaurant openings mentioned Gold St., the latest brainchild of Harry Poulakakos, who owns Harry’s Steak, Harry’s Café, and various other Lower Manhattan restaurants.

To be fair, Gold St. isn’t quite a diner. It has an executive chef (Patrick Vacciariello from the Smith & Wollensky chain), a chef de cuisine (Tony Landeros), and a sushi bar. It serves a few items not found at many diners, like Kobe Beef Sliders and Fries with brie fondue, to say nothing of the sushi. But in other ways, it’s very much a diner, with the predictable burgers and meat loaf, on a menu long enough to include far more than any kitchen can execute well.

Gold St. is also the Financial District’s first 24-hour restaurant, located at the epicenter of a neighborhood now dominated by rental and condo conversions. It might not be the East Village, but the area has as much need of 24×7 food as any other, and now we have it.

If you come to Gold St. expecting fine dining (as NYCnosh did), you’ll be disappointed. If you come looking for a “diner plus…,” you’ll probably conclude (as Bloomberg did) that Gold St. is “just about right.”


Slow Roast Pork ($15), cooked on a rotisserie all day, had a nice pink barbecue texture. Peas and carrots were expertly done. There was nothing special about the fries, and the tomato salsa garnish seemed unnecessary. I had nothing else, aside from two diet cokes ($3.25 each, no refills) and a coffee ($2).

I’m not going to recite the various menu categories, but the cheapest dinner item is a hamburger ($8), while the most expensive non-sushi choice is grilled shrimp ($22). The very long sushi menu has the usual suspects, and some creative ones, like an Angry Spider roll ($11.50) and a Yellow Tail Tasting ($12.50). Sushi combo platters run all the way up to $52. The breakfast and dessert menus have all of the expected items, and the back page of the menu lists a number of fruit smoothies. There is also a full bar and a modest wine list.

There’s nothing original about the vaguely retro 1950s décor, but the seats and banquettes are quite comfortable, and the waitresses wear short, short skirts. Service was attentive, although the restaurant wasn’t very busy when I visited. I saw Harry Poulakakos himself nervously pacing around, which was unexpected on a Sunday evening.

Be it ever so humble, I’m glad Gold St. has arrived. Most importantly, it means the Financial District as a residential neighborhood has arrived. Unfortunately, I’m moving way uptown this summer, so I won’t be around long to appreciate it.

Gold St. (2 Gold Street at Maiden Lane, Financial District)


Harry's Steak

I visited Harry’s Steak last week, having dined at the companion Harry’s Café a couple of months ago. I went in with a steak on my mind, but the server talked me into other selections, and they were so good I just have to mention them.

Canadian bacon is common at New York steakhouses, but Harry’s version ($6.50), hickory smoked in-house, is served with the bone, and apple sauce on the side for dipping.  I’ve never seen bacon served that way, but as good as it was, I was only too happy to gnaw the bone clean after polishing off the bacon.

Most steakhouses have a crab cake appetizer, but here too Harry’s made it special. Their version ($15.75) was served in a shallow pool of shrimp bisque—again, a unique touch that shows an extremely thoughtful hand at work in the kitchen.

At another table, I heard a guy telling his companions that Harry’s is now his favorite steakhouse. As he put it, “You can go to Sparks, wait for an hour, and have a mediocre steak; or, you can come here, get seated immediately, and have an excellent one.”

Once again, the restaurant was not full. Both servers that came to my table were rather obviously “up-selling” me, but service was otherwise a happy experience. The steakhouse is in the former wine cellar, but it has been totally redone and is quite comfortable.

Harry’s Steak (97 Pearl Street at Hanover Square, Financial District)

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


Harry's Café and Harry's Steak

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Harry’s Steak.

When I started working on Wall Street in 1989, Harry’s at Hanover Square was the quintessential “good ol’ boys” restaurant. Located at One Hanover Square in the landmarked India House, in the heart of the Financial District, it catered primarily to brokers and investment bankers. A big horseshoe-shaped bar dominated the space. It wasn’t known for its food.

Harry Poulakakos retired a few years ago. The space was carved up; two restaurants on Stone Street now occupy space that was formerly part of Harry’s. The main restaurant was closed for approximately 2½ years. Harry’s son gutted the place, and it has now re-opened as two separate but connected restaurants: Harry’s Café and Harry’s Steak. (Papa Harry is still associated with the place, as an advisor.)

The two technically have separate entrances: Harry’s Café at 1 Hanover Square, Harry’s Steak at the adjacent 97 Pearl Street. They are listed separately on Zagat and Menupages. But they have a common website, and apparently a common kitchen. The steak restaurant, which is smaller, is located in the former wine cellar of Harry’s at Hanover Square.

The steakhouse menu has pretty much the standard items and price structure that you would expect in Manhattan. The café menu has some of the steakhouse appetizers, but only one actual entree in common (the Dry Aged New York Strip on the bone, $41). The café’s entrees are more eclectic, with everything from lemon sole ($22) to “the original crackling pork shank” ($25), whatever that may be.

I was actually looking for the steakhouse, but wandered into the café instead. The staff advised that the café doesn’t normally offer the full steak menu, except on weekends, when the café is open but the steakhouse is not. But they let me order from the steak menu anyway. I chose the bone-in rib steak ($38.50). This was an enormous hunk of beef, possibly two inches thick before cooking. It was perfectly marbled and aged, and comparable to the two best ribeyes I’ve had in New York, at Strip House and Nebraska Beef.

At the café (but not the steakhouse), steaks come with fries and creamed spinach without any extra charge. There was no way I could finish all that food, but I noted that the spinach was excellent. The helping of fries was enormous and could easily have served several people. The bread service was above average.

Service was friendly and efficient. There was a bit of a delay in getting my steak out of the kitchen, and although I did not complain about it at all, they comped a glass of wine anyway. The décor is still in the burnished mahogany of the old Harry’s, but the space seems a bit more open and inviting.

The restaurant wasn’t full, but they have only opened recently, and are still building word-of-mouth. The clientele seemed to be a mix, rather than the pure Wall Street types you used to see in Harry’s at Hanover Square. The fact that the café is now open seven days a week speaks volumes to how the financial district has changed. Back in 1989, you could roll a bowling ball down Broad Street on a Saturday without striking anyone. It’s now a family neighborhood, with residential conversions on just about every block.

Harry’s Café (1 Hanover Square) and Harry’s Steak (97 Pearl Street), Financial District

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

It’s hard to judge by just one visit, but based on what I saw yesterday, Harry’s is doing an impressive job.