Entries in Plein Sud (3)


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.


Plein Sud

Note: Plein Sud closed in August 2013. This is a review under chef Ed Cotton, who left the restaurant in October 2011. Reviews were mostly unfavorable, but Cotton lasted for quite a while afterward, so there may have been other reasons for the split.


Hotel Restaurants have rules all their own. Practically all hotels must have a restaurant, so they bring in an established operator, who can be guaranteed—at least, as much as anything in this business can be—to run a reliable operation.

The operator gets a subsidy, which limits his downside risk. In exchange, he must offer room service and serve three meals a day. The menu can’t be anything so terribly challenging that guests will find it off-putting. Of course, what works in the Four Seasons would fail in the Holiday Inn, but the principle remains the same.

The Thompson Hotels, a boutique chain with five New York City properties, offer an eclectic mix of restaurants: Kittichai at 60 Thompson, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill at 6 Columbus Circle, The Libertine at Gild Hall, Shang at the Thompson LES, and now Plein Sud at the Smythe. I suspect that at least two of the five (Shang and The Libertine) would be doomed as stand-alone restaurants.

Plein Sud adheres to the pattern of the other Thompson hotels, in that it has an operator with established credentials: Frederick Lesort of the now-shuttered Frederick’s Madison; along with a chef, Ed Cotton, who worked at (and was fired from) three-star Veritas.

The South-of-France cuisine seems calculated to meet the hotel’s requirements, with safe choices that won’t offend any guest. Even those who didn’t take French in high school will guess the contents of Le Burger Royale au Fromage, Coq au Vin, and Pasta Printemps. The menu does not stray far beyond these brasserie standards.

Over the course of half-a-dozen visits (the first chronicled here) I’ve found the cooking always at least competent, though singularly lacking in ambition. One wants to think that Cotton, who has worked at much better places (and is a current contestent on Top Chef), is not content to stop at this.

There’s a range of appetizers in various categories to satisfy bar grazers. On another visit, I tried the Tart Flambé, an oven-baked flatbread with smoked bacon, onion, and cheese. It’s a perfect snack, though better for sharing, as it wears out its welcome. (Gael Greene has a photo on her blog.)

We tried the large charcuterie board ($21; left), which allows you to choose five of the six meats on the menu. They were all just fine, though served with not enough bread. Dozens of places in town offer the same.

We wondered: if all you have are six selections, why not just give slightly less of each, and serve all six? Figuring out which one to leave out—we chose the air-dryed Wagyu beef—seemed odd. (There is also a small charcuterie board that offers three of six for $15.)

Steak au Poivre ($32; above left) was clearly better than the average non-steakhouse New York Strip, though well short of Minetta Tavern level. The fries were perfect. Pasta ($21; above right) with Merguez sausage and goat cheese was another solid effort.

Over the course of my visits, I’ve found a mixture of considerate and clueless service—never offensive, just sometimes aimless. Having now seen the AvroKO décor from every angle, I am inclined to be less charitable than before. Like everything else at Plein Sud, it won’t offend anyone, but it seems to be a retread of ideas the firm has used before, with filament bulbs hauled in from the company store room.

What we have here is a solid and reasonably priced neighborhood restaurant that seldom disappoints but never wows. I freely admit to a bias in favor of this type of cuisine. Most of the New York City critics will be bored by such a place. Do the owner and the chef aspire to anything more? Or are they happy to serve hotel guests and curiosity-seekers who happen to just wander by? That’s an open question.

Plein Sud (89 West Broadway at Chambers Street, TriBeCa)

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

Plein Sud on Urbanspoon


First Look: Plein Sud

Plein Sud is the new Southern French-themed brasserie in Southern Tribeca, in the swanky Smythe Hotel. It has top-drawer names behind it, including restauranteur Frederick Lesort (who previously ran the now-shuttered Frederick’s Madison mini-chain) and design firm AvroKO.

The chef here, Ed Cotton, has a blue-chip background, with stints at Veritas and BLT Market on his resume. He’s also a competitor on the coming season of Top Chef. If he survives deep into the season, Plein Sud could start to get a lot of attention.

The restaurant has been open since May, but it only received its liquor license yesterday. In honor of that event, they were offering wine on the house. Where the alcohol is free, New York Journal is on the case, so I dropped in. Service at the bar was a bit inattentive, but considering that they didn’t even have a bar until yesterday, it is too soon to reach any judgment.

The space is easy on the eyes, as you’d expect from an AvroKO production. The only food I sampled was an excellent Duck and Foie Gras Terrine that could withstand comparison to anything served at Bar Boulud, the city’s charcuterie capital. The young lady seated next to me at the bar offered me a taste of her Loup de Mer entrée, which had a nice crisp skin and a medley of roasted vegetables.

This is a take-no-risks menu, but if you love French classics, you’ll like Plein Sud. There are more pâtés and terrines to be tried, charcuterie, and baked flatbreads, along with the usual appetizers and entrées. It’s the kind of focused menu that David Bouley’s failed Secession, nearby, should have had.

Cotton was fired at Veritas, probably because he was serving two-star food in a three-star restaurant. Plein Sud doesn’t aspire to three stars (and won’t get them), but it doesn’t have Veritas’ high prix fixe. That terrine was just eight dollars, and most entrées are in the twenties. If he can keep serving food this good, he’ll do just fine. If he wins Top Chef, he’ll do even better.

Plein Sud (89 West Broadway at Chambers Street, TriBeCa)