Entries in Riverpark (2)


NYC's Top Ten New Restaurants of 2010

’Tis the season when food writers sum up a year’s worth of dining, so here are my top ten new restaurants of 2010.

It was not a great year. No new restaurant earned three or four stars on our rating scale, although two came close: Millesime and Tamarind Tribeca. Sam Sifton of the Times awarded three stars to just one new place, Colicchio & Sons, but most critics (including me) found it disappointing. There is no “almost” in Timesspeak, but it did not appear that Sifton came even close to awarding three stars to any other new restaurant.

This does not mean that we ate badly, only that our best meals in new restaurants were at the lower end of the dining spectrum. This isn’t really surprising. Restaurants generally have six to eighteen-month planning cycles. If you’d been planning a new place in 2008 or 2009, how ambitious would you have been?

I’ve ordered the restaurants based on my dining experiences, which in most cases was one visit. Unlike the pro critics, I’m spending my own money. If I am disappointed, I’m not going to go back a second or third time, just to see if it was a fluke. Even when I like a place, I often don’t have the time or money to go back right away.

Some of the restaurants listed below actually opened in late 2009. I’ve included them if my first (or only) visit was in calendar year 2010.

1. Millesime. Chef Laurent Manrique returns to NYC (he was here in the ’90s), having won two Michelin stars in San Francisco. This classic French seafood brasserie doesn’t soar quite as high as that, but it was the best meal we had this year in a new restaurant. In our book, the food was three stars, though the service had some catching up to do. P.S. The downstairs “salon” is pretty good, too.

2. The Breslin. We adore the Breslin. Chef April Bloomfield’s fat-forward menu won’t be to all tastes, and it could be downright artery-clogging if we ate like this every day, but the chef doesn’t pander, and everything she does is impeccably prepared. They have a great lamb burger, and it’s great for breakfast too.

3. Tamarind Tribeca. This big-box Indian restaurant was the sleeper hit of 2010. We never imagined it would be this good. I gave it 2½ stars, but looking back, I am not sure why it didn’t get three. Of course, we sampled only a sliver of the menu, but what we had was flawless.

4. ABC Kitchen. Jean-Georges Vongerichten entered the farm-to-table game with a splash. Who’d have expected a restaurant in a home furnishings store to be this successful? JGV’s restaurants are notorious for quickly turning mediocre, after the attention-deficit chef wanders off to his next project. But if Chef Dan Kluger sticks around, ABC Kitchen could stay relevant for a long time. But good luck getting a last-minute reservation: the place is perpetually packed.

5. Ciano. Chef Shea Gallante (ex-Cru) returns to New York with a wonderful (if expensive) Italian restaurant, with a terrific wine list that allows most bottles to be ordered by the half. We would have rated this one higher, but one of our entrées was a dud (over-priced, under-cooked lamb chops).

6. Kin Shop. The year’s best Thai restaurant comes from an American, Top Chef alumnus Harold Dieterle. Not quite authentic, but clearly inspired by Thailand, the menu has both hits and misses, but the former are very good indeed.

7. Osteria Morini. Chef Michael White’s first casual Italian restaurant is dedicated to the hearty cuisine of Emilia-Romagna. Some of the dishes may seem over-bearing and unsubtle, but we liked just about everything we tried, even if the soundtrack is too loud and the paper napkins too cheap for the prices White is charging.

8. Manzo. If we were judging the food alone, we’d rate Mario Batali’s temple of Italian beef higher, but it’s smack dab in the middle of the city’s most crowded supermarket, Eataly. It is awfully expensive, for a space that is so unpleasant.

9. Riverpark. This is a “Tom Colicchio restaurant” that doesn’t charge Tom Colicchio prices. His former sandwich guy, Sisha Ortuzar, turns out to be a fine chef. But how many people will become regulars at a place that’s half-a-mile from the nearest subway station? We sure won’t.

10. Taureau. Chef Didier Pawlicki (of La Sirène) opened this all-fondue joint to very little critical notice. We loved our meal, but we’re not going to return regularly for such a limited menu. Still, we think it’s a great date place. There’s nothing like cooking raw meat in a shared pot of boiling oil to bring people closer.


Honorable Mentions: There are a few notable places that didn’t make our list, that nevertheless deserve a word or two.

1. Anfora. This quickly became my go-to wine bar after it opened in May. I probably visited fifteen or twenty times. But unlike some wine bars, the food menu here is too limited to qualify Anfora as a real restaurant. That’s why it didn’t make my top ten.

2. Maialino. Danny Meyer’s Roman Trattoria actually opened in late 2009, and we reviewed it in December, but most of the pro critics reviewed it this year, so you’ll probably see it on a lot of Top Ten lists. Our own meal there was slightly disappointing, but it was probably atypical, as Meyer’s restaurants tend to get better over time.

3. Má Pêche. You’ll definitely see David Chang’s first midtown restaurant on most critics’ top-ten lists, despite the fact that hardly anyone thought he had improved upon, or even equaled, what he’d achieved in the East Village. But in a bad year, Chang’s seconds are still pretty good. I dined here three times, and will again, but the review meal was not that great, although I hear the menu has changed a lot since then.

4. Recette. Jesse Schenker’s small-plates restaurant will also be on a lot of top-ten lists. I liked everything I tried; by the same token, I can’t actually remember any of it without re-reading my own review. It lacked (for me) any of the more memorable dishes from our top-ten list.

5. Terroir Tribeca. This was my other go-to wine bar, and unlike Anfora, it does have enough of a menu to qualify as a real restaurant. It doesn’t make the top ten because it’s practically the same as Terroir in the East Village, which opened in 2008. (Tamarind Tribeca, which does make our top ten, is quite a bit different from the original Tamarind in the Flatiron District.)



The unwritten rules that divide success from failure in the restaurant world are counter-intuitive. When Tom Colicchio’s new Riverpark opened in late September, Eater.com noted that it “provides a much needed dining option to the vast number of hospital workers in the wasteland that is the upper 20s around 1st Avenue.”

You’d think that a fine-dining restaurant by one of America’s best-known celebrity chefs, in a neighborhood where it’ll have the market to itself, would be a sure thing. Oddly enough, it usually doesn’t work that way. There’s a reason why nobody else has put a destination restaurant along hospital row. A health care worker in scrubs, after a long shift, isn’t looking for a $14 burger or $55 chicken for two.

Colicchio has doubled down on this location, which also has an outpost of his ’wichcraft sandwich chain, in a gorgeous all-glass building (see photo, right). I suspect it will do quite well; the restaurant is an entirely different matter.

Riverpark is in the brand new Alexandria Center, a biotech tower on East 29th Street past First Avenue, more than half-a-mile from the nearest subway station. To reach the restaurant, you walk past an unmarked gate at 29th & First, up a long unmarked driveway, and finally get to the dining room at the back of a sterile-looking lobby that smells like car dealership. It will get zero walk-in business, because you don’t even know it’s there. Drug reps will need to buy a lot of expense-account meals to fill this place.

It’s not all bad news for Riverpark. At this early date, the food is pretty good. That’s a contrast to Colicchio & Sons across town, where our early meal was a disaster—and many critics (though not the Times) had a similar experience.

The décor is right out of the Craft–Craftsteak handbook, with the addition of unobstructed East River views. It’s a pity that the floor-to-ceiling windows don’t open (as far as we could tell). The terrace just might be the city’s best outdoor dining destination, but first, Riverpark will have to tough out a long winter. Opening now, just as the weather is turning, was clearly not the best timing—even if a construction schedule beyond the restaurant’s control was the reason for it.

Though Riverpark is billed as “A Tom Colicchio Restaurant,” it doesn’t charge Tom Colicchio prices. Except for a few entrées “for two,” all of the mains are $28 or less. There’s also a separate bar menu, with entrées all under $20. That $55 chicken is an anomaly; everything else is quite reasonable, especially given the tariff at Colicchio’s other places.

The staff somewhat arbitrarily calls half the room “the pub,” but there is no noticeable difference between the two spaces, and either menu is served at any table. I think the so-called pub tables, situated closer to the water, are actually more desirable. In an odd design choice, the bar occupies the middle of the room, blocking the view for many of the so-called “dining room” tables, and leaving many of the bar patrons facing the wrong way.

Colicchio has handed over the cooking duties to his deputy, Sisha Ortuzar, who was the corporate chef of ’wichcraft for the last seven years. I wondered how well a sandwich guy would transition to fine dining. Quite well, it turns out.

Squab Mole ($15; above left) doesn’t look that great in the photo, but it’s a very good dish. So is Glazed Pork Belly ($9; above right) with pickled vegetables and jalapeño. The former comes from the dinner menu, the latter from the pub menu, but you would never guess that.

Sea Bass ($25; above left) was nicely done, in a rich seafood sauce, though I could have done without the crostini (shown at the top of the plate), which got a bit soggy. Spaghetti ($24 as an entrée; above right), clearly house-made, was just fine, with calamari, lobster, cockles, tomato, black olives, lemon, and basil.

We weren’t quite ready for dinner to end, so we ordered a Fruit Crisp ($10; right) to share, which was as good as it ought to be.

The restaurant is offering a 20 percent discount for the first two weeks. Even without that, the meal would have been $150 including cocktails and a bottle of wine, which is more than fair for food of this quality. You’d pay at least $50 more at Colicchio & Sons or Craft, with no assurance you’d enjoy it any better.

Our server was attentive, if slightly over-stretched, and there were some inexplicably long gaps between courses. However, that is one of the reasons why opening discounts are offered. I do not hold it against them.

The dining room was fairly empty at 6:30 p.m., but by the time we left, around 8:30, it was around 90 percent full. Keeping it full will be a challenge, as there is no history of fine dining in this neighborhood, and as a destination Riverpark is a very long hike from just about anywhere. On a value basis, this is probably the best of Colicchio’s New York restaurants, but I don’t know how often he’ll lure diners this far east.

Riverpark (450 E. 29th Street, east of First Avenue, Kips Bay)

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