Entries in Shea Gallante (3)



Note: Ciano closed in April 2013. Management says that it will re-open on the Upper East Side in August 2013 as Cucina Ciano, with one of chef Shea Gallante’s assistants, but without Gallante himself.


Shea Gallante is back. The chef who made Cru into one of the city’s best restaurants, only to see his work undercut and eventually rendered irrelevant by the Great Recession, has his own place again: Ciano.

In an era of increasing informality, Cru was one of the few restaurants that actually got fancier between its 2004 opening and our most recent check-in, two years ago. But after the fall of Lehman Brothers, the restaurant was forced to reverse field, adopting a less expensive à la carte format and slashing the prices on its legendary wine list by 30 percent.

Gallante never explained his departure. A plausible guess is that when Cru became unsustainable in its original form, he preferred to go out on his own terms. Sure enough, Cru is now closed. Gallante went back briefly to David Bouley’s empire (from which he’d come), then did some consulting in Westchester, and is now back in New York.

Ciano occupies the pretty space that was formerly Beppo. I was never there, but as the re-fit was brief, I assume that a lot of the décor was retained. It’s a beautiful setting for what I call adult dining, with a long polished wood bar, flowers and tablecloths on every table, and a roaring fireplace.

The Italian serving staff—all men, and none of them youngsters—are likely carry-overs too: where else would they find so many waiters of that age on short notice? The patrons also skewed to middle-aged, though not exclusively so. Perhaps many of them had been Beppo regulars, and wanted to see if the new place measures up.

There was always an Italian accent to Gallante’s cuisine at Cru, but it is overtly Italian here. Prices are roughly in line with Cru’s à la carte phase, but without the tasting menus. No one would call it inexpensive. Insalate are $12–15, antipasti $11–18, pastas $19–28 (smaller portions listed for about 1/4th less), secondi $28–35 (not counting the ribeye for two, $48pp), and contorni $10.

Beyond Gallante’s sure hand in the kitchen, what elevates Ciano is its wine program, run by his former Cru colleague, John Slover. As he does at Bar Henry, Slover sells a slew of wines by the half-bottle — the majority of the list, in fact. And we’re not talking about the cheap stuff, either. Real wines of interest, bottles with age, are available by the half, at 50 percent of the bottle price. This is a boon for the customer, but it clearly entails a risk for the restaurnant, as an open bottle quickly deterioriates if another no one buys the other half reasonably promptly.

We began with two of the tenderest Roasted Veal Meatballs ($18; above left) that I’ve had in a long time, so smooth they could have been Kobe beef. Gnocchi ($28; above right) with black truffle butter and 36-month parmigiano were a creamy delight. 

I loved the Berkshire Pork Roast ($32; above left), but it exemplifies the challenge of attracting customers to a restaurant like Ciano. Gallante is clearly sourcing the best beef. With a Barolo vinegar and grilled maitake mushroom sauce, he isn’t stinting on the other ingredients. But diners may ask, “What’s with $32 for pork shoulder?” Lamb Chops ($33; above right) were so rare that I thought they could still “Baaaaa,” and that’s a lot of money for two measly chops.

The experienced server was more polished than one usually finds at a new restaurant, and he didn’t hesitate to share his opinion. He was quite adamant that the smaller-size pasta orders (generally $5–6 less than the full-size ones) aren’t worth the tariff. And when we asked that our shared appetizer and pasta courses be brought out separately, he insisted it would confuse the kitchen, which we found very difficult to believe. Apart from that, he was on top of things.

Obviously, this isn’t bargain dining . Gallante’s technical ability is rock-solid, but he is cooking in a simpler, from-the-gut, style than he did at Cru. Success here will depend on people being willing to spend a bit more for more polished versions of dishes that are available less expensively at more stylish destinations.

I, for one, am happy to do that, but I’m not the guy that restaurant investors are targeting these days.

Ciano (45 E. 22nd Street, east of Park Avenue, Gramercy/Flatiron)

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


When a Cru Becomes a Vin de Pays

Update: Sure enough, and as we suspected, Cru’s strategy for re-making itself failed. We take no pleasure in this; it was just so obviously desperate. Cru closed in the summer of 2010. Its replacement is Lotus of Siam.


Cru, one of the few unabashedly old-school restaurants to have opened within the last five years, has finally decided how to replace Chef Shea Gallante, who left in June.

The Times reports that Todd Macdonald is the new chef. He had been with the restaurant in 2004, when it opened, but left two years ago to join a catering firm. Robert Bohr, one of the owners, said, “We wanted food that was easier, simpler, faster, cheaper and definitely tastier, which is what we think Todd will do.”

He added that they’ll consider remodeling after the new year, “to make the place less fancy.” In the meantime, prices on what is probably the city’s best wine list have been slashed by 30 percent across the board.

When we visited in last year, we noted that Cru was one of the few restaurants that actually got fancier. Servers’ all-black uniforms were replaced with suits; an à la carte menu was replaced with an $84 prix fixe, and the tasting menu nearly doubled in price, from $65 to $125.

This is by no means a crazy strategy. Eleven Madison Park did the same, and its reward was four stars from Frank Bruni. Just try getting a last-minute reservation these days. But at Cru, for whatever reason, that strategy did not survive the recession.

We understand why Cru has decided to go downscale. The reasons are obvious enough to not require explanation.

At the same time, we have our doubts. Even with a 30 percent discount, Cru’s wine list has hundreds of bottles with three and four-digit prices. Most people willing to spend that kind of money want food of a certain quality.

If you can afford a $400 Bordeaux, do you really care if the entrées are five bucks cheaper?



Note: This is a review of Cru under Chef Shea Gallante, who left at the end of June 2009 to rejoin his former employer, David Bouley. As of November 2009, Todd Macdonald was his replacement. Prices on the wine list were slashed by 30 percent, and Macdonald’s new menu was alleged to be “easier, simpler, faster, cheaper.” That didn’t work, and as of September 2010, Cru was closed. Its replacement is Vegas transplant Lotus of Siam.


There’s a popular impression that traditional luxury dining is on the decline. Frank Bruni hardly ever misses an opportunity to tell us so. The trouble is, Frank can’t count—or he refuses to. If he did, he’d realize that more of these places have opened in the last four years than have closed.

cru06.jpgCru is a restaurant that defies the alleged trend: it has actually become fancier. Servers that once dressed in black now wear suits. The original à la carte menu has been ditched for an $84 three-course prix fixe. In less than four years, the tasting menu has about doubled in price, from $65 to $125.

Then there’s the wine list. It boasted 65,000 bottles four years ago,  over 150,000 bottles today. Most of the collection is stored in a purpose-built wine hanger in upstate New York, with supplies at the restaurant replenished daily. The sommelier said, “We buy aggressively at auction.”

As it did before, the list comes to you in two hefty volumes, each the size of a phone directory. A 1983 Hermitage was $150, a price the sommelier said was lower than that vintage attracts at auction these days. I could well believe it, as one seldom sees a 25-year-old Rhone in New York at anything less than the price of a monthly mortgage payment.

This space on lower Fifth Avenue was once considered cursed, as it played host to one failed restaurant after another. But Cru was an instant hit, and it has stayed that way, which means the owners don’t have to dumb it down or make it more casual—options its less successful brethren have had to consider.

The chef here is Shea Gallante, a former chef de cuisine at Bouley. Cru’s ascent seems almost to mirror the latter restaurant’s decline. One must wonder when someone from the next generation will crack the four-star ceiling. Given the dinner we had, Gallante looks like he could be well on the way.

The menu seems to have broadened since the early days. Frank Bruni, who awarded three stars, said it was “tilting heavily toward Italy, nodding slightly toward Spain.” Aside from a gnocchi starter—and who doesn’t serve that these days—the influences here no longer seem grounded in Italy.

I’ve been to Cru only once before, about three or four years ago. I didn’t write a review of that visit, but while I certainly recall liking Cru, I don’t recall coming away quite as impressed as this time.

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The kitchen sent out a plate of canapés (above, right) while we pondered the wine list. Shortly thereafter came the amuse-bouche (above, left), a fennel panna cotta with caviar.

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Gallante had a twist on Foie Gras “Torchon” (above, left). It came in a cigar-shaped cylinder, held together with what seemed to be a shaved cucumber. A sauce described as “peach nectar” was poured at tableside. His Potato Gnocchi (above, right) were as light as a dream, with tangy rabbit sausage, speck, pollen and spring garlic.

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We were just as pleased with a Roasted Pekin Duck Breast (above, left), which came with grilled eggplant, leeks, poached morrels and mustard-seed jus. Cuts of Porcelet Pig (above, right)—some places would call it a trio of pig—had chanterelles, golden raisins, tomato and crisp vegetable salad.

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If Cru had an early failure, it was the dessert program. We love Will Goldfarb, but his wacky creations were a poor fit for a classically elegant place like Cru. Panned by just about everyone, he quickly left. The menu doesn’t note the current pastry chef, but he or she deserves to be better known.

The palate cleanser (top left) was a buttermilk sorbet with strawberry and elderflower geléee. For dessert, I had the Macadamia Nut Cheesecake Crumble (top right), which worked a lot better than it ought to, with an apricot-lemon thyme jam, hazelnut chocolate praline, and smoked chocolate chip ice cream.

Even wackier was the Poached Rhubarb Gratinèe (bottom left), a raspberry-rhubarb crips with—of all things—white asparagus ice cream. You wouldn’t expect ice cream made from a vegetable to make a great dessert, but this one did. The asparagus only lurked in the background, its aggression muted by Tahitian vanilla.

We finished with petits-fours (bottom right).

The service here is top-notch. The table settings include some of the fanciest restaurant flatware I’ve seen, made by the French manufacturer Christofle. The captain and the sommelier were both informative and had plenty to say, but never in a way that seemed intrusive or pompous. Our only complaint was that the runners who dropped off the bonus courses (amuses-bouches, etc.) were practically incomprehensible, a problem many restaurants have.

In addition to the prix-fixe and tasting menus, the captain told us about an additional option. Request five, seven, or nine courses, and the chef will cook for you. “Even I don’t know what he’ll come up with,” the captain said. I was tempted, but I figured we ought to try a smaller sample of Chef Gallante’s food first.

Based on this visit, Cru’s Shea Gallante has us convinced. Next time, we’re ready to put ourselves in his hands.

Cru (24 Fifth Avenue at Ninth Street, Greenwich Village)

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