“Did you remember to call ahead?”
At Atlantic Grill at Lincon Center, that’s the new euphemism for, “Do you have a reservation?” I guess reservations smack of privilege and favors, while calling ahead is merely having one’s act together. No worries, though. Atlantic Grill has ample bar seating — first come, first served — for those who didn’t “call ahead.”
The rhythm of the evening is defined by whatever is playing across the street. The alert host knows the starting time and the program at every Lincoln Center venue, even when diners do not. Customer: “Doesn’t the Met start at eight o’clock?” Host: “No, the Met’s at seven tonight. They’re doing Don Carlo.” He proceeds to rattle off the times at every other theater, just to show it’s no fluke. But he’s good at what he needs to be, which is getting diners to their shows on time.
This is the second Atlantic Grill in Manhattan, approximately the fifteenth production (still in business) of prolific restaurateur Stephen Hanson. None of them are great. Hanson’s only stab at excellence was Fiamma, which he closed during the recession. But most of his restaurants are at least competent, and a few are better than that. (Primehouse New York is my favorite Hanson place—though I haven’t tried them all.)
The menu at Atlantic Grill, as you might guess, is mainly fish and seafood. Steve Cuozzo gave it three stars in last week’s Post, which is ridiculous. It is not as good as Ed’s Chowder House a few blocks away, but it is good enough to be a dependable “when-you’re-in-the-neighborhood” place. Neither the food nor the prices will offend anyone, with appetizers in the teens, entrées mostly in the $20s.
I love it when restaurants serve house-made bread, with butter soft enough for spreading. The odd-shaped version of it here, clearly meant for sharing (but served that way to solo diners too), came out of the oven warm: crisp outside and soft inside.
I am not fond of sushi bars in Western restaurants. It feels like pandering. Either open a Japanese restaurant, or don’t open one. The menu here offers a modest selection of sushi, sashimi, and maki rolls. The omakase is $32, and how good could that be?
The list of standard appetizers was incredibly boring (standard soups and salads), so I succumbed to a crispy tempura oyster roll (below left), which was offered as an off-the-menu special. It was just fine, but also instantly forgettable.
Arctic Char ($27; above right) was more impressive: the skin was crisp, the fish tender, and the accompaniments were no afterthought: French lentils, honeycrisp apples, turnips, and whole grain mustard. If the appetizers showed this level of thought, Atlantic Grill might be a two-star restaurant.
The by-the-glass wine list was uninteresting. Service was friendly and efficient, and there was none of the upselling that one often encounters at this kind of restaurant.
The space used to be the venerable O’Neals’. Numerous walk-in guests seemed perplexed, asking the host what had happened to their old standby. Most of them stayed, and I suspect they were happy. Atlantic Grill is better than O’Neals’. It offers the safe, reliable, fairly-priced food that a pre-theater crowd wants.
Atlantic Grill (49 W. 64th St., east of Broadway, Upper West Side)