Entries in The Breslin (7)


The Prime Rib Feast at The Breslin

It’s never too soon to re-visit The Breslin, one of two April Bloomfield restaurants with a Michelin star — The Spotted Pig is the other — and both criminally under-rated by the Paper of Record, at one star apiece.

The Breslin has been with us for five years, and the value proposition isn’t much changed. It’s a full-on cholesterol assault, but you’ll love it all the same. Sam Sifton had a point when he implied it would kill you to eat here too often. So would Peter Luger, but no one’s making you drop in every night.

There’s a robust market for the so-called “large format feast,” which started to appear all over town at about the time The Breslin did. There are four of them here, all for eight to twelve guests: prime rib ($95 per person), roasted duck ($65), whole suckling pig ($85) and lamb curry ($80).

Order one of these, and you’ll be seated at the dining room’s large central table, facing the open kitchen, where you can oogle the chefs, and the rest of the guests can oogle you as the food comes out. A group of us visited recently for the rib. (Click on the photo, above left, for a larger image of the menu.)

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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.)


Breakfast at The Breslin

Like most hotel restaurants, The Breslin is compelled to serve breakfast. I say compelled because it is not the meal into which the chef pours much creative energy, although it is comparatively lucrative. The profit margin on a $2.50 cup of coffee must be around five hundred percent.

Still, April Bloomfield’s fingerprints are all over the menu: I don’t know of many places that serve poached eggs with curried lentils, yoghurt, and cilantro, or beans in pork fat. Ricotta, Bloomfield’s favorite cheese, makes an appearance in at least two dishes.


I had the Seasonal Frittata with — yes, riccotta ($14) — and the house-cured bacon ($7). Unlike the bacon you have at home, Bloomfield’s doesn’t get crisp. It is really a portion more appropriate for sharing, given the high fat content, but there I was by myself . . . and finished it.

The Breslin (16 W. 29th Street between Broadway & Fifth Avenue, West Midtown)


The Breslin

I visited The Breslin alone about a month ago. I felt it was a two-star restaurant at the time, but hadn’t sampled enough of the menu to form a definite impression. Now I can correct that (and Sam Sifton’s wrong-headed one-spot).

I wrote about the background of The Breslin in an earlier review, so I’ll get right to the food.


The Terrine Board (above left) is excellent—the components being guinea hen, rustic pork, rabbit & prune, liverwurst, and head cheese. I wonder why there is no option for a solo diner? It comes in two sizes ($25 or $42), and even the smaller one, which we had, is too large for one person.

A whole trout ($32; above right) was exquisite, its pink flesh moist and tender. We also had the lamb burger and fries once again (the photo is in my earlier review), which was as good as before.

The wine list is a tad expensive, with too few bottles under $50. However, the 2007 Domaine des Martinelles at $55 was wonderful. The list describes it as “the rustic side of Crozes-Hermitage: meat-driven, earthy, funky, and amazingly yummy.” It arrived at the table properly chilled. Even restaurants much more expensive than The Breslin often serve red wine at room temperature.

I don’t know how Chef April Bloomfield divides her time between The Breslin and her other restaurant, The Spotted Pig. She was in the Breslin kitchen the night we were there, apparently (as far as we could tell) looking at every plate that went out.

The space is noisier than I’d like, and I wish they took reservations. The dining room hasn’t been full either time I visited (the packed bar is another story entirely). Perhaps it would even help business to get with the program, and join OpenTable. But I love April Bloomfield’s food too much to subtract points for that, so The Breslin gets two stars from us.

The Breslin (16 W. 29th Street between Broadway & Fifth Avenue, West Midtown)

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

Breslin Bar & Dining Room on Urbanspoon


The Breslin

Note: Click here for a later review of The Breslin.

Time was, the cuisine of the British Isles didn’t travel well. No one went to England for the food, and no one opened serious English restaurants anywhere else.

April Bloomfield may be the chef who, more than any other, has proven that the food of her native country can be exported. It began at the Spotted Pig, a West Village hit six years ago that remains impossibly busy at practically all times (and does not take reservations).

Bloomfield and her business partner, Ken Friedman, stumbled at the John Dory, a seafood restaurant in Far West Chelsea that won good reviews, but couldn’t stay in business. Friedman attributed the failure to the lack of lunch traffic in that neighborhood, and inefficient use of the space due to the decision to accept reservations, which he says he regrets.

The Breslin, a gastropub like the Pig, opened last fall. The neighborhood presented a bit of a risk, as West 29th Street is neither a nightlife hotspot nor a residential district. It’s in the unnamed gray space on the Manhattan map, north of Chelsea but south of Midtown. Restaurants too numerous to name have failed here. Nevertheless, they vowed not to take reservations.

By opening in the boutique Ace Hotel, Bloomfield and Friedman at least hedged their bets. Hotel restaurants are usually subsidized, since most establishments feel they must offer their guests a place to eat. A failure would mean leaving the space vacant for a prolonged period, which an upscale hotel would likely consider intolerable. The built-in captive audience gives the restaurant a cushion to rest on.

Not that the Breslin shows any sign of failing: it was arguably the hottest of the fall openings. It was less than half full on a recent Saturday evening, but I hesitate to draw conclusions during a summer weekend. But if this persists I suspect the no-reservation policy will get a second look.

Whether you like the Breslin or not, you have to take off your hat to Ms. Bloomfield, to this extent: She isn’t serving a Scotch Egg or a Beef & Stilton Pie because the market demanded them. No menu consultant gave her the list of obligatory standards that every place in town is serving. When you dine at Bloomfield’s restaurants, you’re getting her cuisine, and nobody else’s.

In a somewhat unflattering one-star review, Sam Sifton complained that too much of the menu sings in the same key: it’s heavy on salt and fat, and as he indelicately put it, tough on the digestive tract. It’s somewhat unfair to penalize the restaurant because he needed to fart, but it is a heavy menu. There is no denying that.

The menu is divided into snacks ($4–8), appetizers ($12–18), entrées ($17–32), and sides ($7–8). Terrine boards are $25 or $42, and you cannot order their contents individually. Even crazier is a ribeye for two at $139; no steak for one person is offered.

I visited the Breslin alone, and tried too little of the menu to form a definite impression. Boiled Peanuts Fried in Pork Fat ($6; above left) is a crazy dish that no one else serves. Whether due to boiling or saturation in fat, the shells are edible, and just as good as the nuts inside.

The Lamb Burger with Feta ($17; above right) is rich and flavorful, but I like the Spotted Pig’s beef burger with roquefort even better. It comes with addictive chips that, in keeping with the theme, are thrice fried.

The service is top-notch, at least by pub standards, as I have found at every one of Ken Friedman’s places. For a former record industry honcho, he seems to understand how to recruit and train a staff. They all dress casually, and indeed, you might have trouble telling them apart from the customers.

Friedman has done his usual bang-up job on the décor, assuming you don’t mind a Disneyfied version of what a real English pub looks like. The space is quite a bit more comfortable than the Spotted Pig, with the advantage of being built from scratch, and not having to fit into a landmarked neighborhood.

The Breslin is, alas, too far out of my way to be on the regular rotation. But there is much more of the menu that I am eager to try, if only to find out if the rest of the food tastes as good as it reads.

The Breslin (16 W. 29th Street between Broadway & Fifth Avenue, West Midtown)


Review Recap: The Breslin

Today, Sam Sifton awarded the expected one star to the Breslin. He loved the food (mostly), but noted that an awful lot of it strikes the same chords repeatedly:

The Breslin is the sort of restaurant you end up thinking about a lot, not always pleasantly, staring up at the ceiling at 3 in the morning in cold sweat and mild panic. Yes, the food is good. But it is monochromatically good: it is 10 colors of fat. Excess can become wretched, and fast.

He also notes the insane ritual of trying to get a table at this crowded place:

The restaurant takes no reservations; it celebrates a democracy of the committed. Save for at breakfast, over pancakes and Stumptown coffee, the restaurant is almost perpetually jammed.

At night, out in the bar, people dance in place, drink amber cocktails, listen to music that bounces smartly between rock and hip-hop. They wait endlessly for tables to clear.

I question the idea of calling this “democracy.” It is simply owner Ken Friedman’s way of making more money: no need ever to worry about no-shows, or tables vacant because the last booking has departed and the next hasn’t yet arrived. If the Breslin ever quiets down, rest assured that Friedman will suddenly be pleased to take your reservation—not that this is likely anytime soon.

Eater’s prediction and the many reactions to it show that people still haven’t adjusted to Sam Sifton’s grading curve. For Frank Bruni, two stars was the default rating. He usually didn’t give one star without reciting a long list of complaints. This would explain the attitude of the Eater commenter, who said, “it only deserves 1 star but the review barely took the restaurant down or explained why.”

Sifton has returned the star system to its historical roots. One star means “good.” It is not an insult. There is nothing fundamentally inconsistent with a positive review that awards only one star.

We are not about to say that we fully grasp Sifton’s system, but at least we got this one right, and are awarded with a whopping $4 against our hypothetical one-dollar bet; this is courtesy of Eater odds that were wrong to begin with. Eater loses a dollar.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $9.00   $8.00
Gain/Loss –$1.00   +$4.00
Total $8.00   $12.00
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 6–5

Life-to-date, New York Journal is 76–32 (70%).


Review Preview: The Breslin

Tomorrow, Sam Sifton takes on the latest April Bloomfield/Ken Friedman production, the insanely crowded Breslin in the Ace Hotel. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows: Goose Egg: 50–1 ; One Star: 4–1; Two Stars: EVEN; Three Stars: 10–1; Four Stars: 25,000–1.

We haven’t yet been to the Breslin, and we hear it’s practically impossible to get a table at the hours most people want to eat, unless you’re prepared to wait an awfully long time. Sifton probably didn’t endure those waits, but he cannot have been insensible to the plight of those who do.

We think that Eater is grossly over-stating the certainty of a two-star review. The Times dining section is being run by adults now, and two stars is no longer the default rating for ambitious comfort food served in a zero-star environment. To the contrary, we think Sifton comes into this place planning on one star, and the food would need to be an out-of-the-park home run to overcome the restaurant’s many drawbacks.

So, while a two-star review wouldn’t surprise us, we don’t think it’s four times as likely as a one-star review, as the Eater odds imply. We hope nobody is actually betting on our advice, as our predictions since Sifton took over have not been very accurate. Nevertheless, we will buck the Eater odds today, and bet on one star for the Breslin.