Entries in Veritas (4)



Note: Veritas closed in October 2013. A restaurant called élan, from former Chanterelle chef David Waltuck, is expected to open there in 2014.


The owners of Veritas must have been frustrated with their Odyssean quest to find a chef worthy of their four-star wine list.

Founding chef Scott Bryan left in October 2007 with no destination in mind (he is now at Apiary). Journeyman Ed Cotton replaced him, couldn’t get reviewed, and was fired after just eight months. His replacement, the excellent Gregory Pugin, served the best food Veritas ever had, but he couldn’t get reviewed either, and the owners pulled the plug after two years and declining customer interest.

This time, there were no half-measures. One day in August 2010, management locked out the staff and closed abruptly for “renovations.” I assumed “renovations” were a prelude to winding up the business—it usually works that way. But three months later, the “new” Veritas duly re-opened with Sam Hazen as chef and partner, along with the original owners (mainly, wine mega-collector Park B. Smith).

I thought that this was total capitulation. Despite some pretty impressive restaurants on Hazen’s C.V. (Quilted Giraffe, Le Gavroche, Quatorze, La Côte Basque), he spent the last decade wallowing in mediocrity (Todd English Enterprises, Lucy’s Cantina Royale), and had created Tao, possibly the worst restaurant of the century, if measured by the number of copycats (all terrible) that it has inspired. If you had to pick one restaurant that encapsulates everything wrong with contemporary dining in New York City, it would have to be Tao.

And they chose this guy??

Gone was the $92 prix fixe, replaced by a menu said to be “more affordable.” Now, I’m all for affordability, but the open question was whether Hazen could offer anything better than over-priced stoner food, to go with co-owner Smith’s incredible wine collection. A three-star review from Sam Sifton was the first indication that, perhaps, Hazen was capable of better thngs than his resume suggested.

That new “affordability” is all relative. On Hazen’s New American locavore menu, appetizers are $13–22, entrées $29–49, desserts $11–13. That’s hardly bargain dining. But our food bill at the new Veritas was $107 for two (that’s before alcohol, tax, or tip), and we skipped dessert, an option the old menu wouldn’t have permitted. Remember, at the old Veritas it was $92 for one.

They’ve also banished the tablecloths. To be fair, even when table linens were fashionable, décor was never the strong suit at Veritas. The Brooklyn design firm Crème (Red Farm, Marc Forgione, Danji, La Promenade des Anglais) created a striking new look with painted white brick, stained wood accents, dark wood floors, filament bulbs, and floor-to-ceiling wine racks stocked with empty old bottles. It feels like a slightly derivative, more upscale version of what the one- and two-star restaurants are doing these days. But it is not unpleasant.

To my surprise, chef Hazen is serving very good, serious food, at the new Veritas. How he ever became involved with a shitshow like Tao is utterly beyond me, but the man hasn’t forgotten how to cook for real, and it seems he really is here to stay: he was in the house on a random Tuesday evening in January, with the restaurant about half full.

Wine is and always was the main point of dining at Veritas. Co-owner Park B. Smith told The Times that, to the 75,000 cellar that was already one of the city’s best, he’d added a “market list” with “quite a few choices for around $50 a bottle.” That is not really true: the majority of the market list is $60 or more (often way more), and you soon find yourself in the fifty-page reserve list, where practically all bottles are in three, four, and five figures.

Hazen’s menu is certainly as good as Veritas has served for most of its history (the all-too-brief Pugin era excepted), but it is not good enough to justify a visit unless you’re prepared to spend—and spend big—on wine. Even at a budget of $100 a bottle, 98 percent of the list will be out of your reach. It’s a pity that the $50–75 range is so anemic, but if you’re a wine lover you’ll drool with envy at the reserve list. Budget accordingly.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape remains a Veritas specialty. The section of the list devoted to it goes on for 3½ dual-column pages, with prices ranging from $105 to $5,500, and years ranging from 1978 to 2007. That nothing younger is offered (and indeed, the 2007s are not numerous) suggests that the restaurant is admirably waiting for younger bottles to mature before offering them for sale.

Anyhow: Châteauneuf-du-Pape is my own personal favorite, so there was no doubt what I would order. The 2000 Panisse Noble Révélation at $105 was sublime. (The staff decanted it, as they have done on past visits.) It only makes me wish I could afford more.

The amuse bouche (above right) was a warm winter vegetable soup. A choice of three breads was offered, along with soft butter. We both chose the house-made olive brioche, which was excellent.

Ibérico Ham ($19; above left) was offered as an announced special. Although there was nothing wrong with it, I thought that Hazen had defaulted to a luxury ingredient without doing much to augment it. In contrast, Merguez & Farm Egg ($15; above right) was superb, a hearty mix of spicy stewed tomatoes and lamb sausage.

Both entrées were well conceived, but were a bit less succulent than they ought to be. Striped Bass ($36; above left) is served crisp with the skin on, with eggplant, sweet peppers and sauce vierge. Wooly Pig ($37; above right), having a slightly more gamey flavor than other breeds, is brined in maple syrup overnight and served with a breaded stick of pork confit, which was excellent.

The evening ended with a plate of petits fours (right), and the staff gave us muffins to take home for breakfast. (The pastry chef is Emily Wallendjack, formerly of Cookshop.)

The staff are inclined to upsell, which we resisted. Sommelier Rubén Ramiro, having been asked for a recommendation around $100, suggested a bottle priced at $135. And the server had the temerity to encourage us to purchase a third entrée to share—the vegetarian item—although both entrées came with vegetables already.

Although it is easy enough to ignore the staff’s attempts to extract more money from the customer, it comes across as greedy and low-class, at a restaurant that is already very expensive.

But perhaps these compromises are the necessary evils to keep Park B. Smith’s extraordinary wine collection in the public eye. The “Brooklyn plus” décor is inoffensive; Chef Hazen’s cuisine is pretty good and might even be excellent on the right day. The service, aside from upselling, is acceptable.

Veritas (43 E. 20th St. between Broadway & Park Avenue South, Flatiron District)

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



Note: This is a review under chef Gregory Pugin, who was fired in August 2010. After remodeling, the former Tao chef Sam Hazen replaced him.


We’ve been eager to return to Veritas ever since Gregory Pugin took over as executive chef in the middle of last year. Pugin had been executive sous-chef at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and given our high opinion of that restaurant we figured that Veritas could only get better.

Mind you, we thought that Veritas was already a very good restaurant under the previous chef, Ed Cotton. Perhaps the food alone wasn’t quite worth three stars, but it was certainly good enough when the incomparable wine list was taken into account.

We heard even better reports of Chef Pugin’s cuisine, which unlike that of his predecessors just might be worthy of a visit on its own account. The Times completely ignored the transition. We do not recall a single mention of it, even in passing, by Frank Bruni—a sad but not altogether surprising omission, given his lack of enthusiasm for this style of dining.

For a couple of weeks in August 2009—traditionally a slow month for this kind of restaurant—Veritas was offering 25% off all wines, and this was the excuse for six members of the Mouthfuls food board to pay a visit.

Pugin, unlike his predecessors (Scott Bryan and Ed Cotton), brings a classic French sensibility to the menu. It’s still prix fixe ($85, as opposed to $82 when I last visited), but the dishes seem more formal and elegant than before.

I didn’t make a mental note of the amuse-bouche, but I’ve included a photo (above left). There were something like five or six choices of house-made breads, and I enjoyed both of those that I sampled.

I loved the rich flavor of the Lobster Nage (above left). Two of my companions had the Peekytoe Crab Mille-Feuille (above right), which one of them described as “a very nice presentation of two ‘slices’ with jicama forming the bottom layer and avocado the top.”

A Degustation of Lamb (above left) might well be called a Symphony of lamb, including the loin, the chop, and sweetbread, all perfectly prepared. Another of our party had the Skate Wing (above right), which he described as “superb.”

I was mightily pleased with the Grand Marnier Soufflé with crème anglaise (above left). Two others at the table had the Sparkling Grape Consommé (above right), of which one said, “I didn’t detect much sparkle, but it was as grapy as all getout.”

The petits-fours (right) weren’t as impressive as in some three-star restaurants, but they got the job done.

Obviously wines were to be a focal point of our evening, and with six in our party it was possible to try five of them. I won’t even attempt to describe them all, but fortunately another of our party has done so.

Service was mostly attentive, but the staff seemed slow to take our initial wine order, a curious omission at a restaurant focused on wine. The dining room was no more than half full, and our six-top was the largest party.

Veritas already had one of the city’s best wine lists. With the arrival of Gregory Pugin, it now serves the kind of food that such great wines deserve.

Veritas (43 E. 20th St. between Broadway & Park Avenue South, Flatiron District)

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


Revolving Door: Ed Cotton Out at Veritas

veritas_inside1.jpgEater reports that Veritas chef Ed Cotton has been fired. Gregory Pugin, currently sous chef at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, will be replacing him.

There’s no doubt that Cotton is gone: his name is now completely banished from the Veritas website. The second half of the story is mere rumor, but believable enough that we’ll run with it. [Update: The Times confirms the story.]

Historically, the food at Veritas has been very good, but low-key and not-at-all showy, which allowed the restaurant’s nonpareil wine collection to take center stage. We thought that Ed Cotton’s menu at Veritas still merited three stars, but as we were never there under founding chef Scott Bryan, we had nothing to compare it to. Some people thought that Veritas had lost a step.

If they’ve hired Pugin, it surely means the owners are ready to serve food that can command as much attention as the wine list does.



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Note: This is a review under chef Ed Cotton. Click here for a review under the current chef, Sam Hazen.

Ten years ago, Park. B. Smith figured out that if he opened one bottle a day from his massive wine collection, it would take 119 years to drink it all. It was that scary thought that led him to open Veritas, the lovely 65-seat wine-themed restaurant in the Flatiron District.

Acclaim came quickly, with a three-star rating from Ruth Reichl in the Times, and much later a Michelin star. Veritas has hummed along quietly, less publicized than showier restaurants, but still doing a brisk business. In October, founding chef Scott Bryan left suddenly, “with no destination decided.” Ed Cotton, who was to have opened Bar Boulud for Daniel Boulud, replaced him.

As it was a decade ago, wine is the story at Veritas. Even then—when it was far less common—Veritas’ wine list was available online. It is divided into two sections, a smaller and less expensive “market list,” and the longer “reserve list.” The large volume is one of the heftiest in New York; you could get lost in it for hours. There are bottles under $60 and bottles over $10,000. We chose the 1998 Le Crau de ma Mère ($115) from the reserve list. It’s a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Park B. Smith’s favorite French wine.

While we were ordering, we couldn’t help overhearing the spectacle at the next table. An elderly solo diner was presented with his bill, $999, which had to have been mostly wine. And the bottle on his table, which must have cost $800, was still half full. The gentleman, clearly a Veritas regular, left without settling his bill (he was short of cash), telling the staff that he would be back for dinner the next evening. The wine he left over was, we are sure, shared and enjoyed by the restaurant staff.

The menu is $82 prix fixe, with tasting menus available at $110 (five-course) or $135 (seven-course). There are ten appetizers, eight entrées, and six desserts.

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The amuse-bouche (above left) was house-cured salmon with a small vegetable medley. My girlfriend and I both started with the Wild Game Bolognese (above right) with butternut squash, wild chestnuts, and house-made cavatelli.

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I enjoyed the Red Wine Braised Short-Ribs (above left), though they were slightly stringy. My girlfriend adored the Slow Baked Loch Duart Salmon (above right).

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Finally, there was a terrific Banana Cream Tart (above left), while my girlfriend had the Chocolate Caramel Torte (above right).


Service was smooth, alert, friendly and professional. Our wine was, of course, decanted for us, a practice that too many fine restaurants have abandoned.

The cuisine at Veritas might be described as safe and traditional, but everything we tried was beautifully assembled, impeccably prepared, and just complex enough to be interesting.

The wine’s the show at Veritas, but it’s served in a serene setting, with food more than good enough to deserve admiration and praise.

Veritas (43 E. 20th St. between Broadway & Park Avenue South, Flatiron District)

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