Tom Valenti has made a living at giving Upper West Siders haute comfort food. Ouest was an instant hit when it opened in 2001, in what was then a culinary desert at Broadway and 83rd. Two years later, he had another hit at ’Cesca (with which he has since severed his ties). Both got two stars from the Times.
The West Branch arrived last fall, after a long gestation. The name comes from a tributary of the Delaware River, where Valenti likes to fish. Also, the restaurant is a branch of Ouest, offering similar, but simpler cuisine at a much lower price point. Here, the average entrée price is around $20, as opposed to about $30 at Ouest.
In the large space, which was formerly three separate storefronts, he has 170 seats to fill. He has divided it up smartly into several adjoining rooms, so that you don’t feel like you’re in a dining barn. The classic bistro décor is easy on the eyes. We suspect it gets noisy when full, but on Labor Day that wasn’t an issue.
Valenti might want to consider updating the website. It still consists of nothing more than a splash page that says, “Opening Summer 2008.”
The menu plays it straight, consisting almost entirely of well known classics. With gizzards, livers and hearts on offer, you couldn’t accuse Valenti of pandering. Still, it’s not an especially creative menu—not that it needs to be. Sometimes, comfort food well done is exactly what one wants.
We can offer only a preliminary verdict on the food, as our weekend of over-eating left us with room only for entrées.
Duck Confit “choucroute” ($19; above left) was executed flawlessly, including pork sausage, thick-cut bacon, and a bed of sauerkraut. House-made pappardelle bolognese ($19; above right) was a basic dish, but just as satisfying.
The West Branch impressed in other ways, too. We loved the warm, house-made bread with soft butter. We ordered a nice French country wine for around $35, and the server circled back frequently to refill our glasses.
It may not be an “ambitious” restaurant, but on this occasion The West Branch delivered on its ambitions perfectly.
The West Branch (2178 Broadway at 77th Street, Upper West Side)