Entries in Will Goldfarb (4)


Chop Suey


Note: Chop Suey closed in October 2008.

The chef Zak Pelaccio has come a long way since he was a cult hit at the Chickenbone Cafe in Williamsburg. His fans followed him to 5 Ninth in the Meatpacking District (from whence he later departed), and then to Fatty Crab a few blocks away.

Since then, he has turned his solid reputation into self-parody, cashing in one “consulting chef” gig after another. Chop Suey is the latest of these. It features one of Pelaccio’s trademark multi-Asian menus, along with one of the best views in the city, assuming you find it charming to look out on the bright lights of Times Square. Frank Bruni did, awarding one star in The Times.

chopsuey_logo.pngChop Suey is more than just a great view. The Renaissance Hotel did a lovely job with the renovation. The décor is stylish, comfortable, and understated—as it should be when you’ve got the most famous view in America. With only 78 seats, a majority of which were empty at 8:15 p.m. on a Saturday evening, you can actually have a quiet and unhurried meal here.

If only the food matched the view

That assumes the food is worthwhile, which it isn’t. Pelaccio’s menu seems phoned in. That’s the problem with a “consulting chef” who doesn’t stick around to edit out the clunkers, or even to ensure his vision (if he had one) is faithfully executed. We had three appetizers and three entrées between us, and there was only one item I’d recommend. That’s too low a ratio of successes to failures, especially when dinner for three runs to almost $250 (including tax and tip).

chopsuey01a.jpg chopsuey01b.jpg
Crispy Rock Shrimp (right); Curry Leaf Fried Chicken Wings (right)

Crispy Rock Shrimp($18) would have been unobjectionable, but a bed of stringy, cold, allegedly braised pork belly was just strange. Curry Leaf Fried Chicken Wings ($15) seemed no different to us than the Hooters variety.

chopsuey02a.jpg chopsuey02b.jpg
Steamed Rice Cakes (left); Atlantic Halibut (right)

If you saw Steamed Rice Cakes ($12) on the menu, would you expect something resembling the photo above? I sure didn’t. I’m a simple guy: “rice cake” implies “rice” and “cake,” and the dish included neither. But it was the evening’s only hit. There were gnocchi in there, along with spicy pickled vegetables and a Korean pork bolognese.

Moving to the entrées, an Atlantic Halibut sous vide ($28) was lovely enough, although boring. I detected none of the promised Prosciutto di Parma, and the clam medley underneath it was pointless.

chopsuey03a.jpg chopsuey03b.jpg
Ginger Chicken (left); Beef Short Ribs (right)

My son wasn’t fond of the Ginger Chicken ($32), also cooked sous vide, nor of the ginger tempura dumplings that came with it. Beef Short Ribs ($30) were a horror show: sliced too thin, overwhelmed with chili sauce, and not tender enough. We thought it was impossible to ruin short ribs. Now we know better.

The other “consultant” at Chop Suey is pastry chef Will Goldfarb. Perhaps he has done a wonderful job with the desserts…but perhaps not. We weren’t willing to roll the dice again.

With this wonderful space and this gorgeous view, the Renaissance Hotel deserves a far better restaurant than this. It’s time to fire the consultants and start over again.

Chop Suey (714 Seventh Avenue at 48th Street, 2nd floor of the Renaissance Hotel, Theater District)

Food: Disappointing
Service: Acceptable
Ambiance: Wonderful
Overall: Not Recommended


The Payoff: Chop Suey

In today’s Times, Frank Bruni awards one star to Chop Suey. He finds the view better than the food:

…sometimes food isn’t the primary consideration in deciding where to eat, and some restaurants have persuasive charms beyond the perimeter of the plate. Chop Suey is all about setting, a second-floor perch in the Renaissance Hotel that juts like a ship’s prow into a bold, brash sea of light.

As expected, he’s not impressed with the idea of consultant-chefs, Zak Pelaccio and Will Goldfarb:

The erratic results underscore the question of just how engaged such consultants get: of whether, once they’ve lofted a few ideas and cashed their paychecks, they feel any real pride of ownership or bother to follow through. I have my doubts. Chop Suey didn’t assuage them.

But there are enough winners to justify a star:

In intent, most dishes are more distinctive than the lowest-common-denominator tourist grub prevalent in this patch of town. Some are more distinctive in actuality, too.

The char siu — roasted pork with Hong Kong noodles as thin as angel-hair pasta — is described on the menu as “twice caramelized,” and the dominoes of tender pork demonstrate why. They have crisp, sweet surfaces and corners.

Crisp pie-shaped slices of scallion pancake are given some fruity zip by an Asian pear mostarda. A thick, juicy hamburger forsakes the usual condiments for kimchi, which does the trick. It’s a Korean Whopper.

As for Korean gnocchi, Chop Suey rushes in where Momofuku Ssam Bar earlier trod, serving steamed rice cakes with a spicy pork Bolognese of sorts. They don’t fall far short of their idols.

We and Eater both win $3 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

              Eater       NYJ
Bankroll $80.50   $91.67
Gain/Loss +3.00   +3.00
Total $83.50   $94.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 36–15   36–15

Rolling the Dice: Chop Suey

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Times Square’s latest Chinese restaurant, Chop Suey. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 3-1 √√
Two Stars: 6-1
Three Stars: 25-1
Four Stars: 5,000-1

The Skinny: Chop Suey has attracted a little bit of critical attention, thanks to its two “consulting chefs,” Zak Pelaccio (savories) and Will Goldfarb (desserts). The Post’s Steve Cuozzo loved it. New Yorker’s Ligaya Mishan wasn’t impressed at all. Cuozzo’s tastes are notoriously opposite of Frank Bruni’s, so we’re more inclined to trust Mishan.

In case the term “consulting chef” is new to you, it basically means they phoned in a couple of menu ideas, pocketed a fee, and have hardly visited the place since it opened. Pelaccio and Goldfarb are talented guys, but these days no one can keep track of all their projects. We don’t expect Bruni to look favorably on chefs who can’t be bothered to show up, and Bruni has never been much of a Goldfarb fan anyway.

If the online menu is accurate, appetizers at Chop Suey average around $15, and entrées around $30, which means you can’t get out of there for less than $50 a head, assuming you drink cokes. That’s a lot of money for Chinese food. It had better be good, or Bruni will bring out his hatchet in a hurry.

Ordinarily we’d be grabbing the zero-star odds, but we hesitate for a couple of reasons. In Times Square, there’s a zero-star restaurant every fifteen feet. It’s one of the city’s few neighborhoods where you expect every restaurant to be bad. Is there any news value in a zero-star review of a Times Square restaurant, especially one that most of the city’s other critics ignored?

The Bet: We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will “award” —we use the term loosely — one star to Chop Suey.


Room 4 Dessert

Note: Room 4 Dessert closed in June 2007, after a spat between Will Goldfarb and his investors. Goldfarb originally stated that he would re-open elsewhere, but for now he seems to be content with consulting engagements without having a place of his own.


Will Goldfarb has made a name as the mad scientist of desserts, cooking up kooky but delightful sugar rushes at such restaurants as Papillon and Cru. Neither the Times nor the Post liked his creations at Cru, but he took some time off, had a baby, and resurfaced with his own dessert bar in SoHo, Room 4 Dessert. And this time, the Times was smitten.

The wonderful thing about it is that Goldfarb doesn’t have to subsume his vision to somebody else’s concept. The drawback is that diners have to get there from someplace else. So far, it seems to be working. My friend and I dropped by after dinner Friday night at nearby Peasant, only to be told there was a 40-minute wait at 10:00 p.m. The next night, after a dismal meal at the much-farther-away Trestle on Tenth, we gave it one more try, and luckily there were a couple of seats free.

The restaurant occupies a long, narrow storefront. Signage is subtle, and you could easily miss it. Inside, it’s probably 100 feet deep, but so narrow that an NBA player could stretch his arms and touch both side walls. All seating is at the bar. On the menu, which changes regularly, every category begins with “Room 4,” as in “Room 4 Dessert Glass,” “Room 4 Alcohol,” “Room 4 Sweet Wine,” and so forth. 

Desserts at R4D have funky names like “indecent proposal” and “laissez pear.” Individual desserts are $10 each, while tasting plates of four selections are $14 each.  My friend tried “choc ’n’ awe,” a four-dessert tasting of white chocolate cake, cacau mousse, sucree safranee with chocolate cream, and chocolate ice cream. I had bites of each; the mousse and the cake were particularly decadent.

I had “virtual mauritius,” which came with a brown sugar creamy, little pieces of green mango, a iogurt biscuit, and whipped frozen carrot puree. (I am using Goldfarb’s spellings in each case.) The connection to Mauritius was lost on me, but the “iogurt biscuit” was the best of the bunch, closely followed by the creamy brown sugar. The pieces of green mango were cut too small and were rather annoying.

There’s a variety of wine and hard liquor pairings recommended for every dessert. I had a drink called mar.ti.ni ($15), which is what it sounds like, and my friend had champagne ($14). Other drinks have names like “who says cali can’t age” and “hey man, nice priorat.”

Goldfarb prepares most of the desserts himself. When he came over to serve us, I introduced myself by my eGullet handle, and we had a nice chat about the restaurant. When I told him we were turned away the night before, he replied wryly, “You should have complained to the owner.” We talked about his baby girl too, and he brought over a stack of photos. Later, he comped us  a “tootsie roll” (warm chcolate praline mousse, truffled streusel ‘sex panther’, raisins, and tequilla fluid), which was terrific. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Room 4 Dessert is an expensive indulgence. With two tasting plates at $14 each, and drinks at $14–15, the bill was $57 before tax and tip. For the record, individual desserts have gone up by $1, and tasting plates $2, since the Times review came out in February. The liquor is particularly expensive. We found it a luxury well worth it—but a luxury nonetheless.

Room 4 Dessert (17 Cleveland Place between Spring and Kenmare Streets, SoHo)

Dessert: **
Service: **
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **