English is Italian
New York, NY
Review by Diana, SuSu, MaceVindaloo, Jools, MostlyIrish
What's the idea behind the name? Well, it turns out that Todd English's mother is Italian, so why not name the place after that part of his heritage? And the concept (don't you hate how every restaurant has to have a concept?) is "urban Tuscan farmhouse." Every bigwig chef with a big bankroll behind him (in this case, Jeffrey Chodorow, who also bankrolled "The Restaurant" starring Rocco DiSpirito, if you remember that one) has a concept ...
But English delivers. The space is a former bank, complete with mezzanine and extensive sub-street level which once housed vaults. The lounge is downstairs, and has a completely different vibe. It's lounge lizard, but not anywhere near tacky. It's the lounge-pit of your dreams, from all those real 1970s shows you watched in your youth.
The dining area has big, comfy chairs and enough space between tables so you aren't crammed in or feel like you're participating in the next table's discussions. But, it turns out you need a big table.
The menu does offer à la carte, but the star is the family style menu. It's an antipasto style of offering, though there is a meat option for an additional fee. The price is $34 per person, and what a bounty you get! There is a HUGE platter of crispy calamari (they must've depleted the whole shoal!) and a gorgeous bowl of mussels in brio, with a soft-yet-chewy Tuscan style bread for dipping. There are also a trio dips: a chicken liver paté cooked with lemons, a carrot-based purée, and a roasted eggplant with olive oil which is nothing like babaghanoush, yet is wonderful and tasty. These are served with bruschetta the coal-toasted-grilled bread that is crunchy and hard and perfect.
There is also a salumi plate with mortadella, prosciutto, salami, all sliced very very very thinly in big sheets, which you can bunch up for a tender mouthful. Throughout, there are also olives, oil, and more bread. It's so delicious that we regretted ordering from the prix fixe and alla carte menus ... the family style meal would have suited us just fine.
But the chicken and the fish we'd ordered made us swoon. Crisp on the outside, tender and juicy within, the fish and chicken were piled atop starchy beans or below fennely salad, we couldn't do justice to either of these due to the amount of calamari and eggplant we'd eaten. We also ordered a sliced steak English's take on bisteca alla fiorentina served on salad, and it was amazingly flavorful and textured.
The only downside to this place was the service, or lack of it. We'd heard that New York City suffers from a lack of good professional waitstaff, and restaurants from as far afield as Philadelphia have taken to poaching the good people. The staff seemed disinterested, and they kept forgetting our drink orders. When a woman came by pretending to be in charge, she ended up being as effective as the waiters.
On subsequent visits, the servers were shorthanded and dishes got clonked onto the tables instead of placed ... how much effort would it have taken to do it properly? Alas, it's not a matter of time, but of attitude. We hope they fire the manager and poach a better one from someplace out. Ironic that in this foodie-verse, qualified cooks are a dime a dozen, but it's the servers which are in shortage.
But other than that, this was the perfect lunchtime experience with good friends, all escaping from the weekday midtown work grind. Despite the swanky, cool surroundings and the fabulousness of the people around us, the food transported us to the Italy of our dreams, where Todd English cooks for us! It's very popular here for both lunch and dinner, so be sure to make reservations in advance.
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