Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Murray Hill, NY
Review by SuSu, MaceVindaloo, Jools, MostlyIrish, Diana
On a hot summer's night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?
The song You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth is appropriate in more than a few ways when describing dinner that this relative newcomer on the New York restaurant scene. For it was indeed a hot summer's night; it was so hot that it seeped into this restaurant unbidden. From what we could see, there was a power problem with the air conditioning in this newly renovated hotel restaurant, and so the centralized cooling and dehumidification system which normally makes life bearable in summer in the city was not working. Instead, little stand-alone portable ACs and box-fans tried gamely to battle the 90+°F heat plus 90+% humidity.
But we'd made arrangements to eat here with friends, and we'd all been looking forward to it. The young chef was said to be very talented and had gotten excellent reviews, after all. And hey, if it was so hot and humid, we shouldn't have problems with the crowding and craziness that is often the NYC restaurant scene, right?
One is normally warned away from hotel restaurants because they tend to have captive audiences and thus are not that great. Some of us had tried eating in the predecessors of this place in what used to be the Doral Park Avenue Hotel, and had been frankly disappointed. We hadn't been back in many years. But we had heard from various parties that the bar was good, the drink specials were delicious, and the decor was really beautiful opulent without being stuffy or over the top pretentious. Hyper-critical foodies turned out to really love the food here; it was as sure of a sure-thing we'd ever heard from our network of foodspies.
The decor in both the restaurant and the bar were really very lovely and stylish, though it was very dark it reminded some of us of those eccentric "adventurer's clubs" in those Victorian era high-times movies and plays. We think there was a trend toward a lot of light and austere modernist decor in eateries for a while, and now it's swung back to the supposedly more chichi cluttery darkness. On this particular hot and muggy night, the dark did a bit to dispell the heat, though as none of the windows opened, it was stuffy. This despite the loud blowing air coolers. We noticed there were many types of coolers, and we assume they rented everything they could get their hands on.
We opted for fruit-based cocktails made with refreshing-sounding produce, like the "Park Avenue Pom" which is not apple-based as you might think, but pomegranite-based and mixed with Rasberry Stohli vodka, and the "Wet Watermelon," a watermelon liqueur mixed with gin and fruit juices concoction. They really were very light and refreshing, and took the edge of waiting in the dark, hot space while awaiting dates.
Once in the dining room, we noticed the paintings on the walls were offset partly off the wall, and the booths beneath them were, too, which canted the diners to face slightly toward the windows at the front of the space. There were many booths of many shapes: squared, curved, ovaled ... as well as tables in the center of the space. Above was an unusual chandelier of a fanciful branch hung with little bevelled mirrors which reflected light and sparkled like gems. It was an effect some of us had seen in early art-deco type of things, and used to great effect in darker spaces. There was a column which we thought was made of tires piled on top of each other, but when our eyes adjusted to the dimness, we realized these were carved rings of wood, perhaps evoking some South Pacific tiki-ish thing? (The waitress admitted everyone thought they were tires, but they weren't supposed to be!)
One of us apologized for the heat; another gamely offered that this was kind of "nostalgic" in that it evoked eateries of old, while on family vacation. But the food was much, much better here! The chef's reputation was indeed accurate, apparently from when the bread rolls were first brought out. These elicited "oohs" and "aahs" from those raised in the south or who were lucky enough to have mamas and grandmamas who would make rolls for us. They were soft and yeasty, and they were so flavorful and sweet they didn't need butter or any other condiment. But the condiments which arrived in their little glass welled plate did go well with it sweet butter, ricotta and herbs, and beans braised with herbs. We asked for refills of the condiments over the course of the evening.
In keeping with the apparent hildhood memories, as well as bowing to the summeriness of the local climate, we ordered foods we thought might suit us tonight. There is an "early bird prix fixe" special of $35, which looked delicious, but it was after 7pm (it's normally served between 4 and 7pm, remember this is a hotel restaurant). No matter, the chef is happy to prepare anything from anywhere on the menu.
So we tried the green gazpacho, which was more a bell pepper salsa, but it was oh so good and tasted so good chilled tonight! We also tried the very traditional lettuce wedge salad with bleu cheese and braised bacon (pork belly simmered long and slow, instead of streaky bacon flash-cooked or broiled as is normally served in this dish), and pan-fried scallops with shaved Smithfield ham in a spring garlic broth, finished with sliced radishes. All very evocative of hot summer nights, and really really delicious. We were really very impressed with this chef!
Then came the main dishes, and we ordered a shellfish panroast where lobster, mussels, clams, scallops and shrimp were cooked quickly under very high heat and a sauce made with cream and chili pepper oil, and garnished with little croutons made with black bread. There was also a Salade Nicoise, made with a grilled tuna cooked very rare, then dressed with a mustard anchovy dressing and preserved lemons. Finally, we also ordered a variation on steak frites, which was a grilled lamb steak with beautifully cooked french fries, served with a fritter made with a big block of deep-fried bleu cheese and a cream sauce made with roasted garlic. Everything was ... well, it was divine!
It was so good that we forgot the heat for the most part, as we tried things off each other's plates and remarked in astonishment at each new flavor. The tasty bread was used to sop of every bit of dressing or broth or sauce! In fact, we got painfully full because we ended up eating too much bread just to get at the sauce, and because the bread was so good, so beware!
A side dish of pan-seared mushrooms was just too delicious to not to order; the sliced button, shiitake, and oyster mushroom mix came simply and thoughtfully cooked in butter with a light smattering of thyme and parsley. It was, as they say, to die for!
We were seriously close to lowing like cattle left out in a warm summer night, but we were told dessert was fabulous ... so we partook of summery-seeming concoctions like a selection of ice creams (chocolate, vanilla, pistachio) and sorbets (lemon, watermelon), and an unusual sounding cheesecake crepes, which turned out to be like the most wonderful sweet cheese blintz with fruit you'd ever had. The frozen treats were really beautiful, especially the watermelon sorbet! And it was nice to come full-circle from the start of the meal with the watermelon cocktail.
The coffee was really good, and served in those big, trendy Villeroy & Boch "Wave" pattern mugs. They look funky but were surprisingly nice to hold and drink out of. We lingered over a second mug just because they were so much fun! And a good way to eat the chocolate chip cookies which came with the frozen desserts, too.
A restaurant of this quality isn't inexpensive, but it was actually quite reasonably priced. Drinks are about $10 apiece at the bar, appetizers ranged from $8 to $15, and main course dishes run from $17 for a lasagne to $31 for the shellfish panroast. They often run specials on wine, and if you choose from those bottles, you can expect about a 20% to 30% discount off the sticker price.
For the quality of food, the prices were excellent; it would have been an even better bargain if the climate control had worked, of course. And what a nice surprise, considering it's a hotel restaurant!
There is a more reasonable lunch menu, and as we said, the early evening prix fixe is also a good deal. There is also a bar menu, in case you want a burger or something less formal. Those prices range from $8 to $12, and lunch is about half the price of dinner. So if you are less full in the purse but want to try some superlative dishes, try lunch or the 4pm to 7pm prix fixe instead.
Other than the broken airconditioning, the only problem was as were were eating toward closing time, the busboys clattered dishes and silverware setting up for breakfast. Again, it's a hotel restaurant, so it's no surprise that they'd set up the night before for the morning meal. But it's supposed to be a top caliber place, not a diner. We think they could have waited till everyone was gone before they started clanking around and sounding like Flo' would come and snap her gum at us to ask us how we wanted our eggs. Then again, everyone seemed on-edge over the heat, and we did realize the staff was likely suffering much more than we were.
However, the service was excellent and the waitress did as much as she could under the circumstances to make us feel welcome and happy. The front of the house staff was noted to be a little sloppy, in that they didn't recognize a couple of us who had been there many times before. Any good restaurant should recognize their return customers, if only by their credit card charges! But the waitress was really lovely to us, and we appreciated it.
So in conclusion, if the wolf eschewed the red roses and instead took us to an un-airconditioned restaurant to be woo'd on a hot summer's night, we might have run the other way ... but if he promised to bring us to the Silver Tavern, we'd have to think twice ... in fact, we'd likely have gone with him ... and if he gave us free drinks coupons for next time to thank us for coming to eat under the heinous conditions without AC, well ... you took the words right out of my mouth, eh?
Disclaimer: The opinions and observations noted are the property of the author. Neither Wookieehut nor any associates makes any claims or lucre from the posting of this report or review. This webpage is presented by Wookieehut.com. Enjoy!