Red Rooster

310 Lenox AveNew York, NY 10027 • (212) 792-9001 • redroosterharlem.com
 

While I applaud and appreciate Marcus Samuelson’s mission to make world-class cuisine more accessible, I wasn’t quite blown away. Especially in light of the fact that that others out there are also doing it and doing it better. Such as Danny Meyer with Shake Shack or David Chang with Momofuku Ko to name just a few. Also, having been to Aquavit back in the day, when Marcus was there, this is nothing by comparison. Granted it’s a bit like comparing apples to cured fish, but even quality to quality for what it’s supposed to be, things weren’t even in the same league. Aquavit was an experience. This was a meal.

Now for the deets. Starting with the vibe when you walk in, which is absolutely electric. Probably my single favorite thing about the place. Everything is jumping. From the people to the sounds and smells. Even the walls have a life of their own. In fact, the most docile things in the joint are the flavors.

For starters, I found the cornbread to be a big whatevs. Sure, it’s cut that they’re shaped like mandolins, but they a bland and worthless without a slathering of the honey butter and/or the tomato jam. But at that point you have to ask, what wouldn’t taste good with butter and jam on top?

The chopped salad was also pretty basic by all modern-day standards. And not even executed that well as the roasted pears were not very roasted. The spiced walnuts were not all that spiced. The ricotta salata was either not creamy enough or balanced enough in the dish to have any effect. Leaving the apples, Swiss chard and frisee to fend for itself.

The crab fritters and the meatballs were the only starters I would ever reconsider getting. The meatballs being the better of the two, made thrice as nice with a trio of veal, beef and pork. The fritters are also good, though, made with a blue crab base, which is then twisted by some “bird funk” (I’m guessing either chicken fat or fried chicken batter or both) and fermented lime aioli. It was unique but not amazing.

For my main I had to go with the Hot Honey Yardbird, having heard all about his incredible fried chicken, and while it is by all accounts delicious, it is nowhere near the best I have ever had. In fact, from Florida to New York I’ve had better at Highball & Harvest and ABC Kitchen. That said, the collard greens beneath the chicken were beneath nothing else I have ever had. Absolutely delectable and the show-stealers of that dish by a country mile.

For sides, Marcus had another duo of smash hits, but ironically neither of them were the smashed potatoes. Instead, I much preferred the brussels sprouts and the signature mac and greens. The former has almost become a given these days now that everyone but Panera is now serving killer sprouts, but latter is quite interesting because I’ve read a few polarizing dings on Yelp about the mac and I have to blatantly disagree. Okay, so not entirely. I do have to admit they are mega-loaded with calories and cream. But the value prop is still very much in check if you ask me, because arteries be damned is it good!

Come dessert I was pretty certain this was a strong three knives and I was really hoping for Marcus to pull out all the stops and show me some of that Ethiopian-Scandinavian-French Culinary Institute-Chopped jury magic, but alas I found both the chocolate mousse and the sweet potato donuts to be more filler than fabulous. I’d rather have another bit of that mac.

So, Marcus, let’s look in the basket and see what I have for you today. Three knives, lots of hype, a great vibe and a bushel of hit and miss.

Marta

29 E 29th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 689-1900martamanhattan.com

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So, while Danny Meyer is busy reconstructing Madison Square Park to accommodate a bigger and badder Shake Shack, apparently he decided to take up thin crust pizza as a hobby in lieu of burgers.

Located in the Martha Washington Hotel lobby, hence the origin of the name, the restaurant feels a little homeless, not being its own thing. Granted it takes up about 95% of the lobby, so perhaps it’s the lobby that’s truly homeless? All of that aside, they do a nice job with décor. Open and contemporary with a sizeable amount of seating. But don’t let that fool you. You practically have to sell a kidney to get a table for dinner. Fortunately for my internal organs, lunch reservations come much easier.

A quick bite, however, it most certainly is not. The service runs at an escargot pace, so if you’re doing a business lunch, I recommend blocking a good two hours, because two Diet Cokes took over 30 minutes to hit our table. Lucky for me I went with a glass of Brunello, which only took about a third of that.

The pies also take quite a while, nearly 45 minutes, but I’m happy to report that most of them were worth the wait. Especially the Testa made with pig face and celery. It’s so inventive and just as scrumptious. A close second was the carbonara. Just as the name implies, it’s topped with bacon and egg and fontina. And it’s damn fine.

The least impressive of the three was also the least inventive, the funghi, made with hen of the woods mushrooms. It’s certainly good if you have your heart set on shrooms, but compared to the likes of the funghi at Oenotri in Napa, this tastes like something you can get in the freezer section at Whole Foods. And I mean that with all due respect.

Now, assuming you’ve cleared your calendar and venture on towards dessert, here’s what you should know- it’s nowhere near as great as other reviewers claim. The affagato was easily the better of the two, but be warned, it’s very untraditional, made with honey and kumquats as opposed to espresso. The ice cream is incredible, however, and truly makes the dish shine. On the other hand, the chocolate and pistachio ice cream sandwich with mascarpone ice cream was significantly less radiant. About as basic as it gets, tasting like something you could get at TGI Fridays… back in the 80’s.

All in all Marta is certainly good for lunch, I cannot tell a lie. But definitely don’t sell off any vital organs to get in. There are droves of better pies all over the city.

3 teeth

Blue Smoke

116 E 27th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 447-7733 • bluesmoke.com/blue
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Having grown up in the psuedo-South (Flordia), I know that BBQ is a subject not to be taken lightly. So, in all seriousness, while Blue Smoke is great at some things they are so-so at many others. Basically what you might expect from a St. Louis boy like Danny Meyer. who seems to have never spent more time training in Italy and France than he has below the Mason-Dixon Line.

To help you navigate though the hits and misses, here are my thoughts:

The shrimp po’ boy is a solid good. Has some really nice kick to it and actually manages to best the pulled pork shoulder, which should easily be tops, but tends to be on the arid side, begging for sauce, which is always a cop out in the land of BBQ. Sure, the sauce needs to be great, but it shouldn’t be a moisture crutch.

Back on the plus side, the brisket is pretty damn skippy. I know a lot of people swear by Hill Country, which is also very good, but if you ask for the more marbled meat, you’re in for a fatty face filthin’ feast.

Another HUGE hit, which they sadly removed form the menu, are the sweet potato fries. Served in gigantic wedges the size of canoes and drizzled with a creme fraiche/sour cream that’s worth barging into the kitchen and demanding they whip you up a batch.

And last but not least, some clarity on pricing. Don’t listen to the Yelping consensus who seem to complain an awful lot about how expensive it is, but then categorize it as only $$. Make up your mind. This is why I left Yelp. Too many people with opinions that don’t agree with mine 🙂 Anyways, it’s no more expensive than you’d expect in the Flatiron. So, if you’re craving BBQ and this is closer than Hill Country, I say game on.

3 teeth

Untitled

Whitney Museum • 945 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10021(212) 570-3670untitledatthewhitney.com

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If you’re paying a visit to the Whitney Museum this makes for a nice, easy brunch before working your way up into priceless works of art on the floors above. It’s set on the garden level, which is a nice way of saying basement in New York City. But it’s not as dismal as that sounds. We were overlooking Jeff Koons sculptures on the veranda, so you could do worse as “gardens” go.

As for the service, it’s friendly and quick. But when it comes to the food, I would take many of the swooning reviews you see on Yelp with a sizable grain of salt. The cheesy scramble and the goat cheese, mushroom and asparagus omelet are both just adequate. What one might expect from a museum café. Granted the cheese grits are nice plus as a side.

The salmon tartine also doesn’t manage to wow either, but again, for a museum café it’s on par or slightly better than one might expect- granted it is a Danny Meyer museum restaurant.

That said, the French toast is quite the work of art. Best thing at the table by far. Made with a hint of citrus zest that ever so slightly brightens up the dish, taking it out of heavy-ville and planting firm roots in my-god-I-wish-I’d-ordered- that. Hence why I stole some from my 3 year old daughter. What? It says “ferocious,” not “fluffy” foodie.

3 teeth

Shake Shack

Madison Square Park New York, NY10010(212) 889-6600shakeshack.com

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Once upon a time, this was easily 5 knives. I mean the Shack Stack (a fried portabello cap stuffed with cheese atop a beef patty) was hands down the best fast food burger I had ever had. But that was back when the Shack was just a shack. Before they expanded to Grand Central, the Upper West Side, Westport, Connecticut and Istanbul, Turkey. It’s the classic case of “how big do you get before you get bad.”

Well, having been back a gaggle of times between now and 2004, I can officially say they have reached it. My how far we have fallen Mr. Meyer. And while the Shack may have upped its game again for its recent 10 year anniversary, it’s right back to its old habits. Which is sad, because in its hay day it truly was worth waiting in that absurd line. A line so HUGE that if you were strolling through New York City and happened upon it, you would think someone was giving away free money. A line I, myself once waited in, and I don’t do lines. Shit, I even cut the line at the Vatican to get into the Cistine Chapel. And yes, if there’s a Hell I’m most likely going to have front row seats.

Oh, and speaking of Hell, as long as you were halfway to dying of a heart attack after that burger, another must was their black and white shake. I mean it is called the SHAKE Shack after all. So thick and creamy you could literally feel it dragging your stomach down to your feet. And then you obviously had to have the fries with it… I’m feeling dejafull just typing this.

3 teeth

Union Square Café

21 E 16th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 243-4020unionsquarecafe.com

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While I am definitely a fan of Danny Meyer, Union Square Café is my least favorite of his restaurants. Sort of like Batali, I find that he is better suited to more casual dining such as Smoke, or even more casual, Shake Shack. Granted it’s not like Union Square is particularly fancy. I honestly think it’s pretty modestly appointed as well. I know a lot of people swoon over the decor, but it’s definitely not swoon-worthy in my book. But I suppose that’s moot, because it would appear they are on the move. Guess the rent was too high for $$$ and he didn’t want to up it to $$$$. That said, when I ate there it tasted more like $$.

I was literally unimpressed by every last bite. Maybe it was all the hype. Maybe it was the fact that I went for lunch as opposed to dinner. But if you are truly a great restaurant, should any of that matter? I’m sure I will go again sometime down the road and perhaps eat some crow along with a fabulous meal, so until then, I stand by my knives.

2 teeth