Mon-Thu, 5:30pm-11pm; Fri, 5:30pm-11:30pm; Sat, noon-11:30pm; Sun, 11am-9:30pm
A, B, C, D, E, F, M at W. 4th St.-Washington Sq.
American Express, MasterCard, Visa
At Commerce, all the indicators point to a big-city dining experience of the most glitzy, chaotic, predictable kind. There is the intimate, almost hidden location (on Commerce Street, in the old Grange Hall space), where shiny Town Cars are already lurking along the curb like buzzards, à la the Waverly Inn. There is the strained, jam-packed bar area teeming with cocktail hounds, all breathlessly sipping their trendy, mixologist-concocted signature drinks. The lights in the joint are set low to emit a soft, self-consciously flattering glow, the small, even cramped tables have been placed close together to produce maximum amounts of hysterical energy, and the clamorous noise levels are only enhanced by the brittle white subway tiles that line the walls of the dining room in the timeless, Keith McNally brasserie style.
You’d expect dinner at such a swank, overheated establishment to begin with the usual frisée salad, followed by an innocuous piece of salmon and a pot of crème brûlée. So imagine my surprise when I opened my menu to see that it contained lobster Newburg, squab stuffed with foie gras, and warm oysters served in a delicate stew of caviar, leeks, and Champagne. Our basket of house-made bread was almost shockingly fresh (hot pretzels, baguettes, olive bread), and one of the market specials was “hand cut” steak tartare dressed with pickled ramps, celery root, and horseradish whipped cream. The first dish I actually tasted was an excellent plate of ravioli filled with mushrooms and Fontina cheese and wreathed in a Parmesan foam. The terrine of duck rillettes (with foie gras and thick wedges of toast) was excellent, too, and so were the chunks of soft-cooked hamachi, fiendishly wrapped in salty membranes of lardo. My weary restaurant-veteran friend tasted these dishes, then put down her fork. “This is pretty damn good,” she said.
There were some at my table who thought the general hubbub at Commerce detracted from the quality of the grub. I wasn’t one of them. The restaurant is in that golden, early stage of the vicious cycle common to most things that happen to hit it big, however briefly, in New York. The kitchen is cooking recipes that feel fresh for the time being, the Visigoths from across the river have yet to invade, and a kind of bubbly opening-night fizz still pervades the room. For the record, the desserts are as good as they need to be; which is to say, they’re petite, decorative, and designed to be looked at as much as consumed. A sliver of designer cheesecake pastry drew murmurs of approval and disappeared in two seconds flat, and so did the chocolate marquise, which is layered with peanuts and delicately angled leaves of shiny chocolate. But if you like chocolate, the soufflé is the choice. It’s pocket-size and poured with crème anglaise, the perfect dessert for groups of skinny models to pick at, late on a Saturday night, between sips of Champagne, with a skinny silver spoon.Note
Among the excellent cocktails, try the Nor’easter.Ideal Meal
Duck rillettes, orecchiette with ragù of “odd things,” braised beef, chocolate soufflé.