Mon-Wed, 7:30am-11pm; Thu-Fri, 7:30am-midnight; Sat, 11am-midnight; Sun, 11am-10pm
1 at 23rd St.; C, E at 23rd St.
American Express, MasterCard, Visa
Like Jonathan Wu, and almost every other cook in town, the seasoned executive chef and reality-show presence Amanda Freitag (’Cesca, the Harrison, Gusto, Iron Chef, Chopped) is dabbling in the dark realm of comfort foods. At her newly rebooted version of Chelsea’s famous Empire Diner on Tenth Avenue, you can belly up to the counter for a very un-diner-like mound of crab salad scooped in a bowl of avocado, and crocks of onion soup capped with melted Gruyère and fat, slightly soggy croutons cut from a substance called “bagel bread pudding.” The soupy, properly biting house mac ’n’ cheese is constructed with Italian orzo, instead of elbow macaroni, and touched, a little unsettlingly, with truffle butter. The buffalo wings are spicy and tangy enough, but instead of chicken Freitag uses skate wing, cut in meager slices (I counted four) and graced with a spoonful of crème fraîche.
Would I have preferred the usual mess of Tabasco-doused chicken wings, supplemented with glops of blue-cheese dressing? Probably. Upon reflection, I also would have preferred less pork belly in my bacon-addled oyster pan roast, along with a traditionalist shmear of cream cheese with my lox, instead of a soggy wad of burrata. But we quibble. If nothing else, Freitag deserves credit for breathing new life into this ancient, iconic dining space. Her signature burger (with a “special sauce” on brioche) and patty melt (on crunchy rye with melted Swiss) work just fine, as does the trout amandine, which is set over a pat of parsnip purée in a pool of brown butter. The silvery Art Deco room is mobbed most nights, so get there early, and if you feel like a drink with your burger, call for the ample cocktail menu, which includes a seductive New Age martini, garnished, for an extra artisanal kick, with a pickled baby carrot.Ideal Meal
Crab salad, burger or trout amandine, (sigh!) doughnut holes or rice pudding