- Italian $22-$34
88 Ninth Ave.
New York, NY 10011
- Neighborhood: Chelsea
- Phone: 212-977-6096
During the course of their long, storied career together, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich have opened their share of nimble, trattoria-style establishments (Otto, Lupa, the cavalcade of dining experiences at Eataly), but their latest venture, La Sirena, looks like a dinosaur to me. Or if not a dinosaur exactly, then, as the nautically poetic name indicates, a large and glittering cruise ship of a place, moored amid the fleet of other transient crowd-pleasing restaurants of the Meatpacking District. Like on many cruise ships (and many restaurants around that particular neighborhood), the ghostly presence of a superstar chef hovers over the proceedings, although how long he might stay in the kitchen before flying off to tend to the rest of his vast empire is an open question. Like on cruise ships, there are two dining rooms here instead of one (the restaurant is set off the lobby of the Maritime Hotel, above that mother of all Vegas/cruise ship establishments, the downtown outlet of Tao), although the centerpiece of the more than 200-seat operation is a barn-size cocktail lounge, which is set between the two smaller sit-down areas and features a long, glowing white quartz bar manned by a small army of barkeeps dressed in well-starched aprons and gray ties.
I enjoyed my visits to the bar at La Sirena, where you can obtain a pricey but well-made cocktail (the $18 Vesper martini, for one) and the wait staff perambulate among the assorted Meatpacking swells, their “anti-pasto carts” loaded with olives, breadsticks and great blocks of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. But at this early shakedown-cruise stage of the proceedings, the actual dining rooms felt generic, and with the exception of a few stout red-sauce classics (a trio of fat pork meatballs, mascarpone-stuffed pansotti drizzled with brown butter, a rib-sticking “Old School” short-rib beef braciole), so does much of the cooking. I liked my nicely cooked quail alla piastra appetizer (with charred ramps and rhubarb), but the orata that followed it had a distinctive fishiness to it. The “braised and roasted” chicken entrée seemed to have been leached of all flavor long before it reached the roasting stage, and the steak for two is aged in Batali’s trademark lardo, a process that imbues the meat with a certain degree of salty goodness but also gives it an unfortunate bouncy, vulcanized texture. Save room, at the end of your dinner, however, for Michael Laiskonis’s festive, elegantly pre-potted ’90s-era desserts, in particular the honey-walnut semifreddo, which is speckled, like some exotic sea creature, with spikes of frozen meringue.
Daily, 7am-11am and 5pm-midnight
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