Mon-Fri, 11:30am-2:30pm and 5:30pm-11:30pm; Sat, 5:30pm-11pm; Sun, 5pm-10pm
N, R, W at 23rd St.
American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
Tony May’s San Domenico restaurant, which closed in 2008 after a long, respectable run on Central Park South, was a stately place designed to feed 150 or so clubby, well-heeled patrons at a sitting. But its radically modernized successor, SD26, which opened a year later off Madison Square Park, has clearly been designed, somewhat self-consciously, with a younger, more fickle generation of eaters in mind. The waiters at the old joint wore white jackets with gold buttons. At SD26, they’re dressed in postmodernist outfits with Nehru collars. The old wine list was set between thick leather covers, in the traditional style. At SD26, it comes embedded, for the benefit of tech-savvy oenophiles, in a kind of handheld, PSP-like touchscreen device. The old room was decorated in lustrous tones of scarlet and gold. The new one has a darkened, disco-style wine-and-cocktail bar in the front, and what appear to be giant decorative balls of wool strung, more or less randomly, across the dining room ceiling and walls.
Mercifully, however, the chef running the large whitewashed kitchen at SD26 (the salumeria station alone is the size of a small bus) is Matteo Bergamini, formerly of Daniel, who has taken over for founding chef Odette Fada of the old San Domenico uptown. Which means once you’ve oriented yourself in the cavernous, bizarrely impersonal dining room and puzzled your way through the tortuous new menu (organized according to food products, like “Salumeria,” “Vegetables and Salads,” and “Meat, Poultry, and Game,” instead of the usual progression from appetizers to entrées), you’ll find some very good things to eat. I’m thinking of glistening ribbons of lardo served on wedges of fresh bread (from the excellent salumeria section), and a classic Sicilian caponata folded with pine nuts and segments of melting Japanese eggplant. Panzanella is a rough country dish, but in Bergamini’s hands it’s transformed into a kind of savory pastry, made with a round of finely mashed bread soaked in the juice of fresh tomatoes, with strips of silvery anchovies on top.
But like other venerable gourmet establishments that have been bravely attempting to reinvent themselves on a much larger, more accessible scale (the new Oceana in midtown, Charlie Palmer’s Aureole), SD26 has a problem with consistency. The cod trio I sampled one evening tasted fine in the familiar whipped form, but didn’t work quite so well when cut into waxy, salted strips of crudo. The cold seafood salad is served country-club style, in a hollowed-out, overrefrigerated tomato, and the lumpy “Chitarra SD26” pasta was covered in a flat-tasting basil tomato sauce that didn’t taste much like basil at all. If you like opulent pasta dishes, however, you won’t be disappointed with the spaghetti tossed with pink chunks of lobster, crinkly, fresh-baked cherry tomatoes, and flakes of Pecorino cheese, or Bergamini’s decadent and delicious “uovo in raviolo,” which is poured with truffle butter and stuffed with the vividly orange yolk of a single egg.Note
Wine geeks can taste multiple wines via a fancy computer-card system in the front lounge.Ideal Meal
Salumi, panzanella or “uovo in raviolo,” braised beef cheeks, zabaglione.