6 at Astor Pl.
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This venue is closed.
Govind Armstrong (from the province of Los Angeles) doesn’t have an overly inflated reputation, as glamorous non–New York chefs go. He does have his own Wikipedia page, however, and unlike, say, Alain Ducasse, he was named one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful,” in 2004. Armstrong began working for Wolfgang Puck at the age of 13, and now runs an upscale burger joint in L.A. called 8 oz., and his restaurant in Miami, Florida, Table 8. The New York branch of this operation, also called Table 8, opened on the ground floor of a futuristic, sail-like structure, the Cooper Square Hotel. The billowing white glass spire (designed by the architect Carlos Zapata), simultaneously arresting and comically out of place, looks like it was left behind, among the raggedy Bowery brownstones, by a receding glitzy tide. But there’s nothing futuristic about Armstrong’s restaurant, which is set in a glassed-off box in the back. The glass walls are stenciled with the outlines of green trees, but the tables are jammed together, the ceilings are low, and late in the evening the decibel level becomes so intense it makes your teeth hurt.
“I feel like I’m back in Dallas,” one of my dining companions said, and it’s true. With its cramped dining bar, generic, washed-out black-and-brown décor, and little outdoor patio scattered with empty wood tables (which appear to have been purchased directly from the Smith & Hawken remnant catalogue), Table 8 doesn’t look very much like a New York restaurant. But then, like lots of new hotel restaurants around town, it isn’t really a New York restaurant at all. It’s an out-of-towner’s restaurant, designed by out-of-towners to give their out-of-town guests (including those from Long Island and New Jersey) the illusion that they’re actually dining in New York. Flatbread is sort of chic these days, so Armstrong sprinkles his with fennel honey, mushrooms, and fateful gobs of goat cheese. Salt was a foodie craze in the city several years ago, so there is a “Salt Bar” section of the menu that features an array of vaguely Italianate small-plates dishes (chunky mortadella, good, soft lamb terrine, shreds of scallop crudo with kumquats), all of which have been aggressively oversprinkled with arcane varieties of salt.
Like lots of chefs who are eager to make an impression on the jaded, peevish rabble of New York City diners, Armstrong doesn’t hesitate to use two (or even three) ingredients when one will do. The red snapper I sampled did not necessarily benefit from the little bed of lobster on which it rested (though the lobster sauce was okay), and my portion of grilled baby chicken would have tasted more chickenlike without the accompanying mound of short-rib hash. The best of these busy concoctions (“Everything’s a little drenched,” someone said) was the skate ($19, with fregola, cockles, and saffron broth); the worst was the funky halibut fillet ($22), made funkier by soupy, greenish fava beans and a needless smear of smoked halibut on a slim, wet piece of toast. Both the filet mignon (with charred leeks) and the truncheon-size lamb chops (with a warm bulgur salad) were underdone when I ordered them, but everyone liked the pink sliced duck breast, which the chef plates, in a bizarrely successful West Coast way, with sunchokes and candied kumquats.
There are certain impediments to the enjoyment of Armstrong’s kumquat-accented duck, however. We have already mentioned the incessant, babbling wall of sound at Table 8. Then there are the servers, who bombard the tiny tables like flocks of ocean birds, proffering bread trays and endless jugs of water. And did we mention the confusing unisex bathrooms, which are situated somewhere deep beneath the hotel and require a Sherpa to reach? Should you survive these tribulations at the conclusion of your meal, however, you will find a series of surprisingly accomplished desserts. The de rigueur chocolate item (a kind of cake, I think) is pleasantly chocolaty and decked with candied cherries. There’s a professionally smooth panna cotta, too, and a wedge of plum tart with a spoonful of gently melting ice cream. The coffee parfait is a cool little hockey puck of caffeinated goodness, and the warm crème brûlée is scented, unexpectedly, with cardamom, and crunchy and hot on its sugared top, just the way we churlish New Yorkers like it.Note
The lunchtime “8 oz. Burger” is a worthy entry in the city’s haute-burger sweepstakes.Ideal Meal
Grilled quail or soft-shell crabs, duck with sunchokes, coffee parfait.