- Critics’ Pick
- American Nouveau $20-$40
15 W. 18th St.
New York, NY 10011
- Neighborhood: Flatiron
- Phone: 212-229-9500
Compared with his intimate, tugboat-size establishment in the West Village, Recette, Jesse Schenker’s new restaurant, the Gander, which opened a little over a month ago in the dark canyons of the Flatiron District, feels like a slightly unwieldy tanker. The great, boxy space has been decorated in industrial tones of gray, white, and brown. The bare bones of the bar area appear to be left over from the previous doomed tenant (Alison Price Beck’s Alison Eighteen), although wood banquettes have been installed along one of the walls. The dining room features nondescript wooden tables and chairs and strange bundles of lampshades hanging from the ceiling, which suffuse the proceedings in a flat, suburban glow.
Schenker is one of the city’s more inventive young chefs, but the Gander is a much less nimble operation than Recette, and the comfort-accented, Greenmarket menu here has clearly been designed with a broader, more populist audience in mind. It includes palatably rich tater-tot “snacks” leavened with shreds of brisket, and strange bubblegum-size nuggets of sweetbread rolled, somewhat tragically, in a Buffalo-style Sriracha-based sauce, with celery sticks and a traditional pot of blue-cheese dressing on the side. My otherwise excellent sea-trout tartare was served with a large strip of fried fish skin (“Chef suggests you spread it with the tartare,” the waiter intoned), and the wedge of iceberg lettuce was scattered with Parmesan, squares of bacon, and a gently tangy white-anchovy dressing.
Good restaurant cooking often involves gimmickry like this, of course, but too often at the Gander, the sleight of hand has a clunky, telegraphed feel to it. “There’s a lot going on here, but not much is really happening,” someone at the table muttered as we picked through the roster of pastas, which included beet tortelli (garnished, oddly, with goat yogurt and shavings of coconut), tangles of spaghetti-folded clams and guanciale (delicious), and undercooked triangles of panzotti, bombed with chanterelles, ramps, two kinds of cheese, and too much brown butter. The arctic char was my favorite seafood entrée (although it works best once you wipe the distracting mass of cocoa beans and chorizo from its top), and if you want something heavier, try the suckling pig, which is set in a glistening, slightly overrich muddle of Provençal-style artichokes mingled with salsa verde.
In accordance with what is, by now, the firmly established terroir of the neighborhood, you can accompany your uneven dinner with grilled cauliflower florets foraged from the Greenmarket, boutique baby carrots, and pots of stiff, buttery grits dressed with unappetizing shreds of mushrooms and rubbery bits of pork crackling. The stolid businessman’s lunch includes a very good expense-account burger (a generous wad of dry-aged beef with melted Cheddar and pickles on a toasted potato bun), a nice selection of salads, and a classic roast-beef sandwich, dressed with spicy-mustard mayo and house-made sauerkraut, on a toasted flax roll. The desserts are pre-potted and comfort-themed, and if you choose one, make it the milky chocolate mousse, which is speckled, here and there, with crunchy cocoa nibs.
Mon-Thu, 11:30am-10:30pm Fri, 11:30am-11:30pm Saturday, 11am-11:30pm Sun, 11am-10pm
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