If you’ve been wondering whether the vast climate-controlled confines of the Time Warner Center were any place for a stolid, dependable neighborhood joint, take a seat at the popular, chaotic new outlet of Marc Murphy’s Landmarc restaurant, and you’ll quickly find out. Murphy opened the original Landmarc three years ago in a smallish, relatively quiet space on West Broadway in Tribeca. That restaurant drew praise from critics (including this one) for its eclectic, modestly priced menu and aggressively marked-down wine list. There, the industrious Mr. Murphy appeared to serve everything under the sun. You could (and still can) get five cuts of steak for dinner, seven pasta specials that rotate throughout the week, a credible version of boudin noir, and platters of frisée salad as big as your head. You could also get pigs in blankets on the kids’ menu, seven varieties of sandwich for lunch, and eighteen different fillings for your omelette, provided you’re willing to stand in line for the popular weekend brunch.
Murphy’s unique brand of frenetic largesse is also on display at his new restaurant, which is three times bigger than the old one (300 seats compared with 100) and, as befits a big-box establishment in the city’s premier food mall, three times as hectic and impersonal as well. The new Landmarc occupies a dim, cavernous space on the north side of the mall’s third floor, hard by the glittering pastry display at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery and the ever-popular Aveda skin-cream store. The inherent gloominess of the room is made slightly gloomier by Murphy’s trademark neo-industrialist décor, which includes darkly painted walls and banquettes; metal-framed, factory-style windows; and a big chestnut-colored bar around which crowds of merry businessfolk cluster in the evening hours. The men’s room is hidden behind disorienting cylindrical metal doors, and the long ceiling is covered with rows and rows of rusted rebar, which look like something, one of my ghoulish friends commented, from the set of Saw II.
The dinner menu at the new Landmarc is more or less a duplicate of the original one, which means it’s an exhaustive document, containing, on the evening I counted, 55 items, not including specials or dessert. In a cozy, neighborly environment, this kind of variety is a novel thing, but when you’re serving legions of clamorous mallgoers all day long (this Landmarc is open for daily breakfast too), mistakes are bound to happen. My roasted marrow bones were fine as that great delicacy goes, but the limp hunks of grilled bread accompanying them had been grilled many hours before. My neighbor’s serving of frisée aux lardons was filled with plenty of lardons but was curiously lacking in garlic, and a platoon of profiteroles stuffed with goat cheese tasted, according to my wife, like “cafeteria food.” You won’t find dishes like the excellent warm snail salad, flavored with anchovies, in any cafeteria, however, and if you crave something to go with your happy-hour cocktail, I can safely recommend the crunchy smoked mozzarella and ricotta fritters, served with a spicy tomato sauce.
The unending tsunami of entrées (they’re divided into five subsections, including pasta specials, salads, “Landmarc specials,” steaks, and just plain “entrées”) tend to blend into one, but as a general rule, the heavier the dish, the better your chance of success. My portion of grilled quail was cooked to a kind of tough, indistinct grayness, and the rock-shrimp risotto I sampled was so light and soupy it tasted of nothing at all. The pan-seared monkfish tasted slightly over-the-hill to my colleague the Steak Loon (“Dude, that fish has whiskers,” he declared), although my slab of tuna was fresh enough, and garnished with plenty of tomatoes and a tasty Parmesan crisp as big as a Frisbee. Murphy is well known in Tribeca for his plump, wine-steamed mussels, and they’re plump and steamy here too, and served with a basket of fat, crispy fries and a pot of housemade aïoli for dipping. The pasta specials I sampled were also pretty good, albeit in a heavy-handed way, especially the bacon-rich spaghetti carbonara, and the orecchiette, which Murphy bombs with crumblings of sausage.
For the real heavy artillery, though, look to the “Landmarc specials” section of the menu, and also to the steaks, which are charred in the back of the room on an industrial-size grill. The house specials I liked best were the crispy sweetbreads, which are soft inside and served over a mass of green beans, and the caveman-size portion of steak tartare, seasoned with plenty of capers and onions. The calf’s liver was overcooked, however, and the boudin noir here was so undercooked and gooey it made even hardened offal veterans like the Steak Loon a little squeamish. Among the steaks, the strip was a decent piece of meat, although the salad greens it rested on seemed to have been sitting in the refrigerator for a day or two. The Steak Loon considered his $34 cut of rib eye to be quite adequate (“I wouldn’t hesitate to order this piece of meat again if someone else was paying”), although the hanger steak, it was generally agreed, was tough as horsehide and about as palatable.
I never made it to the new Landmarc for breakfast, but at lunchtime the evening crowds who haunt the vast, Stygian space have mostly dissipated, and the big room has a lighter, more peaceful feel. You can get your fat hamburger caked in melted Gruyère or goat cheese or even smoked mozzarella, and the choice of sandwiches (try the prosciutto-and-mozzarella in a crunchy baguette) is better than you’ll find in many shopping malls across the U.S.A. Desserts have never been one of Murphy’s strong points, and they’re not a strong point here, either. They include a miniature standard-issue crème brûlée (all the desserts are small, and all cost $3), soggy little éclairs filled with Nutella, and the kind of chocolate mousse you might find in a country-club cafeteria in Winnetka, Illinois. The fresh-made mini ice-cream cones are much better (try the mint chocolate chip), though if you’re wise you’ll do what I did and stop at Bouchon Bakery on your way out for a bite of real dessert. You’re in a great American mall, after all. The choices are infinite.