Jumeirah Essex House has found a solid, skilled veteran in chef Kerry Heffernan, now turning out his signature gougères and savory flans in the new South Gate space overlooking Central Park. Heffernan made his name downtown near another park (at Eleven Madison Park, specifically) whose view was not nearly as stirring as the horse-drawn carriages and trees seen from here. Designer Tony Chi’s plan to tame this sprawling space with retro beige leather, mirrors in jazzy patchwork, and a handsome wall of wine (this season’s design cliché) gives Heffernan a cool but lively backdrop for his well-bred cooking. Happily there’s no cuisinary acrobatics or new age chemistry experiments here. I love the style and intensity of wild-mushroom soup in a martini glass with spinach fondue, a poached egg and crisp pancetta chips. Cauliflower custard is a typically Heffernan touch on the seared calamari starter. Our vegetarian pal has his own flan, too—buttercup and butternut squash with fabulous Brussels sprouts (he sets the prosciutto coverlet aside)—followed by delicious crisped cannelloni of kabocha squash and ricotta with mushrooms and fried sage, our favorite entrée. Too bad there are bits of sand in the clams with our spice-rubbed cod. But we’re wild for that touch of salt in the chocolate-caramel tart with caramel ice cream. It’s a hotel dining room, after all; still, entrées at $26 to $39 will seem almost gentle compared with the tariff we once paid at Alain Ducasse’s now-defunct nook in the rear. And that high-ticket spot didn’t even have a view.
154 Central Park S., nr. Seventh Ave.; 212-484-5120