Grand Openings and Second Acts
Every new restaurant year has its grand theatrical debuts and expensive high-stakes openings. There’s no more glittering stage in the fine-dining firmament this season than the one inhabited by Thomas Keller’s former chief lieutenant, Jonathan Benno, at the new Lincoln Center showpiece restaurant, Lincoln Ristorante. Unlike the trendy, faux -speakeasy joints downtown, this restaurant has its own $20 million glass pavilion, complete with three separate dining sections, a “roasted oak” bar, and even a carpet of grass on the canted origami-style roof, where you can retire after your meal and gaze up at the stars. At this early stage, Benno’s surprisingly basic Italian-themed menu is unevenly executed and overpriced. But to get a sense of its promise, go at lunchtime; ask for a seat at the bright, eastern end of the pavilion (instead of the darkened tables at the back); and focus on the simpler dishes, like ribbons of San Daniele prosciutto with roasted vegetables, and Benno’s straightforward but delicious rendition of spaghetti pomodoro tossed with cherry tomatoes and flakes of fresh Parmesan.
Whenever my fat-cat banker friends inquire about the latest midtown power-lunch spot, I recommend they take a seat in one of the scarlet banquettes at Geoffrey Zakarian’s newest big-budget production, The Lambs Club, which opened last fall in the Chatwal hotel, on 44th Street. Zakarian (whose credits include L’Arpège in Paris and 44 at the Royalton, in its glitzy nineties heyday) has a knack for producing subtly updated versions of old bull-market classics like steak Delmonico, sizzled in a rich red-wine glaze, wheels of hand-chopped steak tartare speckled with fried capers, and an excellent version of foie gras, which the kitchen serves in a velvety round torchon garnished with brûléed figs. Marcus Samuelsson’s just- opened Red Rooster, a refined ode to southern down-home cooking, is Harlem’s most ambitious high-profile debut in decades. And the most eagerly awaited new opening downtown is Porsena, in the East Village, where the city’s reigning queen of porchetta, Sara Jenkins, is expanding her repertoire to include other gut-busting home-cooked delicacies like crispy-topped squares of lasagne al forno and crocks of nourishing, properly steamy Tuscan bean soup.
The buttery, seafood-rich cortecce is my favorite of all the intricate gourmet pastas at the flashy Flatiron-district restaurant Ciano, where the talented former Cru chef Shea Gallante is currently trying his hand at haute Italian cuisine. Whenever my Francophile friends are feeling nostalgic for an appropriately sturdy pot of cassoulet, they repair to Bistro de la Gare, in the West Village. And if you’re looking for an excellent facsimile of fluffy, old-fashioned fish quenelles—plated the way the famous Parisian chef Jean-Louis Dumonet used to do it, in a pool of rich lobster bisque—you’ll find them at Laurent Manrique’s new seafood brasserie, Millesime, in the Carlton Hotel. The most prominent new seafood venture of all is April Bloomfield’s renamed and retooled The John Dory Oyster Bar, next to her great porkcentric gastropub The Breslin Bar & Dining Room, off the lobby of the Ace Hotel. The John Dory menu is slimmer than at the original meatpacking-district production, but $15 still buys a taste of Bloomfield’s impossibly decadent, umami-rich oyster pan roast, which you can supplement here with rashers of toast piled with anchovies and parsley, and an excellent if abbreviated selection of dessert puddings, like wedges of honey-crisp almond tart and a delicious, currant-filled Eccles cake served, in proper English style, with a slab of Stilton cheese.