We love big when it comes to paychecks, portions, partners, Pucci prints, and Mario Puzo novels, but when the term modifies a restaurant, suspicions grow huge. In such a vast expanse, waiters find uncharted places to hide. The customarily oversize menu imperils the kitchen’s precision. Getting your entire party served simultaneously is almost as unlikely as spotting the Giulianis out together in public.
Any wonder that Lot 61 is cringe at first sight? Wide as a soundstage and deep as the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Lot has been shrewdly conceived to succeed in two ways. First, its resolutely stark, geometric sleekness – alluringly shaded by permanent dusk – beckons anyone scrubbed, randy, thirsty, and 27. Second, interior architects Rafael and Diana Viñoly’s Bauhaus art-gallery floor plan is exactly the kind of dramatic and adaptable location that glamour corporations seek when they’re looking for a get-down but upscale place to toast a new line or launch a fragrance. A fin de siècle Leonard’s of Great Neck to please Revlon and Helmut Lang.
“You see these couches?” says statuesque owner Amy Sacco as she vigorously scrunches the lacquered rubber modules that fill the center of the main room. “They came from an insane asylum. Aren’t they amazing?” And frankly, they are – portable, flop-on-able, and rinsable. Remember that first and foremost, this is a bar.
Of course, the top-shelf life of such trendatoriums is as fleeting as that of a Paul Simon musical. How long before Asia de Cuba starts having drag nights? (C’mon, Lady Bunny, don’t get your beads all bunched. You know what I mean.) But having invested in both art and design on a grand scale, Sacco, formerly of Bouley and Vong, is not counting on mango margaritas to fuel her retirement fund. Instead, she has put together an urban anomaly – a too-hot-not-to-cool-down eatery that has confidently laid the groundwork for longevity.
Encouraging young folks to feel like they own the town, while persuading those who can actually stake a claim to a small chunk of it that they’re not chaperons at a sock hop, requires a certain kind of sorcery. So expect your first dinner at Lot 61 to be an evening of minor amazements. If you’re old enough to have played “Hi, Bob!” while the Hartleys were still on CBS, you may feel like you’re entering the young lions’ den. Yet dining is primarily confined to booths and tables along the room’s perimeter, where there is little danger of being deafened or encroached upon. In fact, until eleven, the room maintains a surprisingly tolerable population density.
All the better to see the wait staff, my dear. Styled as if by Detour magazine and cuter than Party of Five, the lot of them could get hired at the Delano in a heartthrobbing beat. Ever try to get service from the lovelies at the Delano? Your tan will fade faster. Yet before you can even begin to kvetch at Lot 61, here comes one to say hi. Disarming as beauty is when paired with charm, the waitpersons are also as informed as they are informal. And distracted by the eye candy as you may be, they remain as focused as the Wallendas.
Chef Arlene Jacobs’s kitchen is just as directed, as if she’s secure in the belief that the Palm Pilot?wielding folks sitting in the velvet zebraed banquettes have come just for the food. The only concession to reality is that almost all portions are appetizer-size (and appropriately priced). Figure on selecting seven items per couple to make a satisfying meal, and at a table of four, don’t hesitate to order doubles of the dishes that all are curious to try. Otherwise, the crispy oysters with horseradish stuffing are going to disappear so quickly you’re liable to be left pouting unattractively, and since the densely packed hacked-duck spring rolls are awkward to cut, someone is going to get called a hog.
If you covet foie gras, order your own. You won’t easily share the plate of the prosciutto-wrapped liver mousse with port-soaked figs, wild greens, and pears. A house variant of scallop McNuggets – fried with a gingered shrimp mousse – is delightful, as is a crab salad that gets a jolt from a miso-shiso vinaigrette and wakame. Thai mussels are clean and pliant in a fragrant splash of seaweed and greens, and jumbo shrimp with lemongrass ward off the curse of the “cocktail.” But it’s too bad the Kataifi rolls are stuffed with so many things there’s not enough of anything, while the tomato-basil-and-olive bruschetta shatters so repeatedly it would send La Cage aux Folles’ Albin screaming from the room. Perhaps you could coax him back with boneless quail in a honey glaze. For heartier appetites, the choices are two. Double-order the delicious beer-braised short ribs with some prized marrow (no fighting now) or pungent hanger steak, best requested one grade “weller” than your usual, as the kitchen tends to undercook meat.
Booze and dessert tend to be an ill-conceived pairing, so switch to coffee for a half-hour while you enjoy the lickable chocolate trifle or the sensual hot mochaccino pudding. Forget the triple-orange tart (the crust is too thin) and the rice pudding (not enough brandied cherries at the bottom).
Odds are, you’re going to like Lot 61 more than you probably think you will. By the time you’ve got a couple of spoonfuls of chocolate and two cups of caffeine under your new Gucci belt, you may opt for staying past your bedtime. Hey, who says you’re only 27 once? Just remember, hotshot: You’ll bounce off a rubber couch. But it’s a big room. Hit the floor, and the adorable waiters will carry you out. Probably smiling.