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Bar Americain

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Bar Americain

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Address: 152 West 52nd Street
City: New York, NY
Zip: 10019
Phone: 212-265-9700
Map: Map
Chef: Bobby Flay
Cuisine: American
2nd Cuisine: Comfort Food
Area: West 50s
Entree Price: >$30


The Location: 6:30pm on a Tuesday night at the three-deep zinc bar at Bobby Flay’s newly opened Bar Americain. The Scene: A couple—a man and women, in their late forties, early fifties—are seated next to (practically on top of) each other. She (E. Jean Carroll from Elle magazine, I believe) leans in, one hand on each of his thighs, each one inching perilously close to his crotch. She whispers in his ear (loudly enough for all of us at the bar to hear): “I have been infatuated with you since the moment I met you. You are the most dazzling man. You are so sexy.” She parts her glossy lips, moves into him and lays one on him. He pulls her off her seat, his hands lifting her up by her tiny bottom. They play tonsil hockey for what seems like 10 minutes as I try to maneuver around them to score a cocktail. I fear they may consummate their relationship right here in front of me. Everyone at the bar is in awe. They are oblivious, locked in their makeout session and groping under blouses and ties. All of us at the bar are all rolling our eyes and mouthing “GET A ROOM!” She pulls away, breathless, and starts to straddle him, and they kiss, full throttle, again. He pulls away and declares: “I knew I wanted you the moment you walked into the room,” and some other crap. He is slurring his words. She spills a drink and laughs. They kiss again. At this point I am ready to heave, and leave. Thankfully the bartender, Max who used to work at Casa Mono, catches my eye and makes me a perfect margarita. I try to squeeze my hand into the bar to get my drink, without disrupting the scene in front of me but I cannot get to it. A sweet man seated next to them passes it to me and gives me a knowing wink. After a merciless 20 minutes of bumping, grinding, humping, and straddling, the E. Jean look alike (who I believe was E. Jean) and her date leave. About seven of us (all strangers) at the bar sigh with relief and immediately start talking about them, in total disbelief. I have not seen anything like that since I was 19 and in a fraternity house at Lehigh University. Finally, my friends arrive and we get some nice real estate at the long and sexy (as the activity indicates) bar, backed by a mammoth mirror distressed to bistro perfection. Kiri decided to forgo her usual cocktail and order one of the classics on the BA list, and went for the Whiskey Smash, what our bartender described as a “Manhito”—whiskey, freshly muddled lemons, simple syrup, and mint, while Debbie went for the smooth Bronx Cocktail—Beefeater gin, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, fresh OJ, and a dash of Angostura bitters. The drinks were terrific. While we took in the buzzing after work scene (a nice crowd once the happy couple left), we ordered some Hot Potato Chips—giant platform sized potato crisps (that could use a bit more salt) served with a warm and creamy blue cheese sauce ($7), and a Mesa Grill-esque tasting of Shellfish Cocktails ($19)—juicy grilled shrimp in a bright tomatillo sauce, sweet lump crabmeat in coconut milk, and fat chunks of lobster tossed with avocado, each one fired up with ample heat and perfect amounts of acid. Personally, I recommend bringing a small Tupperware and saving the left over tomatillo sauce to use on scrambled eggs and tortillas for a mean Mexican breakfast the next morning. Not that I have ever done this. After drinks and snacks, we moved into the vaulted dining room, an immense space with high ceilings, a wide-open kitchen, and a series of super-wide circular banquettes the size of Ferris Wheels, swathed in earthy orange tones. We were seated at a nice big table, but we were definitely envious of those larger groups tucked into those flying saucer-sized banquettes, because the ordinary tables for two and four are a bit too wide: you’ve got about three extra inches between you and whoever is seated across from you with these tables, and this makes conversation difficult, especially since the place gets loud quite quickly. But if you lean in and scream, you’ll be fine. We got used to it after a while and were able to cover topics like whether bad sex is better than no sex (no), and the best way to break up with someone with whom you have only had three dates—is email okay? Answering machine? In person required? Weighty issues, people. While discussing a recent breakup situation, the breadbasket arrived, and all conversation stopped to admire the lovely loaves—warm Parker House rolls, chile corn bread sticks and lean baguettes—all freshly baked. I like a good breadbasket. What can I say? But beyond the breadbasket, the menu—a tribute to regional American cuisine—is vintage Flay. These are fearlessly punched up plates that beg to feed large appetites—Lamb Porterhouse Chops with Green Peas and Mint, Rack of Pork with Apple Ginger Chutney, Creamed Corn and Sour Mash, and a slew of spice-rubbed Black Angus Steaks. It is a menu filled with unapologetically BIG flavors and dishes that are as good as they sound (most of the time). We started with a terrific Chopped Chicory Salad ($11) fashioned from super fresh chicory leaves and crunchy hearts, slim firm haricot verts, crumbled bits of bleu cheese, hunks of smoky bacon, and a plump poached egg that, when punctured, ran its deep yellow heart out all over the crisp greens. Voila! Perfection. Flay’s Crawfish and Dungeness Griddle Cake ($16) arrived in a puddle of zippy basil sauce topped with a super fresh red pepper relish that was dotted with capers and chiles (get out that Tupperware people). This “Griddle Cake” was unreal. I knew I wanted another one after one bite of the first. It’s not really a cake as much as it is a crawish/crab sculpture in the shape of a cake, because there’s no breading here—just mounds of all that sweet, tender almost creamy shellfish tucked in together with lots of flashy seasoning. While Debbie and I tried to save a bite of the Griddle Cake for Kiri, she was off finishing the last of the Crispy Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Pulled Pork ($10), so we had to act fast to get a taste. These delicately crispy flowers were filled with what seemed more like creamed pork (think creamed chipped beef) than pulled pork to me, and while I liked this contrast of crispy flowers and creamy filling, I wanted a bit more heat and texture from the pork. The dish was also supposed to be splashed with black pepper vinegar but I couldn’t detect any, and I was craving that tangy pepper bite. As we were happily making our way though our appetizers and cocktails, the dining room grew even busier. The bar was still three deep (though Debbie noted that most people were note quite as “active” as the first couple), and the tables grew crowded with dozens of suited men, ties tucked away inside shirts, digging into Flintstone-size steaks and chops, doting couples leaning in to hold hands and to be heard over the din, and girlfriends huddled around three-tiered Shellfish Platters with bottles of Sancerre nearby for quenching thirst. There was a tactile energy to the place that was right in synch with the brasserie space and bold menu. But sometimes the service was odd. For instance, while we were waiting for our entrees, Debbie stepped outside to try and get out of a date she had scheduled for the following night (she was going for the answering machine breakup), and the manager, who was walking around looking miserable, approached our table to fold Debbie’s napkin. But instead of folding it, she just picked it up, and then simply dropped it back on the table without a fold or even a little primp. Then she blankly walked off, back in her trance. Kiri and I had no idea what to make of her, but we did decide that she should either (a) drink a Red Bull during service to snap out of it, or (b) find another profession that does not require a smile, personality, or the ability to stay attentive to guests (or at least to napkins). Anyway, soon Debbie was back (the guy did not have an answering machine!) and our entrees were promptly served—we got two hits and a slight miss. Lets get the slight miss out of the way: the Mussels and Fries Americain ($21) in Green Chile Broth. The mussels themselves were great—super plump babies pushing open shiny black shells, and they were served with fabulous wide-cut fries (we had to order another order, they were so good), but the broth had a bitter aftertaste, like the chiles were perhaps behaving badly. I like the idea of a green chile broth, but this batch had sharp, not spicy, undertones that made it unpleasant to eat. But our Red Snapper, Florida Style ($29) tilted us firmly back up into our happy place. The dish—a silky fillet crusted in an armadillo-like robe of plantains on black bean puree with a fresh mango salsa—is a clear nod to Mesa Grill. Certainly this sort of cooking does not push Flay into new territory, but who cares? It’s a winner. The surprising smash hit of the evening was, of all things, chicken. I would come back to BA several times a week for Flay’s Rotisserie Poussin with Red Chiles and Fry Bread Salad ($25). With a blazing red chile crisped skin, this creamy fleshed chick comes with a fluffy microgreen salad tossed with pine nuts and currants, set atop a buttery, yet greaseless puff of Native American Indian inspired fry bread. The fry bread salad alone was enlightened, but paired with the bird, well, you’ve got yourself just a truly heavenly supper. It is a meal that lends itself to my Thanksgiving turkey approach—eating every last bit of meat off the carcass with my fingers. I think Lawrence Kretchmer, Bobby’s longtime business partner, was embarrassed by my less than lady-like eating tactics because he sent over a steak knife and then (jokingly) offered to have waiters surround the table to I could pick the carcass clean in private. I thanked him kindly for his offers, but since Kiri and Debbie were in on the poussin attack as well, we didn’t really care. After they pried the bare carcass from my chile-covered hands, we moved onto pastry chef Vicki Wells’ part of the menu—classic American desserts (all $9). Her lemon meringue crème brulee was flawless—a tart curd-like custard tucked under a burnished cap, topped with a fluff of meringue. But the Whiskey Éclairs were just short of divine intervention. Shaped like long lean lady fingers, these pate au choux tubes were piped with a thick pastry cream infused with whiskey and then shellacked with a burnt sugar glaze that gave them an unexpected but very welcome bit of crunch. The éclairs came with a carafe of warm caramel sauce that was poured over the pile of pastries, and then left for us to finish at our leisure. After all the éclairs were demolished, Kiri was pouring the sauce directly into her spoon, which went directly into her mouth. I couldn’t help but wonder, as we sat there, licking yet another plate clean, what the frisky couple at the bar would have done if they had actually made it to dessert.

Review By: Andrea Strong