This restaurant is closed!
142 West 10th St
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 255-2330
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Chef: Chef CÚsar Ramirez
Cuisine: New American
2nd Cuisine: Eclectic
Area: West Village
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a slave to fashion. While I wouldn’t mind shopping at Scoop, Intermix and Kirna Zabete, and stocking my shoe rack with Loubutains, Choos and Blahniks, my passion is food, not clothes. To be perfectly honest, I’d much rather spend my money on meals than designer jeans, or on a stinky wedge of cheese, not a great pair of wedges. That being said, I am a girl, and I do appreciate fashion. I read the glossies (perfect for pedicures), I live for Tim Gunn and Project Runway, and even if I can’t afford them, I love to look at really fine clothes, to feel fabulous fabrics, and most of all, to see a great look come together. Fashion, to me, really comes from that skill—the ability to “style”—to take a pair of jeans from here, a top from there, a belt from there, a scarf, a coat, a pair of boots, a necklace—and pull a great look together. If you’ve got that gift you can create something from nothing.
I was reminded of this skill set recently while dining at Bar Blanc, the new restaurant from Bouley ex-pats Kiwon Standen, Cesar Ramirez and Didier Palange. In some ways this restaurant is the epitome of a great look with its stunning room, and inspired food. But in other ways, a few discordant notes threaten to bring down the whole outfit.
So, let’s begin with what works. First, the room. This place is hot. White hot, to be exact. It’s washed in white and filled with a long slab of white marble bar lit with cool light and tables tucked into tufted white leather banquettes follow the curve of a wrist, wrapping around to give you a nook to rest inside of. Lighting the fresh shiny white tables are large circular silver lounge lamps that give the places an ultra modern sheen. Past a few sets of sheer curtains is a rear room, set with more glossy white lacquer tables, and surrounded by more white-washed walls. Taken as a whole, the restaurant, designed by Meyer Davis, is quite striking, and the designers have done a great job of banishing the rustic cave-like memories of Merge. This is a sexy restaurant.
Second, the food—it is also quite impressive. The man in charge has done some time learning about culinary artistry from none other than David Bouley and he’s learned well. His food is impeccable, elegant, and serious. Rather than offer a great roast chicken, some hearty meatballs or a good juicy steak a la Little Owl, Shorty’s or Market Table, Cesar and his partners have aimed high with the menu. Understand something—this is not haute barnyard. This is haute cuisine. Period. End of story.
An appetizer of tuna takes a strong swim away from the ubiquitous carpaccio/tartare formula and instead presents a slice of luscious tuna confit paired up with a ruby red circle of tuna sashimi, plated in a miso sauce flavored with squid ink and brightened up with ponzu and a drizzle of black truffle vinaigrette ($18). This dish was truly thrilling to eat. I can’t remember the last time I felt a thrill while eating tuna. It’s sort of the chicken of the sea, you know?
Ditto the slow roasted rabbit and sweetbread salad ($14). I loved the creativity and was also tickled by the idea of calling something that contains offal and small cute furry animals, a “salad.” Vegetarians everywhere are cringing. But this “salad” was fantastic—with a “dressing” made from sheep’s milk ricotta and just a fluff of baby greens on top to bring some honesty into the “salad” terminology. My only addition would be a bit of texture to the plate—the rabbit and the sweetbreads are soft and tender, and some contrast, some crunch or a better sear on something, perhaps, might be nice.
One of Cesar’s hallmarks is his very gentle touch. Like that rabbit salad, most of his food speaks quietly. Delicate flavors are coaxed out in a dish of red snapper perfumed with ginger and set on a mound of rather bland tofu puree with a clear shiso sauce ($29). This dish, to quote Seinfeld, is a soft talker. Its flavors are so gentle they’re barely audible. It’s almost annoying actually, since I tend to like food (and people) that raises its voice. Still, the fish was exquisite, cooked to a silky gloss and just barely infused with ginger. Cesar’s chicken is also a soft talker and quite a departure from the crispy skinned pan-roasting technique so popular at spots like Red Cat, Market Table, and Little Owl. Rather, this bird comes skinless, and slow poached, so its flesh is transformed into a sort of chicken cashmere, resting on a smooth as silk whip of brie cheese and fingerling potato puree (read: liquid brie with potatoes tossed in for fun), with a few squat house-made drumstick chicken sausages that add just the right amount of levity and punch to the dish. These sausages will make you smile. They’ll also make you want to have them for breakfast with eggs and grits.
Then again, if the chicken is a soft talker, the braised lamb shoulder lasagna ($24) is a baratone opera singer. This dish has some guts. Cesar layers thin sheets of pasta, almost crepe-like in texture, with judicious amounts of his wine-braised lamb, and continues the layering so it’s almost like a delicate savory Napoleon, rather than a traditional chunky and clunky lasagna. To make it a bit effete, he trims the edges and forms it into a circle the size of an appetizer plate. The presentation is a bit precious for me, especially with strength of the flavors in that braised lamb, but at some point you realize it’s all gone, so the presentation is not really relevant anymore. All that matters is how good it tasted going down.
While I loved the lasagna (especially on these cold winter nights), I think his signature at the restaurant will become the porclett ($32)—a beautifully roasted suckling milk-fed pig that’s accompanied by a pig head terrine and a slab of luscious braised pork belly capped with a crispy skin, plated in a puddle of natural jus brightened with cinnamon and orange with diced brussel sprouts and an earthy chanterelle puree. I was supposed to be sharing this dish with Steven but I have a feeling he didn’t get much time with it.
The only off beat of the night was the gently poached salmon ($24) which met an unfortunate and cruel death due to an overload of tomato puree apparently soaked in vanilla. This was the only misstep on the menu, and despite that gorgeous preparation (that salmon was like buttah, baby), it was inedible.
Pastry chef Daniel Keehner matches the haute savory menu with desserts like a Meyer lemon souffle that’s served in a browned disc and tastes like a fluffy creamy custard, and a super rich, one-bite-is-enough, bittersweet chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream ($10 each).
While the food is great, the issue with Bar Blanc is the rest of the outfit: thoughtless, absent-minded service and lousy acoustics. And these two pieces turn this entire ensemble into a bit of a mess. How can you appreciate food this good in a restaurant where (a) waiters rarely stop by to check in to see how your meal is progressing, and (b) you have to flag down a busboy to have your water glass filled every half hour. I felt like an air traffic controller. And the acoustics issue is something I’ve found at other Meyer Davis restaurants—Boqueria, for instance. It would be more peaceful dining on the back of a garbage truck in reverse. Why not pay some attention to adding soft surfaces or sound absorbing tiles on the ceilings? There is technology there to help you. If it sounds like this bugs me, it does. I don’t understand why acoustics are not prioritized. Noise detracts from a dining experience. It’s exhausting to have to scream to be heard and to strain to listen.
On paper, Bar Blanc has all the elements of a great look. It’s got a strong core—a talented chef who clearly aspires to turn out flawless food, and several unstoppable accessories: a great management team, and a stunning design. But when you layer on poor service and god-awful acoustics, you ruin the look. There needs to be some attention paid to the accessories here. There’s a team in place that can make the changes necessary to pull it together and once that’s done, I am sure this is going to be a restaurant to be reckoned with. To steal the sentiments of design guru and Project Runway wingman Tim Gunn: You’re on the right track, people. There’s a lot of potential here. Make it work. Make it work.
Review By: Andrea Strong