This restaurant is closed!
363 Greenwich St (Franklin St)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 334-7337
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Cuisine: New American
A Tavern, by its dictionary definition, is a “bar serving food.” Certainly, a tavern can be that simple—a convivial place to drink cold pints and chow down on greasy burgers. I am thinking of Pete’s, and the one on Jane. Then again, in New York City, a tavern can be quite a bit more grand, as in the one called Gramercy. Somewhere in between these two extremes fits Devin Tavern, the sophomore project from Michael Waterhouse and John Mautone, the down-to-earth guys behind the impossibly popular steakhouse and after-work cocktail joint, Dylan Prime.
The association to its sibling Dylan conjures up dark wood, smoky leather, and hands wrapped around fat squat glasses filled with brown spirits; Dylan is a sexy testosterone-heavy dining room made for slabs of salty, lip-licking, charred beef. Devin, though, takes a different tact. It has a lighter, slightly feminine edge. Its color scheme is gentler—more sand, cream, butter, and taupe. Its walls at the entry way are white, and the foyer feels vaguely inspired by an Inn somewhere in New England. The bar room is wide and comfortable, with banquettes built for big groups. A long welcoming bar backed by flatscreens is fixed with stools baring cushioned leather seats and high backs so you can maintain good posture while you chat and drink. And this is a bar to drink at. They serve well-balanced cocktails from fresh ingredients.
On my first night there, Craig and I decided to hang out at the bar for a little while before dinner. I had a frisky tequila drink called the Raleigh Collins made from Milagro silver tequila with fresh lemon juice, housemade Limoncello and soda ($12). It was bright and tart and just sweet enough and it hit the spot. Craig went for the Blue Tomato, a vodka martini garnished with a blue cheese stuffed cherry tomato ($12). Craig loved the garnishes. The bartender noticed and was nice enough to give us a few extra to snack on while we waited for our table.
The dining room is as comfortable as the bar room. There are hardwood floors, blazing fireplaces, well-spaced solid wood tables matched with big wide high back arm chairs, and oversized booths with rolled-arm banquettes. From the design of the place alone, which is the work of Chris Smith, management seems intent on at least one thing—making sure you are comfortable while you are drinking or dining.
That first night with Craig, we were not in the mood for a real meal. We finished our cocktails and ordered a bottle of wine and opted instead for a great appetizer of shrimp and grits with red eye gravy ($16), and a few sandwiches, which are on the menu because this is a tavern, after all. We shared the Devin Cheeseburger, a pair of beef patties topped with Gruyere and smoked pork belly tucked into a puffy sweet onion roll ($16), and an oversized lobster club loaded up with sweet juicy meat and seasoned with lemon confit that came with a side of fries dusted with Old Bay ($29). Both sandwiches were solid, though the smoked pork belly on the burger is really just bacon and probably should be menued that way.
But I needed to get through more of the menu. So I returned a few weeks later with a half dozen girlfriends to get better acquainted with the chef’s style.
The chef in question is Chris Dunn, who was last the chef at Dylan. The guy barely looks old enough to drive a car let alone run a restaurant, but apparently I am getting older and everyone else is a lot younger. Jeez. Anyway, Dunn offers a solid American menu, starting with salads like the beet and blue carpaccio ($12), a fine composition of roasted candy striper and golden beets with a generous wedge of Maytag blue. A soup made from wild mushroom and bone marrow ($12) was thick, hearty and rustic, bobbing with bits of shortribs. It’s the sort of soup that makes you crave a cold winter night and a blazing fire. Dunn’s tuna tartare, a special that night, was basic, but basic can be just right. He pretty much leaves the fish to do its thing—highlighting it with some olive oil, sea salt, a sheer slice of pineapple at its base to give it some acidity, and a few home made waffle chips. It’s enough. The winning appetizer though was the braised short ribs, a mess of tender smoky hunks of beef plated with fat tortelloni stuffed with ricotta and herbs. It’s another one that makes you crave a bracingly cold night in winter.
The conversation at our table the other night was quite hilarious. I was there with five of my girlfriends: one is eight months pregnant (and horny as all get out), one is about to embark on her second marriage (she’s glowing), two are fed up with dating (and have some hilarious stories to back up their boycott of the practice), and a fifth who is currently juggling a cast of about four men including a male ballerina. I kid you not. It was rare, and it was time to order some more wine at this point as the first one disappeared too quickly. But the wine list made my blood boil. There was not one bottle under $40. Most were in the $75-$100 range. This is not very tavern like. Come on. That is inexcusable for a restaurant of this price point and this nature especially at a time when there are such great wine values out there. I was very perturbed. We settled for an overpriced Pinot Noir from Sonoma ($45) and I tried to let it go. The wine was poured (it was nice) and our entrees arrived in moments.
Unlike the menu at Dylan, Devin's tackles fish and meat with equal attention. Arctic char ($29), which is grilled over chit wood and served with broccoli rabe in a rich puddle of veal jus, looked gorgeous but it was amazingly flavor-free. Honestly, not a lick of flavor. It barely tasted like fish. It didn’t taste like anything. It was blank. How odd. Not so for the grilled organic pork loin ($26) though. It was juicy and savory and fabulous, served with wild rice and a sour cherry and veal jus. The Brek Ridge Farms baby back ribs ($25) were also an enigma. They were piled up on a plate with some cast-iron potatoes and looked like they could have been a beauty shot for an issue of Pork Smoker’s Pride magazine, but they were dried out. The odd thing is that they were quite impressively tender and rubbed with flavor, but they were completely barren of moisture. It was as if someone forgot about them and left them in a hot oven for a day. How disappointing.
Desserts at Devin have been getting some fun attention because of the chocolate covered potato chip, nuts and raisins. A riff on the chocolate covered pretzel, this salty-meets-sweet situation is just so silly and so good, you’ve gotta get it. Otherwise, I could have skipped the blueberry pie, which was far too cloyingly sweet and didn’t taste much like blueberries to me.
The service at Devin was terrific, and the place has a great easy-going vibe and is a very comfortable room to dine in. And the food is good. This isn’t a menu that’ll have you putting Devin on speed dial, telling all your foodie friends to come on down, but there are enough places for that. But it will have you marking it in your mind as a solid standby place for drinks; to watch a game; to gather a few friends for a civilized dinner in a very comfortable space. It’s a tavern at its roots, and it does more than a good job of being what it is.
Review By: Andrea Strong