This restaurant is closed!
107 Rivington Street
City: New York, NY
Hours: Breakfast: Monday - Sunday 7:00am-11:00am Brunch: Saturday & Sunday 11:00am-3:00pm Dinner: Monday - Wednesday & Sunday 5:30pm-12:00am Thursday - Saturday 5:30pm-1:00am
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Chef: Kurt Gutenbrenner
Cuisine: New American
Area: Lower East Side
Entree Price: $20-25
Payment: Amex Visa Mastercard
My Dinner at Thor This week has been a tough one for me. To make a long story short, there were a few bumps in the road with my chef and we had a hard week. This falling in love stuff is hard. Maybe it’s supposed to be easy and all butterflies and long walks and deep meaningful kisses and all that, but in the cold light of day we are all people who carry around certain amounts of baggage. I’ve got mine, believe me. I had a relationship with someone I thought was THE ONE and he broke me. Not in pieces as much as he just broke me—my soul, my faith, and my heart. But the thing is, no matter how much we have hurt in the past, we still go back for more, either because we are just plain stupid or because there is really something to this love thing that is worth getting your guts ripped out for. We all want to find a partner, a person to snuggle into, some combination of friend and lover to share life with. But the road to getting there can be hard, like it was last week. I’ll spare you the details, but we just went through a little rough patch.
To try and make it through, one night, I met a girlfriend for a drink at Pegu Club—the gorgeous cocktail den from Audrey Saunders. Jim Meehan, one of the best bartenders going, made me a Punt e Mas Fizz (a simply perfect cocktail) and I took one sip and starting bawling at the bar. My friend Colu tried to distract me, and it worked for a while. We had a few snacks—some Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs and Coconut Shrimp (the food is not the reason to go here, but they make a nice effort)—but once the second drink was poured (a Pisco Sour and a house cocktail called the Tantris), I was a puddle of tears. I had to get out of there. I ran down, hailed a cab and barely choked out my address.
But by Thursday night, when I had plans to meet Julie and Kathy at Thor, things were much better. The chef and I had a good long talk and our baggage was taken out of its overhead compartments, looked at, addressed, and lovingly restowed. Fears were confronted. Love was dolled out. Perhaps our baggage will stay up there, neatly for years to come, or maybe it will move around a bit during this flight called life. But I feel like we can make sure it is not going to smack us down and hit us hard when we open it up again.
I was relieved to feel better for dinner with Kathy and Julie. I didn’t want to be a blubbering mess again. One breakdown a week was enough for me. And I was looking forward to checking out this place called Thor. The name sort of made me chuckle. While it stands for The Hotel on Rivington, I could not get this superhero dining room imagery out of my head. THOR! Insert thunder and lightening bolts. And the thing is, the space only adds to the feeling that this is a den for superheroes. Everyone here is fabulous, or thinks they are. The lounge is teaming with assorted superheroes of the downtown tragically hip world, peppered with out of towners who just don’t know any better. The design of the place is sort of Jetsons-like—super modern, with a red carpeted pod-like entranceway that leads to a giant lounge filled with low couches organized in large squares, and a bar three deep with assorted long-haired, long legged beauties and men in black. It’s a scene people. My favorite part of the room was this sort of kryptonite shaped closure that shelters the stairwell in the center of the room. This black hexagonal shaped structure juts up into the dining room and makes you feel as though it may light up and start to glow on and off like some sort of communication transmitter to superheroes everywhere. It didn’t do that on my evening there, but watch out. There’s still time.
The restaurant itself is clean and lean—walls are dressed in a white, gray and black floral-jigsaw pattern, and the ceiling, a sheet of glass, allows you to peer up at the fire escapes of the surrounding tenement buildings. It’s quite beautiful, in a way, but I felt as though I might be getting ready to watch a dress rehearsal of West Side Story—like Tony would swing out onto a fire escape in tight black pants, crooning for Maria. No such luck.
The food at this superhero dinning room known as Thor comes to us from chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, the highly acclaimed Austrian chef at Wallsé. At Thor, his subject is not Austria but contemporary America, though his menu does nod to his roots with sides like quark spaetzle (bland), and potatoes rosti (an unfortunate unseasoned hash brown). But we’ll get to all that. Let me begin by saying that the menu at Thor, which is nicely priced on the modest side, is just too large. There are Cold Plates to start (nine of them), Warm Plates in the Middle (eight of these), then entrees called Hot Plates divided into the fish (five) and meat (six) categories. The format is meant to make it easy to eat here often and for any sort of appetite, which is great, especially since it is a hotel restaurant, but to me it was a bit overwhelming. I’d recommend some editing. (Not that I should talk. I tend to ramble on here.)
Now to get to our meal, we started with the Kumomoto oysters with yellowfin tuna and American sturgeon caviar ($12), a full on assault of intense briny flavors on the mouth. While I was not unhappy with this dish, I felt a bit sorry for the oysters, whose deep ocean flavor was masked by the silky tuna and caviar. It’s not that it was bad; I just prefer my oysters naked. A trio of summer soups ($8) were fresh and zippy—the distinct flavors of cucumber, tomato and avocado coming through loud and clear. From his Warm Plates in the Middle section, we chose the ravioli made with farmers cheese ($10). These were great, but as Kathy pointed out, tasted more like pierogi than ravioli. Hey, nothing wrong with pierogi. They were plump and creamy cheese dumplings, sautéed in brown butter and topped with mint and chopped hazelnuts. What’s not to love?
From the entrée section, we decided on two fish dishes and one meat, and were pleased with all but one. Let’s start with the winners—a steamed red snapper ($20) set in a bowl of basil broth bobbing with little neck clams, artichokes, and plump purple olives. The fish was sweet, moist and flaky, the clams nice and chewy and the olives bright and pungent. It was perfect. We also loved the duck ($19)—lean, wildly tender cylinders of delicious duck wrapped in cabbage leaves and steamed, and served on a bed of asparagus (people, the season is over!) and a sauce given a nice jolt of life with mustard seeds. The one clunker was the poached lobster ($21) with cherries, fava beans and Béarnaise sauce. The favas may have turned or something but there was an overpowering bitterness to that dish that made is difficult to get down, which was unfortunate because that lobster was beautifully poached. The sides (all $5), as I mentioned earlier, included a sad, bland quark spaetzle and accompanying hash brown billed as potatoes rosti, but the kohlrabi gratin was incredible, as was the smooth and buttery potato puree.
For me, the food at Thor is fine, but the reason to go back to Thor is not for the food. Perhaps for the bar if you are looking for extreme scene, but to me the reason to go back to Thor is for the desserts (all $7).
Pastry chef Pierre Reboul, most recently of Blue Hill, who also worked at Lutece with Eberhard Muller, must be commended for his whimsy, his playfulness, his creativity, and his flat out talent. His snickers bar is divine. A hockey puck shaped ode to the childhood candy bar, this snickers delivers thick caramel, meddled with intense chocolate, layered with peanuts and pistachios, all cloaked in a chocolate wrapper, and topped with an essential element that makes it truly brilliant—a sprinkling of sea salt. I almost ordered another. But I was already into the one-bite chocolate lollipops, which are quite enjoyable as well. Note that these are truly one bite—they are like munchkins on sticks and are filled with warm, gooey chocolate. Pop the whole thing in your mouth and bite and let the warm chocolate ooze out; if you try to be sly and take a bite, you will be covered in chocolate and a mess. Also, don’t ignore the vanilla malted milkshake these one bite pops come with—it’s spectacular—frothy, creamy, and slurpable to the last (loud) drop. I also loved his crushed avocado with lime sorbet, a tart palate cleanser that is so tart it nearly brings tears to your eyes, but it has this fabulous fresh burst of citrus flavor that makes it taste like a dunk in cold water on a sweltering hot day. The only week link was the homemade Concord grape soda float with ginger ice cream. It was sounded great, but the soda, sprayed tableside from a soda canister, was too cloying, and way too sweet, like a 7-Eleven cherry slurpee. But the homemade fig newton it came with brought uniform praise from all of us. Julie commented that it was the kind of fig newton they should package and sell. Ditto.
One item that they already package but do not sell (yet) is perhaps the greatest desert invention since peanut butter met chocolate. Pierre has purchased slim capped tubes from Pearl Paint, which he fills in house with homemade chocolate ganache and serves to guests like small tubes of travel toothpaste, to squeeze into and fill a row of thumbprint financier cookies. Pay attention here: YOU MUST PUNCTURE THE TUBE’S SEAL FIRST. You take the cap off, and turn it around and use the point to puncture the seal. DO NOT JUST SQUEEZE WITHOUT PUNCTURING THE SEAL! This has been the sad fate of several tubes squeezed by overzealous, impatient diners who have squeezed the tubes and blown them out, and ended up spraying nearby tables in chocolate. Waiters have specific instructions now to prevent similar chocolate-wardrobe malfunctions. Once you puncture, squeeze into the center of the cookies, and enjoy. We finished off our chocolate tube at the table but we each asked for one to take home. Hey, I had to have something to bring home to my chef. Yes, love can be divine.
Review By: Andrea Strong