A high-design misfire, but the food ain't bad.
Fri Dec 10 2010
Photograph: Lizz Kuehl
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Glitzy, brash, more style than substance: These are the hallmarks of a Jeffrey Chodorow restaurant. Though his approach has faltered of late—witness the demise of Kobe Club, Center Cut, and Borough Food and Drink—New York's gaudiest restaurateur keeps opening new venues at a ferocious pace.
While Bar Basque, his latest in the new Eventi hotel, has as much bling as the rest, the food served inside is at odds with the vast, nightclubby space. The interior—conceived, like FoodParc on the ground floor, by futurist Syd Mead—features demonic red walls in the bar and the lounge. Out in the dining room, sequestered within a chilly glass atrium, a gargantuan screen broadcasting test patterns is the bizarre backdrop to dinner.
But the menu, a genuine homage to the Basque Country devoid of pretense or gimmick, is simply too soulful for such austere surroundings. Chodorow, once again just missing the mark, has built a party restaurant uncomfortably saddled with serious food.
The dining room's awful acoustics—conversations roaring off its many hard surfaces—are an affront to Yuhi Fujinaga's great work in the kitchen. The chef, who last cooked under Ed Brown at eighty one, mixes the sort of avant-garde techniques pioneered at Spain's El Bulli with the traditional cooking the Basque region's known for. Rioja wine, agar-agar and sugar combine to create tiny red "caviar" bubbles, sprinkled—in a delicate pass around pintxo—over tuna tartare perched on serrano ham toast.
While the chef handles seafood terrifically, he's a relative newcomer to Iberian cooking. Having eaten his way through the Basque pantry last summer on a research trip, he now uses ingredients sourced there to expert effect. His opening bites—sweet garlic shrimp with pickled guindilla and dry espelette pepper; beautifully smoky imported piquillos; tiny croquettes oozing pungent Idiazabal cheese; grilled littleneck clams deliciously doused in txakoli wine—can easily add up to a fine dinner of snacks.
While the generous and equally shareable entres are less consistent—the rice in a miniature pan of seafood paella is missing the classic "soccarat," or caramelized crust—Fujinaga's salt-cured suckling pig, with crisp skin and potato cooked like risotto, is a succulent triumph.
Desserts, meanwhile, mostly pay reverence to regional standards. A traditional flan, cooked low and slow, is as dense as fudge, intense and silky with an almost plastic sheen. Warm brioche torrijas are also exceptionally rich, like crme brle crossed with fluffy French toast.
While these elegant sweets make an awfully fine finish, like the rest of the food here, they lose something served in such a frosty setting. Good food, a bad space: At least Bar Basque gets half the restaurant right.
Eat this: Garlic shrimp, croquettes, piquillo peppers, suckling pig, torrijas
Drink this: The cocktail list, developed by Roland Csombor of London's Purple Bar, features playful homages to top Spanish chefs, including the bittersweet, campari-and-cantaloupe Aduriz Martini ($13), named for the man behind San Sebastian's Mugaritz. An inventive list of gin-and-tonics—a religion in Spain—includes a refreshing grape-gin spin on the classic ($13).
Sit here: The best table in the atrium dining room is a group-friendly glass-topped number with a tree trunk base. If you can deal with those blinding red walls, the bar area is a much warmer option.
Conversation piece: Bar Basque is the pet project of Chodorow's culinary right hand, his director of product development, Terry Zarikian. The Venezuelan has long-standing ties to the Basque country: Juan Mari Arzak, the godfather of modern Basque cooking, catered his wedding.
839 Sixth Ave between 29th and 30th Sts (646-600-7150). Subway: B, D, F, M, N, Q, R to 34th St--Herald Sq. Mon--Thu, Sun 6--11pm; Fri, Sat 6pm--midnight. Average main course: $28.