This hulking, unforgiving stretch of midtown seldom breeds restaurants of heart and finesse, but like a sprout pushing out of a sidewalk crack, here grows Betony.
In its former life, the soaring, two-tiered space housed Brasserie Pushkin, an ode to opulence, brimming with caviar and poor taste. While certain gaudy trappings—like ornately carved wood walls—persist, Eleven Madison Park alums Bryce Shuman and Eamon Rockey have nimbly subdued the Russian oligarch with New American charm.
Chief among Betony’s thrills is hyperprofessional service softened with a heaping dose of humanity. Servers’ black suits belie their lighthearted postures; you feel cared for, but never hovered over.
Shuman’s food hits the same satisfying notes, studied, but not smothered with lily-gilding ingredients or chefly futzing. And like the servers, he isn’t afraid to crack a playful smile, as with stellar riffs on crunchy fried pickles and toasty tuna melts.
Betony’s best dishes strike a rare balance between sophisticated and soulful. Seared foie gras is plugged with a rosy round of smoked ham hock and draped with crisp, vinegar-twanged kale, swapping some of its upmarket cachet for the down-home comforts of pork and greens. Ham broth swirls around the liver, taming its heart-stopping richness with salt and smoke.
Short ribs run the opposite course, rising from low to luxe after a two-day bath in rendered dry-aged beef fat and a sear over blazing Japanese charcoal; it’s humble braised meat dressed in the noble robe of a steak.
Given Shuman’s knack for transformation, it’s little wonder that Betony makes a cold part of town feel warm. Here’s hoping this city is as kind to it as it has been to us.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Meal highlights: Fried pickles, “tuna melt,” hot foie gras, chicken liver mousse, grilled short rib, roasted chicken, poached lobster, rice pudding
Vibe: An elegant evening from start to finish; it’s hard to tell who would be more impressed, your hot date or your grandparents.
Cocktail chatter: Ask for the off-the- menu milk punch, a miraculously clear but creamy concoction that the bartenders will mix with any spirit you’d like.
Soundcheck: Increasingly rare in NYC, it’s louder on the street than it is inside.
By Daniel S. Meyer