Commerce, the first restaurant from chef-owner Harold Moore and his partner Tony Zazula—formerly of Montrachet—follows the same elite playbook as Graydon Carter’s Waverly Inn, transforming the place into a homey canteen for the Marc Jacobs–wearing set.
While prices, extravagant but not unusual by the new neighborhood standards, are hardly a throwback ($19 foie gras terrine, $27 cod with black truffles), the dining room certainly is, with rich leather banquettes and a Diego Rivera–style mural.
Our genial waitress, who seemed inured to the conversational roar (Commerce feels more cramped than Grange Hall, and boasts abysmal acoustics), cheerily projected suggestions from the ambitious menu, with its eclectic mix of Italian, French, Asian and classic American flavors.
The food, though pricey, generally left us happy. Moore’s oyster starter, essentially luxury chowder with diced potatoes and leeks in a frothy champagne-cream broth, was wonderful despite the presence of salmon roe (when I read “caviar” on the menu, I wrongly assumed it would be black). A lobster Newburg entrée, featuring beautifully poached tail and claw meat atop a chive- and tarragon-laced bisque, hearkened back to the locale’s speakeasy days. I couldn’t resist sopping up the liquid in both bowls—more soups than sauces—with house-baked brioche from the formidable bread basket.
Even Moore’s simpler dishes exhibit a penchant—mostly successful—for gilding the lily. A starter of handmade tortelloni struck a perfect sweet-sour balance with a spiced sweet-potato filling and a topping of toasted hazelnuts, brown butter and pomegranate seeds. Roasted chicken, from the section of the menu devoted to sharable entrées, promised to be much more extravagant, with foie gras bread stuffing. The dish requires considerable patience—our server informed us it can take up to an hour to cook. Sadly, it’s not worth the wait. With Michelin-star fanfare, the whole bird was presented in a copper pan before being whisked back to the kitchen for plating. The chicken, while perfectly tender, wasn’t nearly as decadent as promised, with the melted foie gras inside and truffle butter under the skin—neither ingredient leaving more than a whisper of an impression.
Pastry chef Josue Ramos’s gorgeous desserts, meanwhile, exhibit a level of grown-up polish that transcends the noise level and casual setting. Ramos takes risks that deliver rewards, subtly combining savory and sweet in a luscious peanut-butter mousse with celery sorbet and shaved celery salad. He offsets the rich creaminess in al dente coconut rice pudding with a tart spritz of lime and a refreshing scoop of mango sorbet. Neither, of course, is the sort of dessert you’d expect to find in a neighborhood spot. Which, at its core, is the only real problem with Commerce. The service, decor and rowdy bar scene tell one side of the story. The sophisticated, pricey, often delicious food tells another.