Restaurant review: North End Grill

A Danny Meyer joint.

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  • Photographer: Virginia Rollison

    Slow-Poached Egg with Paddlefish Caviar, Celery Leaves and Bottarga at North...

    Slow-poached egg with paddlefish caviar, celery leaves and bottarga at North End Grill

  • Photographer: Virginia Rollison

    Grilled Sardines with Frisee aux Lardons at North End Grill

    Grilled sardines with frisee aux lardons at North End Grill

  • Photographer: Virginia Rollison

    Elysian Fields Lamb Loin with Minted Chickpeas and Preserved Lemon at North End...

    Lamb loin with minted chickpeas and preserved lemon at North End Grill

  • Photographer: Virginia Rollison

    Cod Throats Meuniere at North End Grill

    Cod throats meuniere at North End Grill

  • Photographer: Virginia Rollison

    Chocolate Pecan Layer Cake with Pecan-Chocolate Chip Ice Cream at North End...

    Chocolate pecan layer cake at North End Grill

  • Photographer: Virginia Rollison

    North End Grill

  • Photographer: Virginia Rollison

    North End Grill

  • Photographer: Virginia Rollison

    North End Grill

Photographer: Virginia Rollison

Slow-Poached Egg with Paddlefish Caviar, Celery Leaves and Bottarga at North...

Slow-poached egg with paddlefish caviar, celery leaves and bottarga at North End Grill

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Long before he started opening Shake Shacks worldwide, Danny Meyer had one of the most impressive track records of any New York restaurateur. The man wrote the book on hospitality (literally), and his winning formula is legendary—the effortless affable service; the food that's easy, accessible and tasty, too; the warm, buzzy space with top-notch acoustics. Few other operators get the whole package so right.

North End Grill, his new spot downtown in Battery Park, combines all of the elements that make a Meyer restaurant great. The staffing might seem like overkill (there are more waiters and cooks than a room like this could possibly require), but this consummate pro leaves nothing to chance. Though he's got a real nose for talent—former Tabla toque Floyd Cardoz is in the kitchen—this is still very much Meyer's show.

The restaurant, more than any other he's opened in years, goes all the way back to his Union Square Cafe roots. Like that New York institution, still thriving after more than a quarter century, it features Continental cooking—Cardoz has mostly abandoned his haute Indian leanings—served in a relaxed clubhouse setting. At both places the front room is set aside for casual walk-ins. Cardoz offers them something to nibble on at the tall stools around the bar, including addictive spiced onion rings, delicate crisp pizzas topped with shelled clams and hot chilies, and a commendable English-style steak pie. The full dinner menu is available, without reservations, at the long counter facing the chef in his vast open kitchen, but a spot in the dining room is worth planning ahead for.

It's a beautiful space, by restaurant design stars Bentel & Bentel, with soft raindrop lighting from umbrella-shaped lamps, a transporting wall of reclaimed Wyoming fence posts, and striking framed photos of landscapes and food from Ansel Adams acolyte Mariana Cook. Meyer does formal, but he doesn't do stuffy.

Cardoz's upmarket comfort food fits the civilized but genial mood of the place. His eclectic menu gives top billing to seafood, but it also features simple steaks and chops, and a whole section devoted solely to eggs. Still, this isn't an old-fashioned chophouse or fancy-pants diner. And though there's a huge custom grill on prominent display in the kitchen, it's not quite a grillcentric restaurant either. The North End Grill offers a little bit of everything, all of it designed with one goal in mind: to keep you, the guest, happy (and never bored).

Although his cooking is meant to please rather than challenge, Cardoz still leaves his stamp on the food, adding generous doses of fire and spice. There's serious burn in a miniature tangle of frise aux lardoons, paired, in a simple first course, with two fresh sardines—beautiful butterflied specimens—gently seared over an open flame. There's a chili kick too in a more offbeat starter of evanescent cod throats—a traditional Basque ingredient—with fresh serrano slivers and brown butter meunire. Even a delicate poached egg with an extravagant dollop of paddlefish caviar has got a peppery bite, in the fish broth and celery leaf salad in the bowl underneath.

You might press on with a hunk of simply grilled meat, like a tender flank steak au poivre, but the composed plates are much more exciting. Lamb loin, with a smoky wood-fired finish, is served shingled like duck breast on a bed of stewed chickpeas flavored with mint—a harmonious mix with Anglo-Indian leanings. And flavor-packed flaky roasted halibut, in a spiced broth with shelled clams and saffron, is Middle Eastern, almost, with its sweet-and-spicy topping of toasted pine nuts and green raisins.

Desserts, by Alexandra Ray (Gramercy Tavern), are crowd-pleasing, but not predictably so. A "chocolate pecan layer cake" tastes like the all-American classic it namechecks, but in an atypically elegant package—compact striations of dense cake, light chocolate mousse, pecan cream and bittersweet glaze. Sticky toffee pudding is elevated, meanwhile, by a shot of Glenlivet in its rich and buttery caramel sauce.

If this is your first time at a Meyer establishment, don't be surprised if a host or a manager or even a waiter shakes your hand and palms a card on your way out. It's the details that matter, the personal touch. Restaurateurs starting out might want to swing by for a bite and take notes.

Vitals

Eat this: Onion rings with roasted onion dip, cod throats meunire, poached egg with caviar, lamb loin with chickpeas, halibut with pine nuts and raisins, chocolate-pecan cake

Drink this: Discover new single-malts from the enormous selection by lining up three small pours in a make-your-own flight (a "plank" on the menu)—try a silky taste of 15-year-old Benriach (oz $9), alongside a more rustic nip of newcomer Kilkerran ($6). The focus on Scotch extends to cocktails as well. The Gaslight is a classic sweet-bitter combo of Drambuie, Scotch, orange curaao and vermouth ($13). The extensive beer list features offbeat finds, like a smooth, fruity, Belgian-style tripel ($8) from the Defiant Brewing Company of Pearl River, NY.

Sit here: The lively bar is reserved for drinks and bar snacks, but mealtime drop-ins can grab one of the first-come, first-served stools along the kitchen counter (the best place for a solo supper). The striking dining room, featuring amply spaced tables, is a better bet for a cozier confab.

Conversation piece: The new high-rise tower going up around the restaurant—home to a soon-to-open Conrad Hotel—might as well be called Meyer-ville: In addition to North End Grill, there's a branch of his barbecue joint Blue Smoke and a Shake Shack.

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104 North End Ave at Murray St (646-747-1600). Subway: A, C to Chambers St; E to World Trade Center; 2, 3 to Park Pl. Mon--Thu 11:30am--2pm, 5:30--10pm; Fri 11:30am--2pm, 5:30--11pm; Sat 5:30--11pm; Sun 5:30--10pm. Average main course: $30.

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