If you pine for the days when China Grill, Vong and the Quilted Giraffe were New York’s hot reservations, Sho Shaun Hergatt is your ticket to memory lane. The awkward mouthful of a restaurant, named for its Australian chef, harks back to the gilded age of junk bonds, Miami Vice fashions and late nights at Nell’s. A hermetic haven of retro luxury on the second floor of the unfinished Setai condo near Wall Street, it would make a convincing backdrop for a period flick set in the heyday of high-finance machismo and Pan-Asian chic.
On a recent night the dining room hosted a confab of Gordon Gekkos. Just beyond them, the actor Don Johnson (I do not jest) hobnobbed with the chef. Even without a big star from the ’80s on hand, the setting, service and food will make you nostalgic. The front lounge-—channeling Bali with a lattice-wood bar—gives way to a corridor stacked on both sides with shimmering glass skyscrapers of wine. Dishes emerge from the glass-enclosed kitchen under porcelain cloches on large silver trays. The wine list is heavy on $400 bottles, the dining room packed with diners who might actually buy them.
Everything here is designed to dazzle. Much of it, like the exhibition kitchen, is pure stagecraft. The menu descriptions fetishize even the most humdrum ingredients (a simple turnip salad with feta becomes “salad of organic Tokyo turnips, baby beets, garden radish, Persian feta”). Hergatt, who last worked at the Miami Beach Setai Hotel, goes overboard with the gold- and silver-leaf garnish. Though his food is beautifully presented and expertly cooked, too much of it is as dated as the setting.
Dinners begin with amuse-bouche platters featuring salmon tartare spring rolls and caviar-filled beggar’s purses (Quilted Giraffe circa 1988). The dishes that follow combine Asian touches with a strain of French classicism few young chefs are embracing these days, with rich sauces that channel the ghost of Auguste Escoffier. The Southeast Asian spices that subtly infuse the throwback sauce Americaine served in an appetizer of sweet roasted langoustine tails don’t manage to nudge the dish into 2009. Tempura-fried squash blossoms filled with an old-fashioned shrimp and scallop mousseline are only slightly more up-to-date.
The chef’s spin on duck l’orange, served in a portion as tiny as any at Per Se, features a few slices of tender pink breast in a bitter-orange sauce with a seared nugget of foie gras. His “Thai-pepper-dusted” filet mignon mimics a classic Rossini, with braised beef cheek filling in for the usual goose liver. Hergatt’s technical flourishes—the steak comes with a potato rosette constructed from slices so thin you could read a newspaper through them; a silky truffled-celeriac puree flawlessly ices butter-poached halibut—seem better suited to impressing judges at the food Olympics than New York diners.
While all of the dishes taste pretty good, I’m not sure this type of cooking is ripe for a revival. Pastry chef Mina Pizarro (Veritas) may not be convinced either. Her desserts are much lighter than the fare they follow. Her banana mille-feuille features airy custard layered between crispy-fried spring roll wrappers; her “citrus palette” is a refreshing medley of Greek yogurt, citrus segments and passion-fruit ice cream.
Still, with meals here ending on a suitably over-the-top note—the bounty of petits fours includes mini macarons, caramel truffles and pte de fruits—you certainly get what you pay for. I just hope your expense account, like the restaurant, is a blast from the past.
Drink this: Although there are few bottles of wine less than $50 here, the restaurant’s down-to-earth female sommelier won’t make you feel bad about asking for help at the low end of the list. A sparkling pink Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace ($55) is a reasonable champagne alternative, and a suitably luxurious match for the setting and food.
Eat this: Spice-roasted langoustines, halibut with truffled-celeriac puree, “citrus palette”
Sit here: Though the front lounge is a more relaxed setting for dinner than the cloistered dining room, it doesn’t offer views into the peekaboo kitchen. The best seats, unless you’re itching for privacy, are front and center near the chefs.
Conversation piece: The opulence extends from the hostess stand all the way into the kitchen. The luxurious decor includes a mother-of-pearl bar, Thai-silk walls and Brazilian walnut floors. The “sommelier’s reserve” selection of wines by the glass features rare and exorbitant crus, including a 1974 Ptrus.
See more Restaurant reviews