I believe in truth in advertising, so let it be known: Shorty’s .32 chef Josh Eden is in fact short—maybe 5'5", without his toque. And the restaurant does, in fact, have just 32 seats, which turns Shorty’s into something of a rugby scrum during peak hours; diners at the bar make it near impossible to catch a drink while waiting for a table.
Eden dons the restaurant’s moniker proudly: It was a nickname given to him by Didier Virot while the two worked for Jean-George Vongerichten at JoJo. Virot has made a name for himself post–Jean George (Virot, Aix). Now it’s Eden’s turn to fly solo, and he’s infused the short-lived, one-room Goblin Market in Soho with some attitude, giving it a bordello style (a plethora of sexy ceiling lamps) and a soundtrack of Gen X favorites (Schoolhouse Rock) and classic rock (Cream).
Where the restaurant needs work is the margins. Besides imperfect customer entry points like a chaotic, no-reservations check-in and cold, forgettable bread, the eclectic wine list is atrocious: There’s virtually nothing worthwhile under $60, and particularly little splurgeworthy above (especially shocking given that the food is priced quite reasonably).
But all this masks a simple fact: Shorty Eden can cook. Shorty’s, as with Goblin Market, features haute American, and, as with the restaurant name, everything arrives as advertised. The crab sticks starter is pure shredded blue crab meat (sans filler), breaded and fried (deftly light on the oil) with a nice rémoulade for dipping (heavy on the basil, which provides an unusual kick). Eden’s macaroni and cheese, available as a side or starter, eschews black truffles or Parma ham and sticks to the two main ingredients (including a delicious blend of pecorino, Gruyère, Piave and Beemster cheeses) topped with panko bread crumbs mixed with more Gruyère, served in a shallow dish that allows for a gratifying crunch with every bite.
Less successful was the oddly textured braised–pork belly appetizer: The exterior was as crunchy as a pork rind; the interior, rather than being pleasantly gelatinous, was as gooey as Jell-O; the accompanying cranberry beans, meanwhile, seemed orphaned and misplaced. But that would turn out to be, after sampling most of the menu, about the only savory dish I didn’t like. Though lacking in theatrics—don’t come expecting new dishes or cooking styles—Shorty’s .32 excels in competence and consistency.
Shorty’s short ribs, appropriately, are spectacular: two large, lean squares—not too stringy, not too firm—in a rich, syrupy jus. The short ribs are also ground into Shorty’s beef burger, resulting in a richer-than-usual taste. The lightly charred burger, heavy on the salt, sits on a lovely sesame-dotted brioche from Tom Cat Bakery (which would do well to handle the bread that kicks off the meal, as well).
Eden can do more than beef, though. The panfried chicken is similarly straightforward with a crunchy exterior and perfectly moist flesh, along with textbook green beans of all things, snappy and served chilled in a pool of soy sauce. A notch below are the good-but-not-great pork chops, which tasted mild despite heavy doses of cinnamon and maple syrup.
Except for a toasted pound cake, which worked for the reasons the pork belly didn’t—I found the crunchy crust and moist interior compelling—the desserts ran far more mediocre (a burnt bread pudding, humdrum apple tart). No worries: Shorty’s doesn’t strike me as the place for the full three-course buckle-loosener anyway. There are other restaurants more worthy of a cross-city trek. Tasty and reasonable, though, Shorty’s provides Soho locals with a top-notch alternative—whether for dinner or brunch (short-rib hash, anyone?) when Raoul’s fills up down the block.