Inside Park at St. Bart's

Go to church for some of NYC's best Greenmarket cooking.

Striped bass meunire with fried capers and seasonal vegetables

Striped bass meunire with fried capers and seasonal vegetables Photo: Roxana Marroquin

Time Out Ratings :

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

On a recent weeknight, Inside Park at St. Bart’s was a very sad place, and not just because of its sober devotional setting within the Great Hall of the St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church. The five-month-old restaurant—a classic Woody Allen set piece with a ragtime soundtrack and cinematic Park Avenue locale—features some of the city’s finest Greenmarket cooking. Nonetheless, at prime time that night the dining room was so dead there might as well have been tumbleweeds blowing in through the front door.

An ambitious midtown restaurant—traffic picked up somewhat on a midday visit—can’t survive on half-full lunch service alone. While lesser competitors limp through the recession, Inside Park is one struggling spot that actually deserves our dining dollars. Consider this endorsement an enthusiastic third-party plea for your patronage.

Matthew Weingarten, former chef de cuisine at Peter Hoffman’s Savoy in Soho, does his mentor proud with a superlative roster of locally sourced, homey-elegant fare. While the space, lit overhead with churchy votives, doesn’t quite do justice to the kitchen’s fine work—there are too many vestiges of its institutional past—it’s hardly a deal breaker. Management, making the best of what they had to work with, has transformed the stage at the end of the vast dining room into extra seating, backed by an enormous screen depicting a slide show of serene outdoor shots.

Shrugging off the discomfort of dining with only the waitstaff for company, we managed to eke out a plenty enjoyable meal. Though the up-tempo music helped lighten the mood, the food—beginning with complimentary house-pickled vegetables and warm Parker House rolls—was the real savior.

In addition to the usual apps and entres (portions here are across-the-board generous), Weingarten offers an intriguing variety of shareable small plates. We mixed and matched a selection of three as a starter—the fatty whole-hog rillettes, lush monkfish liver (essentially an aquatic foie gras terrine) and battered pungent Hooligan cheese (deep-fried with a crust of brioche, stuffed with sage and apricot jam).

There’s a nostalgic bent to Weingarten’s food. Among his updates of American classics is a beautiful oyster pan roast featuring bivalves still in the shell—barely poached in a creamy seaweed broth—with celery root, leeks and thick smoky bacon. His tender grass-fed rib eye comes with a sweet-onion triumvirate (crispy fried shallots, white-onion puree, and red onions in saba vinegar) and bchamel-sauced brussels-sprout gratin.

The chef also dabbles in throwback French preparations. His striped bass meunire features a gorgeous fillet drenched in brown butter and surrounded by crunchy fried capers and a medley of seasonal sides (braised sweet-and-sour radicchio, purple and green heirloom cauliflower). The chicken pot-au-feu offered at lunch is a delicious booster shot for fighting off whatever might be going around, with fortified broth, root vegetables and a crisp-skinned breast topped with lemon zest, parsley and raw slivered garlic.

Desserts by Miran Shim, who last ran a bakeshop in New Jersey, are as elegant as they are old-fashioned. Her bread pudding, crisp on top and buttery within, comes crowned with tart mulberries and sweet candied pecans, while her baked Alaska—pitch-perfect chewy meringue over a raspberry sorbet and chocolate-cake filling—makes a solid case for that classic’s revival.

Hurry in, do your part, before the Ladies Auxiliary takes back the space—or some forward-thinking restaurateur lures Weingarten and Shim to a more suitable, high-traffic setting.

109 E 50th St at Park Ave (212-593-3333). Subway: E, V to Lexington Ave--53rd St; 6 to 51st St. Mon--Sat 11:30am--10pm. Average main course: $28.