Spotlight Live

This glorified karaoke spot integrates celebrity-chef dining with American Idol high jinks.

Photo: Talia Simhi

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5

Spicy shrimp curry with jasmine rice

Photo: Talia Simhi

My wife loves American Idol. I love making fun of the fact that she loves American Idol. And then I usually wind up watching it with her. This dynamic pretty much sums up the guilty appeal of Spotlight Live, the karaoke restaurant to end all karaoke restaurants, complete with a stage, four backup singers and a 20-foot JumboTron at the entrance that blasts all the croaking live into Times Square.

As with my wife’s Tuesday evening viewing habits, surviving this experience involves suppressing the gag reflex and embracing the cheesiness. Easier said than done: The menu is bizarre, the service amateurish, and most critically, the cavernous space is packed with bachelorette and teenybopper birthday parties, whose attendees take the stage in singles and groups to screech Kelly Clarkson tunes at decibel levels more appropriate for a construction site.

Yet Spotlight Live, like Idol, actually carries some appeal, thanks to its interactive nature. Rather than simply listening to warbling wanna-bes, tableside computers allow diners to rank singers, review top performances and, best of all, post comments live onto an overhead scoreboard, Simon Cowell--style. Privately suffering through drunk, tone-deaf jackasses? Torture. Publicly ripping drunk, tone-deaf jackasses? Surprisingly good fun, especially since there’s no cover charge.

Unfortunately, occupying a table comes with some kind of imbibing attached to it. Chef Kerry Simon, a veteran of some of New York’s old-time French spots (Lutece, La Cote Basque), has gone Vegas (he now runs a restaurant at the Hard Rock Casino). This is plainly evidenced by a menu that mixes ambitious dishes with tarted up comfort food.

Most of the options are unabashedly down-market and uninspired. Pigs in puff-pastry blankets had the porky taste characteristic of the lowest-end, nitrate-filled rung of the hot-dog ladder; a pepperoni pizza had the kind of thin, loosely floured crust that recalled a good bowling alley version; worst were the “Iron Chef mini-burgers” (Simon somehow won an Iron Chef episode involving ground beef), which had the salty, mealy taste and mouthfeel not unlike a burger that’s been doctored with onion soup mix.

Photo: Talia Simhi

In the moments when the place doesn’t cook down to its customers, the food is okay. Fresh shrimp in a spicy Thai red curry (pictured) had hints of Malaysian sambal; giant onion rings took their cues, in spice and style, from samosas; fries carried a (now ubiquitous) spray of truffle oil. But attempts to appeal at once to the palates of adults and those of ten-year-olds can be disastrous, especially when it happens together in one dish. A perfectly lush tuna tartare laced with wasabi and caviar was unfortunately accompanied by a sauce that tasted just like lime Jell-O.

The only place where the culinary ditziness worked was at the meal’s end, when $7 bought us a giant junk-food sampler dessert tray—Rice Krispie treats, homemade Sno-Balls and a chocolate shake—and a make-your-own sundae kit. Bubblegum food for a bubblegum restaurant.

Of course, food is—and should remain—beside the point here. With enough to drink (besides a full bar and cocktail list, there’s a mediocre beer selection and some decent, reasonably priced wine), Spotlight Live offers enough silly entertainment to be compelling. So compelling, in fact, that halfway through dessert, I found myself on the tableside computer registering to sing. I was thus placed in a queue and informed that my song would be up—in three hours. Thus, the tourists of America were spared my bass voice thumping out Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen” throughout Times Square, and all the singers I’d publicly flamed missed the chance to exact some revenge. Which on both points is probably a good thing.

Spotlight Live, 1604 Broadway between 48th and 49th Sts (212-262-1111). Subway: N, R, W to 49th St. Mon--Thu 5pm--12:30am; Fri 5pm--2:30am; Sat 11am--2:30am; Sun 11am--12:30am. Average main course: $23.