If the cutesy name or hyperspecific genre—that would be “new wave French food,” FYI—doesn’t initially turn you off Le Turtle, the joint venture between Taavo Somer (Freemans) and Carlos Quirarte (the Smile), the restaurant’s website just might. In your search for operating hours or a dinner menu, you’ll be inundated with trippy, rotating clips of nude women, floating sheet ghosts, and Oscar Isaac and Sonoya Mizuno getting their groove on in scenes from Ex Machina. The whole effect is that of a film made by a performance-art undergrad who just discovered Final Cut Pro.
That try-hard capital-T trendiness extends as much to the restaurant’s physical space as it does to that of its digital: Sitting cool on the corner of Chrystie and Rivington streets, the 18-table effort is bathed in neon lights, draped in pink velvet and Horween leather, and set to a soundtrack of French hip-hop. The waitstaff is costumed in baggy, steel-gray prison jumpsuits that look like castoffs from Yeezy Season 3. With their designer T-shirts, glossy faux-mink vests and outlandishly high-waisted jeans, diners, on display atop an elevated nook and from behind two-way mirrors seen from the bathroom, fittingly resemble Kanye’s in-laws.
It’s a shame that all of that c’est-chic showiness threatens to overshadow the food. Blanca alum Greg Proechel steers the taut menu on a course between primal and polished. Of the former, there’s craggy, earthy hunks of Roberta’s bread with three smudges of house butter (Normandy, escargot and seaweed varieties; $6); an unceremonious pile of romaine leaves dressed in briny anchovy bread crumbs and confited garlic ($14); and, most emphatically, Proechel’s whole Sasso chicken for two ($58).
You smell it before you see it: flame-char and fowl-funk wafting from the ovens into the dining room, so virile they cling to your coat long after you’ve paid the check. Before whisking it back to the kitchen for carving, a server first presents the bird to the table, nested in radicchio and hay that’s been set on fire. It’s a showstopping sight, but one obstructed by a gridlock of iPhones trying to find the light. And its lavishly juicy flesh—brined for nearly two days and dried for three, so it’s intermittently crispy and fatty—is trammeled by an oppressively acrid salad of rutabaga, chicory and pumpkin vinaigrette.
From the more refined end, there are soft tufts of house-churned cheese with roasted kabocha squash, blackened endive and rye crumbles ($13), nailing the bittersweet profile that eluded the chicken’s side salad. A citrus-poached Maine lobster tail and claw comes mosaicked with Asian pear, aji dulce peppers and dustings of pulverized tarragon, but even with all those ornaments, it’s still too paltry for its $29 price tag. A kohlrabi bisque ($16) is the standout here, rich with cream and ham stock, and rimmed on one side with plump pellets of lamb belly, smoked cabbage and mustard seeds. It could be a touch hotter, but I suppose when you’re this “cool," there’s no room for warmth.