Mischa
Photograph: Courtesy of Amber Sutherland-Namako
  • Restaurants
  • Midtown East

Mischa

A self-billed New-American restaurant in midtown with room for improvement and some irksome quirks.

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Time Out says

The $29 hot dog at Mischa is fine. It sure is big, for one, and it’s accompanied by a ramekin of chili as comforting as canned, plus five condiments (mustard, relish, kimchi, something approximating chili crisp and alleged pimento cheese that skews closer to aioli) that never quite venture too far from tasting like store-bought, but complete the appearance of abundance, nonetheless. 

It’s also evocative of little other than orchestrated internet virality, recalling social media strategy, rather than, say, warm afternoons at the ballpark, backyard cookouts, or, more likely in NYC, grilling in the park. If you were to buy one in many of those green spaces, instead, it should cost $4 for about an ounce-and-a-half of meat on a squishy bun, according to 2022’s approved pushcart vendor prices. 

Mischa’s fancier frank is stunt-sized at several times that weight in beef and pork, and served in a soft but substantial potato bun. The smiling wiener’s casing has a good snap and its juicy interior is tastier and better textured—a bit more dense—than any of those everyday options, if ultimately still expected. 

If you or someone you know wants a $29 hot dog, to cradle it for a photo, to create a clever hashtag, or use whatever’s already been invented for maximum impact, this is the place to acquire one. Sometimes you get what you pay for, and sometimes you can’t put a price on novelty. It’s this restaurant’s potentially hidden costs that end up vexing. 

I knew I’d made a mistake almost as the words escaped my lips. “Yes, thank you.” 

“Shoot,” I said to my friend, the two of us just barely settling into plush seats at chef Alex Stupak’s post-Empellón venture, which opened adjacent to a midtown food hall in April. “I think I accidentally just bought us an $8 bottle of water.” 

The setting being luxe-light, the menu being generally spendy, and the question being whether we wanted “still water,” I’d made an obvious blunder. “Sparkling or still” typically indicates payment in environs such as this, and I’d momentarily, somehow, forgotten my old “tap is fine” refrain. The fault was mine, and one that would actually cost $10 for a bottle of swiftly delivered Saratoga. To start.  

Having dodged one unsolicited recommendation that landed more like a store credit card offer (for the $19 black hummus), our intentionally ordered Mischa martini ($24) and horseradish margarita with mezcal, cucumber and smoked salt ($20) came quickly, too. 

Both are also fine, though the titular martini’s addition of carrot sticks to vodka isn’t particularly revelatory. Their arrival seemed to abet another weird add-on. 

It is very clear when a plate is inadvertently served. You’ll say something like “I don’t think that’s for us,” and it’ll be rerouted to the right table. Occasionally, it’ll turn out to be yours, indeed, sent out on the house, because the kitchen made extra, or you weren’t a jerk at the host stand, or you’ve been mistaken for an influencer. But I can’t remember ever having experienced any kind of gray area where I’m ostensibly given something that ultimately appears on the tab. 

“Did you know that I hate olives,” I said to my friend, both of us eyeing the handful of sesame-coated, savory fruits authoritatively delivered with the drinks, absent a glimmer of hesitation or pause for protestation. I’d have bet 10 times their eventual price that they were an amuse-bouche, or a slightly more divisive alternative to complimentary bread, or accompaniment to justify the carrot cocktail’s $24 price tag. There simply would have been no way to mistake, in good faith or bad, that we had asked for these olives, or that they were meant for us. That bet would have cost me $110. 

Listed among the sides, the long tots ($15) are another item that seems to aim the spotlight inward. The gimmicky tubes look like the product of a Play-Doh factory, but taste pleasantly surprisingly more like a reinterpreted knish than the assumed taters. The duck and foie gras mortadella appetizer ($24) fares worse, lacking obvious notes of either ingredient, and bland under a toss of crushed pistachios that do little to enliven the dull consistency. 

What’s listed as apple vareniky ($29) among three pasta options sounds promising. At about nine pieces, I’ve seen paltrier presentations, but, after a few bites, we had more than enough, anyway. Though the dumplings’ dough is mostly inoffensive, its purported salt pork is virtually undetectable and its fruit filling is reminiscent of sack school lunches. 

Many of Mischa’s preparations are, to be fair, technically adeptly executed. But reaching to remark on the scallops' proper doneness and nice caramelization, for example—qualities that should be given—isn’t enough to justify the main’s $48 outlay, even with its pairing of similarly finished shrimp on a bed of rice “grits.” 

To add farce to mild frustration, somewhere around our entrées, which also included a bright spot of a faultless, adobo-seasoned, lovely fried chicken with sofrito gravy ($36) another bottle of, this time, unmistakably unasked for Saratoga was uncapped and poured with head-spinning speed, even as our glasses were still half full. 

In several years of professional eating, I’ve only made this bottled water gaffe one other time; in 2021 at a fine dining destination with that unsettling undercurrent of "if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” It wasn’t any more acceptable there than it is here, but that previous place had enough redeeming factors to recommend it, even with that one caveat. Mischa’s more of a stretch. 

As always, likes and clicks move on quickly; their perceived value sometimes fading as swiftly as it started. But, again, if you’ve got somebody in your life who’s a little late to trends, or who’d just get a kick out of an oversized hot dog, by all means, this is the place to book. Just skip most of the rest, and hydrate first.   

Vitals

The Vibe: Comfortably appointed and luxury-adjacent without veering into fine dining; suitable for corporate expense account dinners. 

The Food: The semi-famous $29 hot dog that launched tens of headlines, good fried chicken, and the avoidable rest. 

The Drinks: Serviceable cocktails, wine and beer. Non-buyer beware, un-asked for bottles of water might be served and added to your tab in confusing fashion. 

Mischa is located at 157 East 53rd Street. It is open for lunch Monday-Friday from 11am-3pm and dinner Monday-Saturday from 5pm-10pm; Sunday 9pm. 

Details

Address
157 East 53rd Street
NYC
10022
Opening hours:
Lunch Monday-Friday from 11am-3pm; dinner Monday-Saturday from 5pm-10pm; Sunday 9pm.
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