Approach The Golden Swan’s 11th Street address (the same one previously occupied by The Spotted Pig; a restaurant that cycled through hospitality’s highest highs and its most disturbing lows before closing in disgrace in January of 2020), and a host stands guard outside. It’s dated, alienating and impractical, creating a truly goofy pseudo exclusively reminiscent of comical red velvet ropes rather than what I imagine is a stab at the gatekeeping of proprietor Matt Abramcyk’s early-aughts Beatrice Inn. “We’re trying to create a clubhouse without being a membership club,” Abramcyk told The Wall Street Journal; a conceit that, if landed, would only evoke the worst of both worlds.
What might have seemed impressive in 2006 is a naked affectation today, but this introduction is more than just an eye-roller. What’s inside is rather nice, and the pre-entry pomp does it a disservice.
The once cluttered, grandma-tavern aesthetic that enraptured fans of celebrities and burgers for sixteen years is gone; with it, the once-ubiquitous pigs. The first floor space they’ve dubbed the Wallace Room is now awash in pretty shades of gleaming emerald and chartreuse. Essentially the bar component, the food down here is a bit different than the fancier affair upstairs, and, though still expensive, a bit less-so. The second-story dining room (“Dining Room”) is vaguely mid-century pretty, done in hues of warm beige with comfortable seats fit for grown-ups.
The cocktail menu is twice as long and half as good as it needs to be, but this has been the norm all over town for a while. The takes on Manhattans and martinis ($19-$23) are fine, but their actual, off-menu antecedents ($20-variable) are better, even if the latter of those originals isn’t cold enough. In the dining room, drinks ordered on the rocks recently arrived up, also not an infrequent occurrence elsewhere. There’s wine.
Trappings and citywide bar program blight aside, talented chef Doug Brixton’s menus are excellent. Recently departed from now-closed Bâtard, which was on our list of NYC’s best restaurants until its final day, his Golden Swan preparations are billed as French-Mediterranean.
The steak tartare ($34), the only dish available in both spaces, caviar aside, is exemplar. It’s dressed up with garlic aioli that needn’t scare mayo haters away, a brown butter emulsion, Parmesan flakes and a few dainty greens, but its plump minced tenderloin still stars.
A poached halibut looks ridiculous, plain-white and Jetsons-like, though this is, I concede, ideal rich person plating; real peak-Goop kind of stuff, like what they’d have been eating in the Flugelheim museum in Batman (1989). But—joke’s on me!—is another impeccable item. Its accompanying tableside dash of saffron beurre blanc adds required color, if not much else, but the fish itself is as light and mild to taste and gently firm to touch as any perfect such specimen in creation. The garnish-portioned artichoke beside it has flavor a few times its allotted size, bolstered by the best smoked trout roe I’ve had in a while. Real sides are separate, and the pleasant tri-color cauliflower with garam masala, labneh and mint ($15) also livens up the look a bit.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Golden Swan’s Crescent duck ($48; named for the local farm that boasts “nutritionally enhanced” birds) has a vibrant blush throughout its wedge duo. Its skin is rightly crisp, its fat is properly rendered and its texture is near-velvety to make for one flawless waterfowl. Its own little accoutrement creates a banner moment for beets. They’re sliced thin, folded and filled with shallots that have been coated in butter, sage, rosemary and thyme, slow-cooked, caramelized and puréed to sensational effect. It's a sweet, savory, special couple of bites served in just the right amount.
It might take a moment to get off the ground, but The Golden Swan takes flight.
The Vibe: After an unnecessary checkpoint outside, The Golden Swan is graceful, lovely and comfortable.
The Food: Excellently-executed French and Mediterranean-influenced menus with fantastic steak tartare and perfectly finished duck.
The Drinks: Cocktails, wine and beer.
The Golden Swan is located at 314 West 11th Street. It is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 5pm to 12am and Thursday-Saturday from 5pm-1am.