Floyd Cardoz was a fixture of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality empire long before burger-world domination was even a blip in the mogul’s brain. First, there was Tabla, Meyer’s late-’90s New Delhi temple that served the Bombay chef’s bewitching, haute-Indian cuisine for 12 years in Flatiron. Then, North End Grill, the Battery Park City brasserie where Cardoz turned the dial down on his famed South Asian spice in favor of mass-appeal American.
Fast-forward to this past April, when Cardoz announced he was parting ways, amicably, with Meyer to return to his Indian roots. The resulting restaurant isn’t that promised fever pitch of cumin, cardamom and clove but a too-restrained exercise in “global-influenced” fare, a thematic about-face that bewilders as readily as the space stuns.
And a spectacular place it is, draped in jade curtains and gleaming white linen, with black tufted-leather booths parked beneath crystal chandeliers and stately ceilings. The luxe dining room pulses with a power crowd—Charlie Rose was spotted talking shop over crabmeat cocktails—not a shock, given that media bigwigs Dan Abrams (Nightline) and Men’s Fitness editorial director Dave Zinczenko, are partners.
It’s a shame, then, that Cardoz’s meandering menu largely can’t live up to the lofty expectations of the room. It’s hard to botch burrata ($15), humbly festooned here with Arbequina olive oil, Long Island sea salt and toasted bread, but cutting into the creamy orb fails to elicit that crucial ooze. Pure fromage heartbreak.
A half head of cauliflower is roasted into a dreadful mush, made all the more soul-crushing that you have to fork over $14 for it. (Luckily for you, the offending veg is now off the menu.) But that retail guilt is nothing compared to the aged ribeye, which, at $66 for one, should be a marble-laced, mineral-tang wonder, but instead arrives rubbery enough to give you TMJ.
Better are the beef short ribs ($34), braised to a melt and nestled in a bed of Anson Mills grits jolted with horseradish and mustard, topped with a thatch of crunchy, fried shoestring potatoes.
But Cardoz is still at his most fetching when pulling from his native spice rack. Squid-ink bucatini ($21) gets a hearty splash of coconut milk, laced with coriander and turmeric to check the hunks of sweet Nova Scotia lobster tangled in the blackened strands. It’s almost enough to forgive the under-cooked pasta. Pumpkin soup ($12), in eye-rolling ubiquity this time of year, is invigorated with a masala’s worth of cinnamon, clove and Aleppo pepper.
Off Meyer’s leash, Cardoz has the room to roam. He just has to figure out where he’s going.