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The Tonic: restorative to an extent

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The Tonic (108 w 18 St) is a mixed bag. The formal dining room offers rich, tasty dishes. A few weeks ago our apps included: Mushroom tart, tuna tartare with seaweed, and a special thick chowder with chorizo, all of which were very good. My main: venison with quince, and brussels sprouts was a very satisfying combination. The venison tasted gamey, as I like it. My companions both of whom had the pintard (guinea fowl) with foie gras said they enjoyed it. Crème brulee with ginger compote (this didn’t really add anything) was fine. As far as my take on the formal dining room goes, I'd agree with the positive comments posted a year and a half ago on this board (circa 3/24/99). I chimed in on a thread about venison a few days ago as my dish had a lot to recommend it, and I looked forward to going back to try the less formal dining room.

And a couple of nights ago I went back. The informal room shares space with the expansive bar (that has good Boddingtons and Pilsner Urquel on tap, by the way). The bar menu includes fish and chips, steak sandwiches and the like. I had the first. A big disappointment. The fries were very poor: faintly brown on the outside, and potato still a little raw inside. The coleslaw was horrid: brown and limp. The fish was coated in a spungy batter that was reminiscent of school lunches. No matter how much salt, pepper, vinegar I put on this dish the tastelessness would not budge. I gave up on the tartare sauce as it tasted like plain hellmans (where were the capers, parsley?). I did have a bite of the steak sandwich, and it was pretty good (why didn't I have that?!). The accompanying huge onion rings were so thick though that the deep-frying was unable to cook them through.

This is a huge restaurant; it feels like twice the size of Gotham. The service was prompt, though in the formal room not always on target (wrong bottle of wine, despite there being at least two sommeliers). Indeed more than prompt. Frenetic. The waiters seemed to run around from table to table. And there didn’t seem to be a reason for this--the place was half-empty. Kind of detracted from the roses. Nice arrangements everywhere.

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    Frank Language

    When you say "huge room", I have to ask: is this the place that used to be called America? (Never went there, but as I recall, it was a place spectacular in its mediocrity: one reviewer noted the "Dream-Whipped mashed potatoes".)

    It's also telling that you characterize the place as "half-empty" rather than "half-full". Guess I'm going to miss this one too.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Frank Language

      Alas, America is still there in its half-baked glory, serving the mediocre food of all of our fifty states.

      1. re: Pepper
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        Frank Language

        "Alas, America is still there in its half-baked glory, serving the mediocre food of all of our fifty states."

        Funny, because nobody talks about it anymore - at all. I wonder: can you get Pop-Tarts with your brunch order? Empire Diner still serves Kellogg's Corn Flakes (to the tune of $5 a bowl).

      2. re: Frank Language

        Tonic is where Harvey's Chelsea used to be.

        1. re: Frank Language
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          yvonne johnson

          You're right, I guess I would've said "half-full" if I'd been happier on my second visit!

          Re giving the place a miss: the food in the formal bit is really quite good. But what I don't get is: How can the same kitchen produce such mixed results? Maybe the bar menu dishes have been delegated to an underling. Afterall, the chef (Gesualdi, formerly of Montrachet) can cook.