Le Zinc report
- Leslie Brenner
Found ourselves in downtown Manhattan on a rainy Friday night at 9:30, hungry and without a reservation. Felt like going a little upscale since I was, unusually, with husband and not child. Aha! I thought. Le Zinc--that bistro opened by the Waltucks of Chanterelle. No way we would get in, though, I thought. Called on the cell and they said usually it would be a long wait on a Friday, but the rain was keeping people in (or out). They guessed twenty minutes.
We arrived, and were--miracle of miracles--seated instantly. We squeezed into a corner booth. They kind of pack 'em in there. It's a fun-looking room, with a high-vaulted ceiling, sort of like a train station. Appealing contemporary art posters are pasted on the walls. The acoustics, in that full room, were absolutely the worst--THE WORST!--I have ever experienced. The server leaned over us to take our order. "I can't hear you!" she shouted. You can imagine--I'm not a low-talker.
An order of assorted charcuterie sounded large enough to share, so we did. We downed an entire basket of excellent, really crusty bread while we waited--not because it took long, but because the bread was so irresistible. Our wine arrived, a '98 Jaboulet Croze-Hermitage Les Jalets, which seemed like a good deal at $25 or so. It was the lightest Jaboulet Les Jalets I've ever tasted--would have mistaken it for a garden-variety beajolais if I tasted it blind. Charcuterie came. A quenelle-shaped portion of chopped chicken liver--smooth and a bit bland. Several other decent patés, including a venison pate with dried cherries and a pretty good rabbit terrine. A little salad on the plate, along with something that looked like cornichons but tasted like bread-n-butter pickles.
My husband tried to order a pork shank, and the server said "Oh, they should have told you we're out of it." Who "they"? Isn't that up to the server when you get the menus? The coat check attendant should have told us? He ordered a pork chop charcutiere instead. That arrived perfectly cooked, just a little pink in the middle, with a tangy, interesting charcutiere sauce. Along with a layered potato dish that was so salty it was inedible. My husband ate it anyway. Garnished with really boring sugar snap peas that added nothing to the overall picture. I had a Hungarian style stuffed cabbage, filled with pork and basmati rice that was supposed to have some jasmine scent or other. (That was how the server described it.) Of course it wsa just a hearty hungarian-style stuffed cabbage, so any subtle scent would have been lost, and was, if it was ever there. It was tasty and satisfying, though terribly undersalted. Wasn't anyone tasting the food in there? Again--the dumb sugar snap peas, even dumber with my dish.
Our server disappeared halfway through dinner, though we saw her working the other side of the room. We got a new one, with no apparent reason. We shared something called a bete noir for dessert, a dense flourless chocolate cake with chocolate-flavored whipped cream. Just okay.
We had fun, though we had to choose our words carefully since it was so hard to hear each other, even though we were at on banquettes at the corner table! A word, though, about the use of the descriptor "bistro." Bistros are comfortable and cozy. This was much more like a brasserie in atmosphere--loud, pretty bright, and kind of raucous. Food was decent, though I won't be back anytime soon.
Yeah, I have to agree with your assessment, except that I don't think I'll be back at all.
Maybe my expectations were too high, but my overall impression is that the food is in the pretty disappointing-to-nothing special range. And that we're paying for the room because tripe stew with jasmine rice does not make a $20-ish entree. Maybe it was all the ginger in there because man was there a lot of it. As a starter I had a hot and sour venison soup which was also overseasoned and way too large a portion. Actually I thought all of their plates were too big. You just don't learn more about a dish on the 30th bite. We also had the duck spring rolls and my friend had the roast chicken which was good enough just not memorable.
And the service--we had to ask four times for water refills and the wine we ordered wasn't chilled enough and the waiter presented it to us as if there was nothing that could be done so take it or leave it. Hello? An ice bucket might work. Not a huge crisis, but just sort of exasperating after being seated for 10 mins without menus.
I, too, have to agree with your review. Not really worth a repeat trip. We had three apps, the pig's foot cake, house cured salmon, and fritters (can't remember the type). The pig's foot cake was odd and dry, the fritters were okay, and the salmon was undercured and very fatty. The dressing on the salad with the salmon was sooo acidic, yuk. Mains were better - we did have the pork shank (incredibly rich) with orzo and those ridiculous sugar snaps, not bad. Also, we had skate with fries (and sugar snaps), probably the best dish, very simple and classically prepared, and the tripe in tomato sauce. The tripe was very mild, pleasant but not great.
The oddest part of our evening came when we were initially seated. Two of us were seated on the banquet, which was not that comfortable, but my boyfriend was in one of the chairs. He noticed a nail protruding from the seat digging into his leg, and called the hostess/manager's attention to it. She said oh yes, we've been having trouble with these chairs, and brought him another. With another nail!!! I was surprised that they were aware of the problem with the chairs, and were still using them. Russian roulette for your rump.
It's certainly reasonable - $105 for three with apps/mains/desserts and wine, but very mediocre in quality.
I MIGHT go back IF....if, as one of my companions commented, someone gives "a box of salt to the meat station." The crispy duck wings would have been good if they had been prepared with any salt at all--odd, since the accompanying fermented bean/hoisin-based sauce was so salty it was inedible. A terrine with foie gras was served icy cold so it was hard to tell if it tasted of much. The best dish of the evening, hands down, was spicy lamb sausage grilled in grape leaves. Delicious.A pork chop that was obviously a beautiful piece of meat was utterly devoid of any flavor whatsoever, a flaw shared by the braised beef and accompanying vegetables. Our side vegetables were sad, washed-out little snow peas rather than sugar snaps. I thought sauces were problematic at best. The sauce on the pork chop was mediocre--but the utter blandness of the meat may have had something to do with my impression-- as was that of the braised beef. The best entree we tried was the monkfish which was alright but nothing more, and the only entree that we didn't have to upend a salt shaker over. I might return for some of those duck wings and the lamb sausage with a glass of wine, but I was pretty underwhelmed by the entrees. And our table was HORRIBLE and should not exist in any restaurant, no matter how casual. We were seated next to a table for two that was in the corner of the banquette. Out table was on the outside end of the banquette near the kitchen door. Each time a server delivered to or removed a plate from the table for two or poured wine or water or spoke to the party at the two-top I, who was seated facing my two friends who were on the banquette, had to not just duck but move in order to allow the server access to the other table. Do that ten times during a meal and see if it doesn't tend to make you a little cranky.
Hey--Le Zinc isn't so bad. In fact, I rather like the place, while realizing it's a neighborhood restaurant, more like like Odeon or the Independent than like the big-ticket destination places. It is not, to put it mildly, Chanterelle.
But the wine list is filled with inexpensive, interesting things to try, the fries are swell, and somebody in the kitchen sure knows how to saute fish, especially skate. And it's open super-late, which is usefull to those of us who have eaten Odeon's country salad one too many times. Just don't expect a four-star meal.
I hardly went with Chanterelle-like expectations. I would have been thrilled if it had even approached my beloved Odeon, which I've been haunting since I was practically a child. I might return for the duck wings and lamb sausage, but my previous negative comments stand. And if they try to give you that table from hell, I'd pass.