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Varietal

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I plan on trying out this new wine-focused restaurant in Chelsea tomorrow night. Anyone been?

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  1. I went last week. It's good, not great, and overpriced (most entrees $30+, 4-course dessert tasting $35). I'd been to Perry Street a few days earlier, so it may have been a bit unfair to Varietal because we were certainly comparing. Here's how the meal went:

    The space is fairly minimalist, but nice. It was all but empty when we were there. 3 other tables occupied, one couple at the bar. Of those 3 tables, one was occupied by a guy who appeared to be eating every dessert on the menu.

    Service is pretty good. Friendly and informative, but it sort of has to be, since there are 75 wines by the glass on offer and a fair amount of unusual ingredients. It was a very chatty meal, in part because it was so quiet, in part because we had no idea what wolfberry was. The wine selection IS pretty good, and the prices are really fair for the wine--lots of glasses, if I remember correctly, for under $10. They pour you a small taste and are happy to talk with you about it if you'd like something different.

    The amuse was salt cod with blood orange and one celery leaf. We shared a poached apple appetizer. The entrees were horseradish encrusted lamb and pork two ways--belly and loin. Everything was, again, good, but there was nothing surprising or interesting about the dishes. The pork was the least good of the three, as the loin was too chewy. It's Flying Pigs pork, which is usually fabulous, but they needed to cook it differently to infuse more flavor into this lean cut. The belly was good, of course, but what restaurant in NY doesn't serve belly these days and where isn't it good? Charge me $10 less for these entrees and I'm going to be less judgemental. Considering I'd gotten a 3 course meal for $24 a few days earlier at Perry Street, my expectations again may have been too high.

    Dessert. Dessert, of course, was the whole reason for going there. The greatest dessert experience I've ever had was my dessert tasting at WD-50 when Sam Mason was there, so again, I went in with high expectations. We had the tasting, and it was good. Google will help you find pictures of all the desserts. Everything is very crazy looking, like a Jackson Pollack on the plate, with lots of different flavors. Some of the flavors are really great--the mushroom caramel stood out--but the problem was that every plate looked more or less the same and used the same formula. The serving sizes were way off too. Each of the 4 desserts appeared to be full size desserts, rather than scaled down desserts. This meant that we were way too full by meal's end and, worse, you got kind of bored by the dessert before you finished. I'm a big believer in the 2-3 bite serving size in a tasting menu.

    My recs: Keep the meal small before you drop too much cash on something that you might find not too exciting. Sit at the bar, split an app, split an entree, get two desserts, enjoy the wine selection. Then go to Perry Street for lunch the next day.

    1. well, Jordan Kahn is the dessert chef...which is a relatively big deal.

      the wine list shows promise.

      the savories need work.