The Red Cat and Varietal: Brief Reviews
Went to the Red Cat for the third time last night, and once again enjoyed it thoroughly.
We started with lobster pierogies with mushrooms as well as the tempura green beans. The green beans were as good as ever but I think the mustard dipping sauce wasn't as hot as it's been in the past. Still good, but I'd like it spicier.
I had a sea bass dish (special) which was excellent. I also tried the skate, which was delicious and served somewhat similar to the traditional grenobloise style (capers, instead of caperberries, brown butter sauce, etc.). Very large portion of skate.
We washed it all down with a light but interesting white Bordeaux called La Rame (2005).
We then went over to Varietal which, in my opinion, is a case of The Emperor's new clothes. Average selection of wine (served too warm), questionable design choices and an overall incongruent feel to the place. We enjoyed it though (how hard is it to enjoy wine and intelligent conversation with great people?), especially the wine glass chandelier - it's not as over the top/kitschy as some have suggested - but the stools were more an experiment of style than of function. Not at all comfortable and unsettling in the getting on/off experience.
I think this place is doomed. It's been twelve weeks since it opened, there was nobody in the restaurant/bar at midnight on a Thursday night and they just don't seem to have a good handle on what they want to be. Just look at the space (modern, bright white, a little Sunset Strip circa 2005 meets I Dream of Jeanie) and look at the chef Ed Witt (tattoos galore and a CV that includes the refined Il Buco). It's an inconsistent, way-too-juxtaposed concept to survive. Not to mention Ed Witt's decision to never serve kobe beef or foie gras based on the treatment of said animals - yet he serves octopus, which I promise you goes through much more painful and traumatic last moments than any duck living on Ariane Daughin's farm.
In any event, a fun night for sure with some consistently good food at the Red Cat.
I have to say ... the numerous times I have eaten here the food has been nothing but pleasing. Really Really delicious. But never eat there on Sunday .... the two time I have eaten there on Sunday have been nothing but dissapointing ... Just goes to show, that the chef makes the difference.
I too had mixed feelings about Varietal. I went to for a Valentines day prix fix with bf. We secured a 6:45 reservation (their only other availability was 9:30). We arrived within 8 minutes of our reservation time, but they couldn't find us - even after i had confirmed the day before. They didn't hesitate to seat us, and justly so, as only three other tables were filled.
The food was consistently fair to good on my end but bf's selections were a bit underwhelming. Nothing unusual - duck sausage, oyster risotto, prawns, grass fed beef, grilled bass, grilled porcini. In my opinion, priced too steep. I'd heard from someone about how they had 75 glasses of wine on the wine list but could only see about 30-35? Did I just imagine hearing about that? Dessert was indeed very good. Mine looked like a Jackson Pollock piece with interesting textural details, beet juice reduction, edible celophane, and chocolate "skin". Bf's selection was again not as interesting or tasty as mine - a white chocolate confection that i remember as being too sweet for my taste.
Service was consistently good throughout the entire dinner service. The decor was fine -minimal -yes, lighting perfect. Loved the wine glass chandelier. What struck me most about the place was how empty it was - even taking into account the snowstorm. No more than 3 other groups entered the dining room after us, and it was a bit depressing. Funny thing is, after I got back to the office the next day, a voicemail message from 6:53 pm the night before, was awaiting me from the restaurant, stating that they were still holding a table for my party. Odd.
I think one of the things the owners of Varietal are hoping will put them on the map, so to speak, i.e., make it a destination spot, is the desserts via pastry chef Jordan Kahn, formerly of Alinea. From the desciptions I've read, they have zero appeal to me. While I'm happy with some creativity, I draw the line at out-and-out experimentation with what, in my view, are totally weird combinations and flavors. If that labels me a culinary wimp, so be it. I guess you can tell I'm not rushing to this place.
Coincidentally, Moira Hodgson of the New York Observer also visited Varietal and wrote about it this week. Her take on the restaurant praises many dishes. Maybe 12 weeks is too soon to raise a death knell on a new restaurant and stating that a space is empty at midnight on a Thursday night is premature. After all, it's not a disco in the Chelsea area.
Click here for the review:
I'm sure much of the food is great, and can't speak on it first-hand. But the concept as a whole is awkward. And the room itself is remarkably boring, save for the chandelier. But those generic photos of grapes on a vine are a little effortless in my opinion.
And the cost of the dishes? Forget about it. They need to rethink the prices if they plan on selling them to a lot of people. I can't see myself eating there, and there are far nicer looking/more comfortable wine bars to go to instead.