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Bar Americain - it's the little things that go wrong

b
binkis Mar 22, 2007 10:30 PM

I took my brother to Bar Americain for dinner tonight. I'm a pretty experienced foodie, but this was my first time eating Bobby Flay's food.

Overall, the food was pretty good, though not at all memorable. The bread basket they brought was really lame, with a few small, thin pieces of bread and one roll. For apps, I had the chicory salad with bacon and a poached egg. Quite good, but certainly nothing special and a touch over-dressed. My brother had the Johnny Cake with Duck. That was delicious.

As my entree, I had the Rack of Pork with mashed potatoes (those damned potatoes - more later on that), which was fantastic. The first bite of the "chop" (it's actually a chop off the rib rack) was exactly the chargrilled porky goodness I was hoping for. The mashed potatoes were completely forgettable, and were pissing me off for another reason I'll get to in a second. I had the spinach on the side, which I have to say was some of the best spinach I've ever had.

The strange thing about the dish was that it didn't hold up, and I'm not sure why. By the time I was halfway through the pork chop, it was suddenly a better-than-average pork chop, but had lost that particularly special quality that the first bite or two had. *Really* good food doesn't do that.

My brother had a fish entree that he liked quite a bit. (I didn't try it.) We also ordered the Brooklyn Hash Browns, which we were told are modeled after Peter Luger's hash browns, but were dry, brittle and not well seasoned. Ick.

Desserts were fine - nothing too memorable. They get a bonus point for having some quality tea, though!

But here's my real beef: My pork plate came with mashed potatoes, which I didn't really want. I asked if I could get the spinach instead of the potatoes and was told that the potatoes were part of the makeup of the plate and couldn't be substituted. (The potatoes are listed as a side dish to purchase as well.) So yes, I paid the $9 (!) for the spinach. When the plate arrived, the potatoes were just lumped on the plate in their spot. The chop wasn't on them and it wasn't an elemental piece of the plate. For me, things like this tell me that their focus is not on meeting the customer's needs, but on either (1) fulfilling the chef's "vision" no matter what, or (2) forcing the customer to buy the additional side dish they want. That issue alone would make me not return. There are too many restaurants which are too eager to please their customer to make me head back to place that doesn't seem interested.

Final grades:
Food: B (with a few big disappointments)
Service: A (the wait staff was terrific)
Misc: D (lack of accommodation is such a big thing for me)
[I know that spells "bad" but that's just coincidence....]

  1. c
    carlywood Mar 31, 2007 09:34 AM

    I was not impressed with Bar Americain. I went there for my 28th birthday celebration with four other people. I wrote a big thing about it in my post about asking if Tavern on the Green was really that bad. I changed our reservation and ended up at B.A. instead. This was my first Bobby Flay experience and I was really looking forward to it. I'm a big fan of simple dishes and the menu sounded excellent.

    However, I can only give the food a C+ at best. While my New York Strip was cooked perfectly, I was underwhelmed by the homemade steak sauce, the overcooked asparagus and the overly spiced Brooklyn hash. I was doubly disappointed with my dessert, a sticky toffee bread pudding, which the dessert chef added Jack Daniels too. This was not told to me until AFTER I ordered it and started eating it. Supposedly, her thing is to add liquor to one of the desserts each night, and I was the lucky one. I would not have gotten it if I had known.

    Sure, service was good and the atmosphere was nice, but it wasn't enough to make up for the food.

    And I agree with the person who defended not returning to a restaurant after having a so-so or not so great experience. When a meal costs this much, there is no reason to return to try it again. On top of this, there are way too many other places in New York to check out.

    6 Replies
    1. re: carlywood
      r
      RGR Mar 31, 2007 11:16 AM

      That person would be me, carlywood. I'm sorry you had such a disappointing experience at Bar Americain though I hate to say it, but it doesn't surprise me. And it's especially distressing that it happened when you were celebrating a special occasion. Despite all the fans it has on this board and their gushing about how "awesome" the food is, my one experience was terrible, and I have no intention of giving B.A. a second chance.

      1. re: RGR
        DoctortedNYC Mar 31, 2007 01:34 PM

        Once again, i would disagree. Many of carlywoods complaints seemed to be one of preference. being "underwhelmed" by something doesnt make it bad..neither too spicy. Why just request they change the dessert?

        1. re: DoctortedNYC
          c
          carlywood Apr 1, 2007 08:40 AM

          Overcooked asparagus and overly salty/spiced potatoes aren't really subjective.

          Also, I was a good 1/3 of a way done with my dessert when the waiter came over to inform me that Jack Daniels had been added. I picked up on the taste of something peculiar within the first bite, but I thought maybe I was being too sensitive to the unfamiliar flavor.

          BTW, this forum is about giving your opinion and someone reading my post can decide for themselves if Bar Americain is worth going to. Conversely, I have given my two cents on good experiences that I've had at other restaurants, and people again have the option to take that for what it's worth. I'm sorry you seem to be offended by what I thought of the place, DoctortedNYC, but hopefully someone will go based on what you think and enjoy themselves.

          1. re: DoctortedNYC
            g
            garden Apr 1, 2007 11:01 AM

            I strongly support you, DoctoredNYC. I like your perspective and agree with your tastes. Bar Americain was recommended to me by some of my colleagues and I was amazed. Yes: amazed, awesome, outstanding are definitely words worth giving the quality of food at this place. And whenever I suggest the restaurant to others, it's been a hit. LOVE THIS PLACE.

            1. re: garden
              j
              jsmitty Apr 1, 2007 06:13 PM

              i surely think there are better restaurants in nyc, but the space is terrific(the old JUdson Grill), the atmosphee uplifting, and the food evenly good..... i think it is the perfect place to recommend to an out-of-towner. bobby flay i think is talented at making his restaurants accessible in style and food....

              1. re: jsmitty
                DoctortedNYC Apr 1, 2007 07:10 PM

                I consider myself a foodie and have had the good fortune to have been eating out in good restaurants since i was young. In fact, my family has been in the restaurant/catering business a long time. As a kid i used to envy other kids who ate at home, we used to eat out so much. That so, i agree wholeheatedly with jsmitty. BA is not the best restaurant in NYC nor is its food. But i enjoyed it. Fun place, decent food, nice service. To make an analogy, for example, i really liked Eleven Mad Park all around; but given a choice i would prefer the more daring, fun and interesting BA over EMP.

      2. m
        MinhLikesFood Mar 26, 2007 01:39 PM

        I wasn't too impressed with Bar Americain either, acutally preferred Mesa Grill much more. But my favorite part of the night was that I was seated at a table that faced right into the kitchen, and I just watched as Flay walked back and forth in front of the kitchen on his cell phone all night long. I know he's a busy guy and all, but come on...

        1 Reply
        1. re: MinhLikesFood
          DoctortedNYC Mar 26, 2007 02:38 PM

          Binkis
          Thx for your excellent observations. You definitely have gotten me to look forward to going.
          Will be going Wednesday and will report asap thereafter

        2. r
          RGR Mar 23, 2007 08:30 AM

          Although Bar Americain has lots of fans on this board, as regulars know, I am definitely not one of them. We had dinner there once, and once was once too often. I ordered a lamb dish that, acc. to the menu, had a sweet potato gratin accompaniment. What I was served was lamb that had lots of bone and hardly any meat. And what there was of the meat was tasteless. The so-called "gratin" consisted of exactly two little slivers of sweet potato. To say I was aghast is putting it mildly. I don't recall what my husband had, but he was more satisfied. However, we ordered some sort of ice cream dessert to share and, though he is more of an ice cream fanatic than I am, even he thought it was disgusting. Adding insult to proverbial injury was the very expensive cost.

          I am not a Bobby Flay basher. We've had good meals at Bolo and, many years ago at Mesa Grill. A restaurant only has one chance to make a first impression, and the impression I was left regarding Bar Americain is that the food is awful.

          12 Replies
          1. re: RGR
            DoctortedNYC Mar 23, 2007 10:18 AM

            Sorry the food is not awful at BA. Nor is it fabulous, it is very good thoug. Read my review

            1. re: DoctortedNYC
              steve h. Mar 23, 2007 01:27 PM

              i agree with the good doctor: bar americain can be a pleasure. i prefer to eat at the bar. drinks are strong and the service friendly. i can recommend the mussels, the seafood cocktails and the artisinal ham. the chips with bleu cheese sauce are way too much fun.

              1. re: steve h.
                r
                RGR Mar 23, 2007 01:43 PM

                Oh, goodie! Another place where we disagree. lol

                1. re: RGR
                  n
                  nyccookie Mar 23, 2007 02:43 PM

                  I love Bar Americain! I REALLY think it's unfair to judge a restaurant based off of 1 time.

                  It's consistently and exceptionally excellent whenever I go.

                  My faves are the grilled pizza, cocktail tasting, ribeye steak and sticky toffee pudding sundae.

                  1. re: nyccookie
                    r
                    RGR Mar 23, 2007 03:37 PM

                    Do I take it that when you go to a restaurant for the first time and have a truly awful meal that also happens to cost a not inconsiderable amount of money, you have no problem trying it again?

                    If that is your m.o. when it comes to restaurant dining, then you and I have very different approaches.

                    If there had been at least some redeeming features to the food I had, I might have considered giving Bar Americain a second chance. However, that was definitely not the case. As I said in my earlier post, a restaurant has only one chance to make a first impression. In Bar American's case, the impression I took away was that it does not deserve a second chance. There are too many other restaurants that I do want to go back to because I truly enjoyed the food, to say nothing of the ones I have yet to try.

                    1. re: RGR
                      DoctortedNYC Mar 23, 2007 04:11 PM

                      RGR ;

                      You are entitled to your opinion and I think we all have experienced the feeling of having a mediocr meal at a highly touted restaurant at outragous prices. Case in point: I felt my experiences at The Modern[dining room] and Lever House in no way lived up to reviews or my expectations: however I didnt feel they were awful. I approached BA with trepidation due to lots of +/- reviews. I enjoyed it. It neither blew my socks off or disappointed. I find it hard, considering the dishes are not overly complex or fussy, to find how they can be awful.I had the Kentucky Hot Brown. Alot of people might consider turkey over a piece of white bread awful, but the cheese sauce nailed it. Turkey, bread, cheese sauce; what can be so bad?

                      1. re: DoctortedNYC
                        steve h. Mar 23, 2007 04:13 PM

                        agree. only a churl could cavil.

                        1. re: DoctortedNYC
                          r
                          RGR Mar 23, 2007 04:29 PM

                          Doc, Thanks for your response.

                          Just because food is not fussy does not automatically mean it can't be awful. In fact, some chefs will tell you that the hardest dishes to prepare well are often the simplest ones, for example, roast chicken.

                          The lamb I had at Bar Americain was a straightforward preparation, i.e., grilled, no sauce. As I stated, the problem: practically all bone with little meat, and whatever there was of it had poor flavor. Worse were those two scrawny pieces of sweet potato that passed for a side order of gratin. Finally, I think it's really hard to put together a truly revolting ice cream dessert, but they somehow managed that trick.

                          I've never had any desire to try Lever House. The Modern is on my "go to" list. As it happens, my daughter and her boyfriend have been there and told us that, while the food was very good, they think Eleven Madison is superior. Obviously, I trust their opinions. So, when we finally do get to The Modern, I will have my expectations properly in check.

                2. re: DoctortedNYC
                  h
                  hoon Mar 23, 2007 04:27 PM

                  i agree with you DoctoredNYC - i think it's very good. to describe as awful is extreme but i guess everyone has their own tastes.

                  1. re: hoon
                    DoctortedNYC Mar 23, 2007 04:51 PM

                    RGR: You make an excellent point; simple dishes can be hard to make. My philosophy is to try and figure out what dishes would fare best if the chef is known, like Flay. Honestly, i think Flay has his limitations. He is good in a very narrow range. Even though he seems to be a " grillmeister" I think he could easily screw up a delicate piece of meat like lamb. OTOH, I feel he knows how to handle flavor, i.e the 3 seafood cocktail tastings. I agree that the food is better at EMP than the Modern.

                    1. re: DoctortedNYC
                      DoctortedNYC Mar 23, 2007 04:58 PM

                      Talking about the Iron Chefs, Im going to Del Posto next week. Dont think I m not a bit nervous..

                      PS Avoid Lever House. Underwhelming food at outrageous prices.

                      1. re: DoctortedNYC
                        b
                        binkis Mar 25, 2007 08:08 PM

                        Interesting that you mention Del Posto. My wife and I went there on Friday for my birthday. We expected mediocre and were extremely surprised at what a wonderful experience it was.

                        No particular dish blew us away (except the pasta "ravioli"-ish things stuffed with braised pork and braised veal), but every dish was above average and the overall dining experience was SPECTACULAR. We actually would rate it as our 5th best in the city (after Per Se, Le Bernadin, JG, and Degustation.) (Yes, Degustation.)

                        Request a table upstairs along the railing with a view over the restaurant. That's where we sat and it had terrific atmosphere. Moreso than a table on the floor or in the back, I imagine.

                        Report back.

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