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May 23, 2009 06:05 AM

Gramercy 'inoteca

I'm sure this has been discussed to death, but I searched and couldn't find anything about it so here goes. Went by this place on a sleepy Sunday evening and was pretty astonished to see how packed it was. I guess it fills a niche (affordable, upscale, casual fine dining?) in Murray Hill/Gramercy that needs to be filled. So, dazzled by their business acumen, I sat in the bar area and ordered some food and some wine. More fool me.

I guess I'm an idiot but I really dislike two things in a restaurant: a menu in another language for no good reason, and a wine list that doesn't tell you anything about the wine. In some places, no problem. But if you're owned and operated by people who speak English as a first language, what reason other than being completely pretentious is there for having large chunks of your menu in Italian? Seriously, "Liquori" or, even better, "Liquori Bar Favorit?" Hey look, ma! These people speaks Eye-talian! They must be them there fancy pants!

At some places, if the wine list is hardcore, then fine. Don't tell me anything, just list the name of the wine and the vintage and the price and I'm a tacky yahoo if I don't know exactly what that is. But in a place like this, would it kill them to have maybe 4 - 5 words giving you an idea of what you're ordering? Especially when the wait staff is harried and doesn't have the time to play, "Which wine would I like?"

So 'inoteca and I were already starting off on the wrong foot, but that's okay. I've had dates start off way worse and turn out to be near-religious experiences. But to me, what was unforgiveable, was how cheap and sloppy the food was.

Insalata Di Calamari Grigliata - calamari salad. From a bag. I swear I've rarely had a more tasteless salad. It was as if they ordered up a big bag of calamari from Sysco and poured it out on the greens, which weren't much better. And hey! Why not some chickpeas, too? They do it that way in Italia! Except maybe they put a little care into the preparation so it's not just some chickpeas rolling around on the plate like something you made in college. The only flavor on this plate was from the dressing.

Olives - here's a big bowl of olives. Very big. Big enough for 12 people. I hate wasting food so I ate the olives. And I ate the olives. And I ate the olives some more and there were still olives in there laughing at me, daring me to eat more of them. I gave up. They weren't that good in the first place.

Truffle Egg Toast - not sure what the fancy word for this is, but it's something of a signature appetizer here. I can see why. It's plated really nicely and looks dramatic. Unfortunately, the bread it was on was beyond stale, and had been toasted then left out until it was rock hard. Almost too hard to cut. But fine, maybe I just don't appreciate good toast. What was the downfall of this dish was that it was doused in truffle oil. In fact, I felt a bit insulted. Do they really think that diners are such rubes that dropping a tablespoon of truffle oil on a dish is going to blow us away. "Tee-ruffles! That's fancy food! Four stars!" If there was any complexity or other taste to the dish, awesome. But none. So not awesome.

I've been to pretentious restaurants that were good, and I've been to places like Stanton where the food isn't very ambitious but it usually does what it says it's going to do. But places like the Gramercy 'inoteca offend me on a basic level. It's food made to appear good, but in reality it's downright institutional. Minimum care, minimum creativity and minimum execution. When someone puts a plate down in front of me that no one has thought about I just see red. If they can't be bothered to think about it why should I be bothered to pay for it?

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  1. "I'm sure this has been discussed to death, but I searched and couldn't find anything about it so here goes."

    Maybe not "discussed to death," but a quick search easily found this thread:

    4 Replies
    1. re: RGR

      Okay, see, this frustrates me. I did a search on 'inoteca, inoteca and then on inotecca in case there was a spelling issue and all it pulled up were two posts about whether or not inoteca would call your cell phone if you were waiting on line and whether stanton social club or inoteca was better for a group. How am I misusing the search function? I even went to Google and did a Chowhound site search for inoteca and came up with the same. Is it me?

      1. re: LES_Crawler

        I typed "'inoteca Gramercy" in the search line on *this* board, and the thread I linked to was the third one listed. Out of curiosity, I just tried searching using only "'inoteca," and that thread is listed. However, it's further down the list (#9), and in order to find it, I had to scroll down. I haven't a clue why your search produced only the threads you mention because none of them came up in the search I just did.

        1. re: RGR

          I think I must be cursed with searches. I always have this problem on board search function. Thanks for checking and determining that it's me....I'm part of the problem! Actually, it seems that I AM the problem.

          1. re: LES_Crawler

            Don't flagellate yourself too harshly, LES_Crawler. The search function on Chowhound is not exactly anything to rave about. As happened to you, I sometimes strike out completely. Also, the search results go back for only *one* year. I've no clue how that length of time is determined. A year from the day one is searching? Besides, no other search function on the forum's I participate on is limited in that way. Totally ridiculous!!

            There are other aspects of this site's software I find thoroughly annoying. But we should take that discussion to a more appropriate board.

    2. I live near here, and I don't get the appeal either. The one time I ate here we ordered two paninis, neither of which was good. WE've also been to the inoteca on the LES which was decent, but not anything that would compel us to go back. But the Gramercy inoteca is just like a black pit.

      1. I, too, found the menu pretentious and annoying. And when I asked the waitress to explain the menu to me because I do not read or speak Italian, she took a smug attitude. Truth is she probably couldn't read it either.

        I had the wagyu (sp?) beef panini, and it was so dry that I could barely eat it. The bread was good, but there was no flavor to the meat, and it was almost inedibly dry. And it cost something like $18, which was unconscionable given the size, dearth of flavor, and Sahara Desert dryness factor.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Slob

          Hey, Slob,

          Always glad to see you pop back on this board. :-)

          We had the Wagyu. Even though it's listed on the menu with the paninis, it's actually a regular sandwich (a "bollito') since it's not pressed. The beef we had was extremely juicy and had excellent flavor. Our sandwich size was substantial, i.e., big enough for three of us to share (the kitchen cut it into thirds), following the quite sizable beet salad we also shared. So, it seems 'inoteca is suffering from a consistency problem. And that appears to extend to the attitude of servers with regard to the menu. Our waitress asked us if we needed help with the Italian and offered whatever guidance we requested in a very pleasant manner.

          1. re: RGR

            RGR, good to see you, friend. Both of our visits to Inoteca have been to the LES locale. In all fairness, the first time we went the service was SPECTACULAR. The fella who waited on us was overly gracious.

            The second time was a bit of a nightmare with the dry sandwich and the snooty service. I'm glad you enjoyed your wagyu though, and you're absolutely right that it wasn't a panini even though listed with the panini.

            1. re: Slob

              I don't recall having had difficulty with understanding the menu at inoteca at Rivington. Granted that it's been at least 3 months since we've been, the menu had English or , at the very least, easily understandable Italian food items (e.g. pecorino, mortadella, salame, etc.) in it. Even when we had questions, our wait staff were gracious in explaining the execution of the dish.

              What did you not understand and when did the menu change to be all-italian?

              1. re: RCC

                I was there a couple months ago. And the menu was either in Italian, or I am completely insane. It was not easily understandable at all for someone who doesn't speak or read a drop of Italian.

                I know what prosciutto and salami are as well as many Italian cheeses and ingredients. However, when those ingredients are combined with words that I have never seen it becomes unnecessarily unwieldy.

                It's NY. Just make the menu in English. It's pretty simple. Making the menu in Italian does NOTHING to enhance the experience.

        2. I'm sorry you had a bad time, and what I can't figure out is, I've had good experiences every time I've been to the Rivington St. location. Why is the Gramercy location evidently so bad?

          8 Replies
          1. re: Pan

            "...Gramercy is evidently so bad."

            Imo, you are way off -base. Have you read the thread I linked to in my first post? There are others who, like me, have had very good experiences at the Gramercy 'inoteca. Despite whatever the complaints are on this thread, it must be doing something right because I pass by it regularly, and in the evening, it is always packed! Perhaps you should give it a try to judge for yourself how it measures up to the experiences you've had at its LES older sibling.

            1. re: RGR

              RGR, I've previously made clear that I haven't been to their Gramercy location. But my estimate is that at least 75% of Chowhound posts on the Gramercy location have been negative. So they are probably doing something wrong. And we all know that mere popularity doesn't prove quality.

              Frankly, I'm not that interested in going to their Gramercy location. I'm quite satisfied with their Rivington St. location, which is closer to my place.

              1. re: Pan

                Actually, let me ask a different question: How many of those of you who disliked your meal at the Gramercy location like the Rivington St. location?

                1. re: Pan

                  I don't know on what basis you got that 75% "estimate." I searched, and there are only two relatively short threads on this board which discuss 'inoteca Gramercy. I counted 5 negative posts and 4 positives. That's more like 50-50. And one of those negative experiences took place on Mothers' Day, which we all pretty much agree is one of the worst days on which to judge just about any restaurant.

                  While I agree that popularity does not necessarily equal good quality, if the food at 'inoteca Gramercy was as bad as you -- who haven't even tried it yourself -- have decided it is, word would spread, and the place would cease to be as busy as it is. After all, its previous incarnation, Bar Milano, couldn't attract sufficient patronage to be successful.

                  P.S. I have never been to the LES 'inoteca.

                  1. re: RGR

                    I haven't "decided" that it's bad. It's just striking to me that the Rivington St. location gets excellent writeups and this other location gets a large amount of negativity. My guess is that, at a minimum, there is some inconsistency in food or/and service, and that perhaps after x-amount of time, the newer location will iron all that out. But I'm perplexed by the discrepancy in reports, and seek some insight into it. Which is why I posted a leading question that seems not to have engendered any response except for yours (and now another one, which has yet to be responded to at all). If you think it was so unclear that I was reacting to others' remarks and not expressing my own opinion on the quality of the place by using the word "evidently" (=literally, based on evidence - i.e. others' reports), I'm glad to apologize to a restaurant whose other branch I like very much and to you for possibly offending you, so that we can put this semantical debate to rest.

                    I do agree that Mother's Day is a total nightmare of a day to eat out almost anywhere.

                    1. re: Pan

                      Ok, let me say that we didn't go for Mother's Day brunch (that would be a nightmare), but had an early dinner when the restaurant had only a few other tables. People started coming in as we were leaving. Does that lend any more credibility to my review? Not directing this at you specifically.

                      1. re: janethepain

                        I'm not making excuses and, I repeat, I have never been to the Gramercy location. To say that Mother's Day is a nightmare is not an excuse, but is nevertheless true. And rather than suggesting that a Mother's Day report is inaccurate, it suggests that it may be most instructive to understand it in that perspective, even taking your more specific points into account.

                        But again, I think it's quite possible that the larger issue is inconsistency in the early going of this location. That's not an excuse, either: If you're charging for a meal, you deserve to be held to a standard of providing fair value for it. But excuse or not, it does sometimes take time for a restaurant to get its stuff together. And their other location is so consistently good, in my experience, that it's hard to square that with very negative reports from the location you went to.

                        Have you been to the Rivington St. location? How was your experience there?

                      2. re: Pan


                        I wasn't in the least personally offended, but I appreciate your explanation. I can certainly agree that a 50/50 split in opinions makes it evident (if I may use that word?) that there are inconsistencies in both food and service. I'm not sure what to ascribe them to since from what I understand, the chef in the Gramercy kitchen is the same one who cooked downtown. And when we had lunch, one of the Denton brothers, Jason, was managing the foh, so it's not as though the owners are neglecting the Gramercy location. Since they are not neophytes in the business, overall, it does seem odd that there are this many complaints.

              2. I'm sorry you were disappointed. I went to 'inoteca Gramercy a few days ago and found it to be a great value. I am so often disappointed by small plates places, but felt that 'inoteca got it right. We had a very good server who steered us to some good choices (panino with spinach, mushrooms, fontina, and truffle oil; pasta with mussels; chickpea fritters) and was very helpful in describing some of the dishes for which we did not understand the Italian names. I found the wine list to be great as well, with some great value choices; while ordered a wine that I was familiar with, I felt that our server would have been helpful in suggesting a wine, as well.