I noticed there were not any reviews for SD26 here, so I thought I would weigh in. If you are expecting the old San Domenico, forget it. Stuffy, fussy, starched and formal it's not. Loud, boisterous, informal it is. A lot of criticism has been directed towards the owners, but I disagree. In order to thrive (not survive) in todays environment, a restauranteur must maximize every bit of space. Many times this comes at a price in terms of service, intimacy, attention, etc. While SD26 succeeds brilliantly at the former, it fails at the latter.
The restaurant sits on a dark, lonely stretch of 26th street, opposite Madison Square, desolate, lonely on a bitter winter night. Oddly, the sign on SD26 isn't illuminated, adding to the melancholia. After squeezing through a narrow entrance one is greeted by blasting music from the bar. Pass the uber-cool automatic wine dispenser and your in the bar area. Keep walking through a long tunnel which has small, cubicle like rooms and your mind makes the connection; the Molkova Milk bar from A Clockwork Orange. But I digress. When you arrive at the dining room, you are dwarfed by its size, 20 foot ceilings and loudness. Jam packed on a Tuesday night, you marvel at its use of space. Tables, banquettes, booths, chef tables even stools around the massive open kitchen.
I read a lot of reviews on SD26, mostly in the mediocre to good range: So here goes my impression:
Cheese/Cured Meat Bar: Anything here is excellent; go for it. Portions very good. In fact, portions for everything were good. All plates (appetizers, mains, etc), come in small and large sizes. Light eaters can easily split a small portion. My gf and I split everything.
Prosciutto San Daniel-Velvety, melt in your mouth.
Small Grilled Vegetables-Very good
Tomato Vegetable Terrine-Very good
Large Spaghetti Chitttara-Good
Service-Terrible: Friendly, but disorganized, nobody seems to be in charge or supervising. Had to call for what seemed one waiter for 50 tables. Loads of runners, captains who seemed lost, overwhelmed, clueless. The two owners who circulate seemed oblivious to the chaos.
Conclusion: Food, price point good, but service and ambience not for the faint at heart.
My partner and I tried it last night for the first time. We had a very good meal and will definitely return, though there were some glitches. I told the waiter that we would like to have 3 small plates each, and asked if this would be enough food, and he replied that it would be plenty. After taking my order, he was about to walk away, obviously having misunderstood, but we caught him and my partner ordered. So what should happen but the first dish I ordered arrives as 2 plates, one for each of us (much of the staff is Italian and I think things get lost in the translation). We succeeded in getting him to understand what we wanted, and while we waited for my partner's first course to arrive, Tony May came over to greet us. I explained what had occurred, and within a minute he returned with some prosciutto and parmesan to tide us over. We were impressed with the quality of the meat and cheese. Almost immediately afterward came the first course, and after that the service was perfect, the pacing between courses well-timed and the waitstaff attentive. Everything we ordered was delicious, and the portion size was just right. We had buffalo mozzarella with baby artichokes, pappardelle with wild boar ragu, sea urchin ravioli with scallops and tomatoes, seared tuna and puntarelle salad, beef cheek (melt-in-the-mouth tender and very flavorful) and guinea hen (I'm a big fan of guinea hen, cook it myself, and this was really well-prepared). For dessert we shared a baba with orange slices and orange zest, and whipped cream (which the waiter described as vanilla ice cream). Delicious. The plate of mignardises was excellent. Now for the last problem. Check your bill carefully. The waiter never corrected the original order, so we were charged for 6 LARGE plates, and the $46 bottle of wine (the wine listed on the bill was the correct one) showed up at $53. Hmmm... It was all corrected with profuse apologies, and as they say, all's well that ends well. I had hesitated to try SD after reading Sifton's review, but I think he may have just ordered the wrong dishes (though he did praise the beef cheek). I'm glad we finally decided to give it a go.
Went to SD26 for lunch during Restaurant Week. We got tuna with puntarelle salad and uovo for appetizers. Tuna was nicely done, seared on edges and very rich tasting rare in the middle and puntarelle added a nice crunchy textural contrast and refreshing bitter flavor. Uovo has been previously mentioned (and one of the main reasons we went) and it lived up to its delicious reputation. It's a great deal during RW since normally its over $20 as an appetizer, however we did not taste much truffle flavor so maybe they cut corners on that.
For mains we tried wild bass and chitarra -- bass was nice and very moist but very mild tasting, chitarra was cooked just right with nice chewy texture and the sauce was flavorful and also rather mild.
Panna cotta for dessert was very smooth and light tasting and balsamic reduction added some depth.
Service was pretty good, and there seemed to be quite a few waiters/runners around. During dessert Marisa May stopped by to ask how we were doing and mentioned that they try to "sneak in" all the best salumi from Italy.
Overall it was an enjoyable experience and was definitely worth the RW price.
19 East 26th Street, New York, NY 10010
As always, full review with pics on my blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...
We only had pastas, so I can't call it a full review.
The amuse was a fennel soup with marinated anchovy. I found the soup lighter than I thought it would be, and I liked the marinated anchovy a lot. Some good flavors to start.
The first pasta that we got was the garganelli with american caviar, chives and fish veloute. We shared a large portion. The caviar had good flavor and was clearly the main attraction. But the supporting cast was terrific and I enjoyed every mouthful where there was caviar, sauce, and pasta.
Next was the chitarra SD26 with a tomato and basil sauce. The pasta had a perfect texture and felt like it was actually pushed through an old school chitarra. The sauce, however, was very mediocre and tasteless, and a waste of the lovely pasta.
The signature pasta of the house, the "uovo" soft egg yolk filled raviolo with truffled butter. For this, we each definitely had to get our own. Cutting open the pasta allows the egg yolk to ooze. This was a delicious and very decadent dish, each bite combining the spinach and ricotta filling with the yolk mixed with the truffled butter. From what I've seen online, this dish is actually one of the options available on the restaurant week menu, and if so is a must get.
The desserts were good and big, but nothing amazing. I had the tiramisu and my friend had the extra bitter chocolate fondant with stracciatella ice cream.
I think this is one of those restaurants that was really hurt by Sifton's 1 star review. Especially when you consider how revered San Domenico once was and Grimes' review 6 years earlier. Then again, it clearly is not modeled after San Domenico and i agree with Doctor that you do what you have to in this environment. I can see it as a nice place for a ladies' night out of tasting many wines and tasting different dishes (the pastas come in two sizes). I would not compare the food that tier of Italian restaurants in the city that frequently get discussed on chowhound.