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DB Bistro Moderne review - just so-so

biondanonima Oct 24, 2011 11:55 AM

I've been meaning to try DB Bistro Moderne for years, and just haven't gotten around to it. However, since I noticed that they're now featured on Savored.com, DH and I decided to head over there this weekend.

Initial impressions: I was immediately put off by the way the restaurant is laid out. The door opens directly into a POS machine, where a server was punching numbers when we walked in. I couldn't tell what was going on - it seemed almost as if we had walked into the back entrance - so I asked him if there was another entrance for the hostess table. He pointed us to where we needed to go, but it was just odd. We walked past a bank of tightly packed tables to the hostess, and I just knew that's where we'd be sitting. I know from reading these boards that there are two seating areas and that the "back room" is much quieter than the front, but I forgot to request that when I made my reservation, so we were indeed stuck in the front, which was full of pre-theatre folks (we arrived at 7:15). The tables in this section are about 6 inches away from each other, which was a real turn off (I heard several other people seated in our area complaining about it).

We waited quite a while for menus and water, but I think it was due to the timing of the pre-theatre rush - service improved dramatically once they cleared out around 7:30. Anyway, the bread basket arrived - fine, nothing special. The much-touted pretzel bread was cold and tasted like an end-of-day reject from the vendor outside. The pesto and tapenade "amuse" was a nice touch though, and quite tasty. We perused the (rather expensive) wine list and chose a by-the-glass Burgundy (which at $17 was mid-range for the glasses) plus a beer for DH.

We started with an appetizer portion of the escargot and chicken oyster fricassee and the tarte flambee, both of which were quite nice. The fricassee wasn't quite what I was expecting, as it was sauced only with some herbed oil (instead of a more traditional creamy sauce), but it was still good, with a generous number of fat snails mixed in with the tender spaetzle. It was underseasoned, though, and I got just a tiny bit of attitude from the server when I asked for salt. The tarte flambee, which is basically a flatbread topped with a thin layer of bechamel and fromage blanc and sprinkled with slivered ham and red onion, was appropriately crisp and savory. Nothing mind-bending, but solid.

The main course was where things got interesting. DH ordered the famous burger, rare, and I ordered the hanger steak, med-rare. The burger was cooked perfectly. However, my steak came pre-sliced, so I could see immediately that it was overcooked. A couple of the slices showed some pink, but the majority were grey all the way through. I didn't even take a bite, just set the plate aside and looked for a waiter or runner, all of whom seemed to have disappeared. Finally our waiter noticed and came over, so I showed him the overcooked bits and asked for a steak cooked med-rare. We ate DH's burger in the meantime, which was fine - I was really surprised, though, at just how flavorless it was considering all that had been done to it. The short rib stuffing was dry and the meat was just bland.

Anyway, the hostess quickly brought over my second steak, which was MORE COOKED THAN THE FIRST ONE. It was sliced, so it was again easy to tell the degree of doneness, although the kitchen had clearly tried to disguise it by pouring a brown sauce (which was under the first steak) over top of the second one. All I had to do was flip the slices, though, to see that they were grey all the way through. So, I had to call over the waiter AGAIN and explain AGAIN that I wanted a med-rare steak, at which point the hostess came over and asked me to explain exactly what was wrong with it. I said "it's grey all the way through - I wanted it med-rare, so it should be red/pink all the way through." She replied "oh, you want it much LESS cooked, then," as if that isn't what I told my waiter the first time. Perhaps the waiter mis-communicated that to the kitchen the first time? So, when I finally got the third steak, it was indeed med-rare. However, it was no longer hanger steak. They had subbed filet, apparently despairing of ever getting their kitchen to cook a hanger steak to my specifications. I didn't say anything about it, though - I was just so happy to have a med-rare steak at that point that I ate it anyway. It was decent, although bland as filet tends to be, and a very small portion (much smaller than the previous hanger steaks had been). The short rib that came with it was dry as well, although the swiss chard and celery root puree accompaniments were tasty.

I was ready to go at this point but DH wanted dessert, so we had the maple bourbon creme brulee and the ice cream trio - coconut-lime sorbet, concord grape sorbet and goat's milk ice cream. The ice creams came with chocolate chip cookies, which weren't to my taste (too hard - I hate hard cookies. DH loved them), but were good with the goat's milk ice cream. The sorbets were ok - too sweet and in the case of the coconut lime, a bit bland, but whatever. The creme brulee was an unusual presentation - it was a very thin layer of custard atop a "crust" that was made of chopped nuts and maybe graham crackers, I couldn't quite tell. There was no crispy brulee topping on it, and the "crust" was somewhat gummy, so the whole thing lacked texture, and the maple flavor was nowhere to be found. The butter pecan ice cream that came with it was excellent, though.

The bill came to around $160, or $110ish with the Savored discount. Had I paid full price for the meal I would have been irritated - the food was just not good enough to command prices that high. Portions are pretty small, so if you have a healthy appetite you'd probably want more than just an entree, and 3 courses adds up quickly. I also really didn't like the atmosphere, but I think that would be easily remedied by sitting in the back room. The issue with the steak was annoying but the staff was very nice about it, so they get points for that - my husband was surprised that they didn't comp it, but I didn't expect them to (although it would have been a nice touch). However, I don't think we'll be back. Even at the discounted price, I think there are plenty of restaurants in the city that deliver more bang for one's buck.

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DB Bistro Moderne
55 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036

  1. Winterpool Oct 24, 2011 05:54 PM

    I've had some very satisfying meals at db in the past. I appreciated them all the more since Midtown hadn't much in the way of enjoyable restaurants. My two meals this year, however, were both disappointing, the last very much so. Does it signify that those meals were through Savored.com?

    At my last dinner there, 3 of my courses were acceptable (though hardly distinctive), but the 3rd course -- coq au vin -- was awful. Almost every coq au vin I've made myself has been leagues better. db's seemed like roast chicken coated in over-reduced wine, almost like bottled barbecue sauce in texture. It was about as overpowering and one-dimensional as bottled sauce too. I should have declined it as soon as I saw it.

    I suspect, henceforth, I'll walk a few blocks downtown to Ai Fiori when I need to dine out in the neighbourhood.

    -----
    Ai Fiori
    400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

    4 Replies
    1. re: Winterpool
      ellenost Oct 24, 2011 08:24 PM

      I've enjoyed Ai Fiori much more than DB Bistro Moderne. Food and service are much better at Ai Fiori.

      -----
      DB Bistro Moderne
      55 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036

      Ai Fiori
      400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

      1. re: Winterpool
        r
        rrems Oct 24, 2011 08:45 PM

        <Does it signify that those meals were through Savored.com?>

        Due to economic circumstances, most of my dinners out these days are through Savored. I can't imagine that I've ever gotten food that is different from what other diners pay full price for. But be aware that the reason these restaurants are using Savored is that they are not filling their tables, and the reasons for that are varied. In some cases, they are not filling them because the food quality has deteriorated (I have never dined at DB so I can't say whether it is an example of this, but it would explain your and bionda's experiences). And yes, even at the discounted price there are sometimes other places that offer better value without discounts.

        1. re: rrems
          biondanonima Oct 25, 2011 08:17 AM

          I have now had two dinners through Savored.com and I agree with you, rrems, that I am getting the same food that everyone else is getting. I also agree that there is a reason that these restaurants offer this discount - in the case of DB, the place was packed when we were there, but it was a Saturday night at prime time. When we went to SHO through Savored.com, it was a Monday night and the restaurant was over half empty. I can't say whether the food at either place had "deteriorated" since I'd never been to either before, but I would definitely say that both places were overhyped (especially SHO, which IMO doesn't deserve even one Michelin star, let alone two) and overpriced (especially db).

          1. re: biondanonima
            r
            rrems Oct 25, 2011 10:07 AM

            I hope the food at SHO has not deteriorated, but the last time I was there, a few months ago, it was as good as ever, and I used Savored that time. I have had very positive experiences with the restaurants on Savored, but for the most part they are places I already knew and loved.

      2. s
        Sneakeater Oct 25, 2011 10:16 AM

        It may be a factor that you went during the pre-theater rush. I could imagine that they serve pre-sliced steak then, but not during dinner hours. Last time I was there, pre-theater (long ago), they had only a limited pre-theater menu available before 8 -- although it sounds like you were ordering from the full menu. If not -- if you were stuck with the pre-theater menu -- I can say with some certainty that you didn't get the best DB Bistro has to offer, both in terms of variety of dishes and execution.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Sneakeater
          biondanonima Oct 25, 2011 10:44 AM

          Oh no, we were ordering from the full menu, and by the time we got our mains it was well after 8pm. I think the pre-slicing of the hanger steak is their standard way of serving it - it's pretty normal for bistros to serve it sliced, I think, or at least I've encountered that myself many times.

          1. re: biondanonima
            Wilfrid Oct 25, 2011 01:48 PM

            Yes, that's common, and the business with the steak sounds awful. But for better or worse, the cost of wines by the glass ($10-$20) is pretty normal too, and almost not bad for midtown.

            Definitely best to eat here after 8.

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