The Other Critics: Pete Wells Docks A Voce Madison and BLT Fish; Ryan Sutton Heads to Long Beach
This week Adam Platt visited Tavern on the Green, finding the newly revived restaurant overpriced, disappointing, and full of unfulfilling "farm-to-table" promise. Elsewhere, Pete Wells took away stars from A Voce Madison and BLT Fish, Ryan Sutton headed to his hometown of Long Beach, and Robert Sietsema bravely ate his way through Dairy Queen's menu (Spoiler alert: Almost everything is bad). Read it all, and more, straight ahead.
Pete Wells downgraded BLT Fish and A Voce Madison, which both received three stars from former Times critic Frank Bruni shortly after they opened in 2005 and 2006, respectively. While the two have switched out chefs, A Voce Madison, formerly run by Missy Robbins, and earlier, Andrew Carmellini, fared better, earning two stars. Fine-tuned yet "brawny, rustic" dishes like octopus stewed in red wine and a "very elegant" five-minute egg on toast were standouts. While the meat entrées proved clunky; the fish options, including "satiny olive-oil poached cod," showed more finesse. A Voce Madison's desserts are winning as well, with options like honey-lavender panna cotta "as charming as a handwritten thank-you note." BLT Fish treats seafood in "flattering ways," and while the raw scallops were expertly dressed, the sauces foundered. A dashi broth with scallops and "nine kinds of mushrooms" proved "more umami is not always the answer," and a Mandarin emulsion with halibut was "washed-out." Overall, the food, including "undercooked mussels with their beards left intact," lacked attention to detail, and its downturn in quality no longer justified its high price.
Ryan Sutton explored the dining options in Long Beach, where he has lived sporadically since 1998. The guide highlights Swingbellys, an "awesome" barbecue joint with smoked, fried, and dry-rubbed chicken wings that have "the same gentle chewiness as good bacon" and al dente macaroni and cheese. Pizzerias with "bland mozzarella" and "imperceptible sauce" should be avoided, but not to miss are Corazon de Cuba's cumin-scented Cubano ("the best I've tried anywhere") and Marvel's banana frozen yogurt that had "as much rich tropical flavor as a Michelin-starred dessert."
Robert Sietsema selflessly ate his way through the menu of Manhattan's first Dairy Queen. His conclusion: Most of the food (including the ice cream) is terrible. Servers struggled to find tables; sometimes the ice cream didn't arrive, and when it did, it was often "half-melted." While the Orange Julius was the best of the frozen desserts, the dipped cone tasted like "cough syrup" and the Big Apple Blizzard "was awful." On the savory side, the bacon-cheese grillburger was the high point, with a "slight smoke flavor," but the chicken quesadilla was "mind-numbingly bland."
Steve Cuozzo also visited Tavern on the Green, discovering the Central Park restaurant flailing under its massive crowd of diners. In his one-and-a-half-star review, Cuozzo found the food to have taken a downturn since the space reopened at the end of April. Some dishes, like the spring wild-mushroom soup, were enjoyable, but most wandered "out the park" and were "heaped with enough leaves, grains, vegetables, fungi, slaws and spuds for a Whole Foods truck to have flipped on the table." Meat was overcooked and "rubbery," not to mention some "nasty" service.
The New Yorker's Amelia Lester dined at the Runner and found its throwback-style menu "surprisingly delicious." She singled out the wood-fired breads and roasts, including a "crusty cube" of braised short-rib, as the kind of lightened-up old-fashioned fare the Brooklyn restaurant shone at. While the small plates were at times erratically portioned, the salt-baked trout was "dainty," yet superb and "unusually delicate."
Zachary Feldman paid a visit to Chéri, where the food didn't live up to the Harlem restaurant's posh setting. "Stubbornly dated" dishes were often undersalted, while sautéed cod was overcooked and roast chicken had "soggy skin." The brie-topped burger on a Balthazar potato bun was a standout, but its side of hash browns was soft and the "big salad of the day" was so underdressed it "would have been ticketed for public indecency."
In his two-star review (out of five), Michael Kaminer concluded Le Cirque is "having Le Midlife Crisis." Not even its young chef, Raphael Francois, whose cooking itself merited "four stars," could save the institutional restaurant's "sodden and somber" atmosphere and "notoriously snooty service." Dishes were pristine, with the exception of a "stringy and tough" squab, and favorites included silky foie gras "as creamy as liver ice cream" and a "delightful deconstructed hot-fudge sundae" Dame blanche. The glum service, though, tainted Le Cirque, leading Kaminer to ask this rhetorical question: "You can blow big bucks on dinner almost anywhere in the Big Apple. So why would anyone do so in a restaurant this airless and joyless?"