Had an early pre-opera dinner at Café Grey opening night. A few impressions.
After finding the place at the far south end of the third floor, you enter something of a tunnel with the hostess waiting to greet you half way down to the end in a small room (coat check?) on the right. The small bar at the end of the tunnel on the left is busy with staff looking concerned and the usual crowd drinking cosmos or waiting for their dates in their suits at the bar. You look out to the room where the view is over the kitchen. Brown suede and etched mirror walls? Hmmm. This room is going to get tired fast.
Comfortable chairs, nice distance between tables and a quick waiter puts us at ease. A reasonably priced 97 Barolo on the list comes quickly. Uninspiring bread from some boutique bakery is announced along with butter from who knows where in Vermont. For a second, I thought I was at Per Se and was going to get a lecture on the salt. They really need to loose the explanations, get some better bread on the table and stop bragging about the butter.
Happily, the menu seems to be a recreation of some of the better choices at Lespinasse at about two thirds or less of the price at the St. Regis. After ordering, we are presented the amuse buche- a mini samosa with chutney on the ever-present ceramic spoon. The flavors are distinct, strong and lingering. We think of trying to trade the bread for another serving.
For starters, we ordered the ravioli with three mushrooms, the mushroom risotto and the seafood soup. I dont remember the ravioli from the Lespinasse menu, although my wife said she thinks it was there. Three small ravioli, perfectly crusted under the broiler on top, soft below, in a buttery but slightly tart emulsion. The ravioli had a haunting flavor, not truffle, not quite mushroom, that contrasted well with the broth. As a texture contrast, the dish was covered with slivers of crunchy fried vegetables and black truffle. Very, very good.
The mushroom risotto was a bit of a letdown, perhaps due to the memories of the original. This is magnified by the same serving pieces being used. This was no means a bad dish, but it did not stand out like it did several years ago. I suspect that instead of using truffles as liberally as he did at Lespinasee, Grey now substitutes truffle oil to keep the price in line.
The seafood soup (forgot what it was called on the menu) was good, not great.
Can I tell you how happy I was to see Greys short ribs on the menu? Can I tell you that it was every bit as good as my memory. This is a dish that depends on a very exact interplay between tart and sweet, savory and salty. Each bite is different. Did you catch that tart bit of papaya chutney? The interplay of cardamom and tomato? The textural interplay between the grits and the meat? Wow. You can get short ribs almost anywhere now. Lets face it, a slow braised stew like this is easy to make well and is pretty yummy no matter what you do to it. But this dish really takes it to another level. A perfectly executed perfect dish.
The lamb chop with eggplant from the old menu is again perfectly prepared and quite good. Gray really has a way with acid in his sauce and the whole dish works really well together. A bit boring, however, for my taste.
The pork shank, coated in a slightly sweet/tart glaze may or may not be new. Again, the dish relies on the interplay of flavor and is easy to mess up. The vegetables that accompany the dish are layered by texture and add to the overall flavor palate of what could be a boring choice. Again, an exciting dish. The kitchen gets it right and my friend has to be bribed to give us a taste.
We get the ice cream plate for dessert for old time sake. It is really good, if a bit of a throwback. I remember the New York Times article that said he had a billion dollar machine that made the ice cream to order. A crème brulee is as about as good as it gets, accompanied by stewed strawberries and rhubarb. This is followed by very good and well-made coffee. This is a detail that you dont see often in most restaurants and someone here is paying attention.
When the bill came, three ate for under $300 without tip and one bottle of wine. For the money, it is certainly the best place to eat right now in NY in terms of what is on your plate. The service is fussy and the room reminds me of the 70s. Grey can cook and the kitchen is executing. Too bad you have to go to the mall to get a table.