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?