Finally had dinner at 71 Clinton St. Fresh Food after posting that I secured a reservation weeks ago...
My wife and I had a wonderful evening at 71 Clinton St. this past Saturday (7:30 reservation). After hearing very mixed reviews, here is my humble opinion.
I was surprised that:
Service was polished and friendly; the portions were not as small as advertised; the restaurant wasn't nearly as noisy as some had written; the restaurant could deliver such good food at reasonable prices in such a comfortable and causal setting; how amazing were both the bartender and his cocktails; the menu no longer had the short braised ribs and hangar steak; the dessert menu was so disappointing (to us).
We arrived just at 7:30 and spent five minutes at the bar sipping cocktails (Cosmopolitan for the wife and a Ketel One Martini for me) which were absolutely delicious. Two women were eating at the bar next to us and drinking glasses of what appeared to be a white/peach sangria that was also in a huge pitcher sitting atop the bar. We were then seated at a nice table for two near the back of the restaurant. My wife began with a marinated scottish salmon appetizer in avocado and I had, after reading some reviews, the shrimp-stuffed squid. Both of these dishes were absolutely sublime. Entrees were a sauteed skate with tomatoes and potatoes for her and, although I didn't see the ribs/steak combo, hangar steak in a burgundy reduction with a wild mushroom crepe for myself. I ordered the steak medium/rare to rare and it delivered on all cylinders. Tender, juicy, hot and perfectly done to my liking, with the sauce providing a nice compliment. The one bite I had of the skate was moist and delicious and my wife cleaned her plate.
We didn't order any wine (another round of cocktails instead) and did not care for any of the desserts (there were only four). The bill was less than $125 and we both felt great after the meal. (A walk up Clinton St. and Avenue B led to a sighting of a monstrous line outside of Max) While my wife made a bathroom pit-stop, I asked the hostess about the short ribs being eliminated from the menu and if she could point out Wylie Dufresne (the chef) since there is a quasi-open kitchen. She told me that the ribs were a seasonal item more suited to winter and then we talked a bit about the chef. She could not have been nicer considering the restaurant was quite crowded in anticipation of the 9-9:30 seatings.
As far as city restaurants go, it is a shame that so many of the great chefs feel a need to open up multiple restaurants in multiple cities. That is why you start to see disappointing reviews from places such as, for instance, Jean-Georges, where we dined once back in 1998 and it was one of the best meals of our lives. However, I can all but guarantee Jean-Georges (the chef) was at or near the stove on that evening. It would be nice to see some more young and talented chefs like Mr. Dufresne open up their own places and stay behind the stove instead of branching off to Paris, Vegas, Miami or wherever. Anyway, that's all for now and I am anxiously awaiting my next meal at 71 Clinton Fresh Food.