I stopped by the old Schatzi space three times to make sure I remembered where it was (it's kind of hidden, you see) and in the mid-afternoon, I was encouraged to try making a reservation on the phone line. Of course, standing at the hostess stand, I knew that the station hadn't yet been set up, so I decided to try my luck and just walk up when dinner service started at 6pm.
The hostess greeted me when I returned for the second time, and informed me that they were trying to keep it upscale, so they were enforcing a dress code. This means that while they had room for me in the restaurant, they wouldn't let me in because I had black tennis shoes on. This, I found humorous, because the most celebrated openings in town (Mozza and Craft) are very much upscale by virtue of attracting upscale clientele, not by detracting the riff-raff. I understand it's a different part of town, but I played along. I had already paid $6 for parking and wanted something to show for it.
I walked over to Patagonia a block away, bought a really comfortable pair of boots and walked back.
The hostess greeted me when I returned for the third time, and I watched her eyes quickly scan me up and down. This time I was to her liking, or rather, to the liking of the limits artificially imposed in the name of creating atmosphere. She quipped, "That was fast!" I said, "I can change faster than a woman's mind."
Leading me to the bar, we walked past the DJ with his blonde-dye mohawk, cargo shorts and sockless Converses.
I sat at the long bar and took inventory of their single malt in stock. I remarked to the bartendress of my surprise that they carried Auchentoschen, a whiskey I'd previously enjoyed at Bowery. They didn't list it on their spirits menu, nor was it easily accessible to the bartender; they've opted to keep it hidden, you see. But I chose to keep it simple for their first Friday service, and asked for a manhattan martini and the menu.
Let's go ahead and skip to the part after I've been reseated at a table, since they only serve fried stuff at the bar.
My server explains that the menu encompasses four different type of cuisines, and I must emphasize that it's loosely interpreted in this regard. Another foodie later commented that the menu resembled Cheesecake Factory in its severe breadth, but I think that the owners were simply trying to create something with mass appeal. They offered pizzas, tapas, sushi and Vietnamese.
I stayed away from the pizza; let's be clear: if I wanted pizza in an urbane setting, I would have stayed in my neck of the woods, gone to Mozza and kept my New Balances on. So I'll cover the rest. I gave it a go with the aji tataki (taking my favorite mackerel and turning it into a tartare) as my Japanese representative. It arrived with the mackerel's fried skeleton next to the collection of minced aji, shiso and scallions. The ponzu sauce formed a perimeter around the dish and was also present in a small bowl next to the presentation. It's lovely, something that would fly well in New York circles. But I'm not easily impressed by presentation when the flavors are off, which this dish exhibited. It was less of a tartare and more of the chef going crazy with a mezzeluna knife and serving me mackerel mince.
I knew the Vietnamese would disappoint. I don't know why I bothered. The truffled tuna spring roll was opposite to the Viet principles of celebrating fresh ingredients, letting the strengths of each component sing its own praises. Instead, that very Vietnamese topping of mango salsa topped a collection of deep fried rolls filled with that very Vietnamese (I'm still being sarcastic) filling of tuna tartare. The truffles must have been hidden, you see.
The highlight of the evening came from the tapas selections. Diving into a plate of brasata al barolo, it reminded me of a very good boeuf bourguignonne, and the paired arugula gave the dish a wonderful pepperiness to go along with the deep flavors of the red wine stew. This was a great dish, and in any other restaurant, would not be so cavalierly relegated to "small plates" status. But I took joy in having discovered this hidden gem, you see, because it hinted of great things to come from this kitchen once it finds its sea-legs.
I also ordered the osso bucco with risotto. The rice had a wonderful perfume reminiscent of a great paella, and while it wasn't a creamy carnaroli, I admit that I didn't order this dish for the starch accompaniment. No, I was there for the braised veal, which confused me a little at first. I pushed away some of the milanese tomato covering the dish to reveal the bone, hard as, well, bone. It wasn't until I flipped the osso bucco did I discover the marrow; they wanted to keep it hidden, you see, because I commented to the passing hostess that it was the best part and she all but ran in terror. Happy with my wonderful discovery, the osso bucco was far from the best I'd ever tasted, but it was quite delicious.
For dessert, I had an Italian chocolate dish paired with a creme anglaise. Classic ingredients -- can't mess them up, and in fact, tasted splendid. For all of Hidden's schizophrenic lack of culinary identity, I found that it would have been best if they did Venice's version of Osteria Mozza. The Italian inspired dishes seem to exhibit the most brilliance, and when the kitchen itself shines bright, so too will then the clientele that it attracts.
Earlier, when I was moved away from the bar to a table, I chose one where I could watch all the customers coming in. The general manager greeted everyone in an affable style, creating at atmosphere of warmth, conviviality, and love of food, all very Italian elements. I also made sure to check out everyone's shoes. Sitting at the table, my new comfortable boots were underneath the long flowing white linen, hidden.
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