What’s New and Worth The Reservation Fret?
What’s going on? There’s almost no point in calling a hot new bistro or bar hoping to get a table at 8. You’re lucky to score a reservation at the children’s hour or 9:30 pm. My assistant calls restaurants that haven’t even opened yet, claiming to be fully booked for the foreseeable future, except at 5:30 or 6 pm or after 9 pm. As a restaurant critic, I’m not using my name, striking out. So I’m the great, unwashed rabble, just like you.
All my friends complain; it’s a drumbeat. “Who do you have to know?” (Yes, I’m aware it should be “whom.”) Going out used to be carefree, even improvisational. You could call in the morning or a few days ahead, or in the case of rave reviews, a week or two. You did not expect a glacial voice on the other end informing you: “We’re not booking eight o’clock at all in the foreseeable future.” Or “I’ll get back to you after I speak to the manager.”
I try to be among the first responders so I can tell my readers if it’s worth the wait, if it justifies some finagling, if you want to risk arriving unannounced and braving the indifferent stares of the skittish young Lorelei at the welcome stand. Suddenly, if I’m determined to have dinner at 7:30 pm, I’m forced to use my name and connections.
Here’s where professional compromise has gotten me in the last few weeks.
Salvation Burger Hallelujah
230 East 51st Street between Second and Third avenues. 646 277 2900. Daily noon to 2 am. Closed between 4:30 and 5:30 pm
The $17 classic burger layers a duo of thin patties with pickles and a special sauce.
Can’t wait. I want to be wherever April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman have planted their flag. But they didn’t do reservations at the Breslin, so why would I expect them to make Bloomfield-worship easy at a burger joint in a budget hotel? I find an old phone number for Ken and to my shock, he answers. “If I come with three friends, could you promise not to let us stand too long?” I ask. He offers to save a booth.
Salvation Burger is full, a mix of everyday folks, all ages, not the intimidatingly beautiful people you might expect. It’s maybe the third day. The price for arriving too soon is confusion. April is nowhere in sight. The 8-oz, $25 burger with taleggio and caramelized onions I read about in the advance billing is not available tonight, our server advises. “April wasn’t happy with the meat,” he confides.
La Sirena on the Rocks of Ninth Avenue
88 Ninth Avenue between 16th and 17th streets. 212 977 6096. Daily 5 to 11 pm. Bar 5 pm to midnight
Inside this prickly meringue is the honey-walnut semifreddo with blood orange sorbetto.
Last Wednesday Mario Batali and his crew opened the 38-foot long white Caesarstone bar at La Sirena without advance warning. And a day later, the grey and white double-cloth-draped tables of the long- anticipated glassed-in restaurant on the plaza of the Maritime Hotel are already turning. Everyday mortals are shut out for now. I ask for a table in my name and am a little bit gaga when I actually got a pass. I climb a dozen steel steps unto what will be outdoor eating again come docile weather, and open the door to the host’s stand.
The revved-up buzz of people clearly pleased with themselves for scoring a table this early plus blasts of music in the glass-wrapped room heightens the decibels. Though the kitchen might be a bit choked, our young sever has clearly been fine-tuned. The bussers, when they finally bring starters, move with rehearsed authority.
City Crab Shack Chat’N’Chew
10 East 16th Street between Fifth and Union Square West. 212 529 3800. Daily 11 am to 11 pm.
Delicate chunks of lobster in mayo are stuffed into very small buttered rolls.
Several days ago, a friend and I called half a dozen more or less hot new restaurants to claim a spot for dinner a dozen nights later. Everywhere we got the same old riff — an early bird special, or dinner after 9 pm. Should we try the new City Crab Shack?
I won’t go into all the fateful twists of Andrew Silverman’s crabbing around Manhattan. Let’s just pick the story up a few months ago, when Danny Meyer signed the lease to move Union Square Café into what was City Crab and Seafood at 235 Park Avenue South. What had once been Silverman’s beloved Chat’N’Chew in a cramped below-sidewalk space nearby became City Crab Shack, with a tank for live lobsters and crab. No surprise, we score a table for our five at 7:30.