The honeymoon is over: We revisit the new restaurants

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October 6, 2012 By Steven E. Greer

It has been almost a year since the new restaurants opened in the Goldman Sachs alley and perimeter of the Conrad Hotel. They have all had time to fix early miscues and change the staff. Also, the once-deprived and starved citizens of Battery Park are a bit more jaded now.

So, how do the establishments stack up 10-months after opening?

Francois Payard:

This high-end snobby French bakery across from Shake Shack fluctuates from horrible to great due to the poor oversight from senior management. For a few months, the staff of ladies was excellent, but they left for other jobs. This author walks the Goldman alley daily and has never once ever seen Chef Payard or any senior managers. Payard did not bother to make an appearance for the big block party in September.

Even when the service was great over the summer, the offerings at Payard are not conducive to every-day eating. The sandwiches are tasty, but several dollars more expensive then better Shake Shack burgers that beckon within eyesight. The deserts are strange pastry rolls that are simply not too popular in the year 2012. The macarons are well done, but too small to justify the $2.50 price. The notable offerings are the flourless chocolate and walnut cookie, and the breakfast sandwich on pretzel bread is quite savory and recommended.

François Payard could be turned around if the management decided to show up. But don’t count on it.

Shake Shack:

The secret to this Danny Meyer chain of restaurants is that they do not cut corners on the staff, which would be so easy to do at a “burger joint”. The staff are very friendly and somehow never seem burned out. If a mistake in the order is made, which is not an uncommon event since everything is custom made, they will throw free stuff at you.

The “decor” is well cleaned, simple, and stylish. However, the lack of seating is a problem. This is likely by design as it drives the cache of the place. Try going at 3:00 PM on a weekday for short lines. We have suggested an “Adults Only Shake Shack” with cocktail waitresses but have not received a reply.

Shake Shack food is great because of the quality. You don’t have to worry whether your family is eating “pink slime”. Whatever is in the hot dogs is certainly wholesome. The fries are made in healthy oil, and the bacon on the new SmokeShack burger has just the right spiciness and thickness.

So far, there is no sign that expanding this Shake Shack chain all over the world is causing reductions in quality. Of note, now that they exceed a certain umber, New York City law requires the posting of calories. Share one order of fries, or skip the fries altogether, and you will be fine.

Harry’s Italian:

It is what it is. Stick to the pizza and you will be fine.

Wei West:

This establishment is just not improving, despite new menus. However, it will soon be the only Chinese restaurant in the area. Maybe the extra business will help them rethink things.


Next door to Wei West and owned by the same group, the new team of managers are young enthusiastic guys and already have much friendlier staff and fresher soups. This is a nice turn-around story in progress. Give them a second try. They might offer vegetable “juicing” soon.


We have not eaten there so we reserve our opinion.

Blue Smoke:

This is a Danny Meyer restaurant in name only. The Midtown co-owner and manager has pretty much delegated the place to two junior managers who were not exactly raised on barbeque. The bar is usually too busy with drinkers to eat, and the alternative seating is large benches with high walls conducive only for a family dinner. Overall, the decor and atmosphere resembles more of the Goldman Sachs lobby than a barbecue in the Midwest or South.

In order to prevent mistakes and play it safe, the menu is a low-achiever with a narrow offering. Ribs are the main attraction, but ribs are only desirable once every other month. This Blue Smoke needs to offer BBQ chicken, more cuts of beef, and several other items that all barbeques offer.

The bake shop is not taking off. Again, perhaps to avoid ridicule, they do not offer the obvious deserts like apple, cherry, blueberry or coconut pie. The cupcakes have nice butter cream icing, but look like mini-cupcakes. It is also difficult to purchase anything from the bake shop as a walk in customer.

Chef Gordon Ramsay needs to come to Blue Smoke and make some changes.

North End Grill:

This is Danny Meyer’s newest high-end restaurant which was recently awarded “Best New Restaurant” by the 2013 Zagat survey. The well trained and super friendly staff are what make this place. They could serve a piece of microwaved salmon from Whole Foods and this reviewer would not notice. No corners are cut to save money. There are no “bus boys” per se. All the servers pitch in to clean the table or deliver the food. At the bar, there are no bar-backs. The bartenders do it all.

The open kitchen is still a great idea. It is fascinating to watch the show, and conducive to a more professional environment. Try the row of seats facing the kitchen, or a table for two by the window. You might see one of the A-list celebrities who live nearby.

Since opening, the North End Grill has added a peaceful outdoor cafe seating with a spectacular view of the Hudson River and Irish Memorial, which is the closest thing to a Parisian sidewalk meal as you will find in Manhattan (Of note, the view is not blocked by tour buses and cars thanks to BatteryPark.TV, and customers walking to North End Grill are less likely to be run over, also thanks in small part to efforts by BP.TV).

North End Grill is now slowly getting into the beef offerings in a prime way. They have organically raised cows sent from a nearby New York farm, and they dry age the beef sides in the windowed meat room. With the special wood grills, this could be the best steak house Downtown. Call ahead, because they rarely have these steaks.


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