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What a difference a year makes. This time last year, I swore of North End Grill after having a $130 horrible Thanksgiving meal (see below). This year, things were much better with the new chef.I still need to make the time to properly review the new guy. Stay tuned.
BatteryPark.TV had not dined at North End Grill (NEG) for several months, giving them a chance to make changes and corrections (One of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality (USHG) strengths is spotting trouble and taking corrective actions). Business at NEG had been slowing down in 2013, their sophomore year, after enjoying high acclaim in its opening year of 2012. Last year, NEG was ranked “Best New Restaurant” by Zagat, etc. However, in the 2014 (this year) Zagat, it was not in the Top 100, and Michelin gave it no stars.
Some managerial and menu changes were made, as well as a new pastry chef brought in (Desserts are my area of expertise). Curious about the progress, and also having few other options for Thanksgiving, we decided to give Chef Floyd Cardoz’s cuisine a try once again. The prix fixe Thanksgiving meal in 2012 was not bad, as we recalled, although overpriced.
This year, we skipped the prix fixe dining room option and ate at the bar for à la carte. Financially, that was a dumb decision, because the tab for an entree, dessert, and side dish was almost the same cost as the entire five-course prix fixe (the bartenders gave us bad advice).
Since we have yet to try the steak now offered at NEG, we chose it instead of the turkey made by the high-tech souse-vide method (A technique started by the ex-Microsoft geek, now turned food porn chef, Nathan Myhrvold). Upon arrival, the size of the steak was a bit small for $41. It was only an 8-ounce strip steak, with too much gristle. (In contrast, around the corner, Blue Smoke offers a steak almost twice the size, at 14-ounces, also from Creekstone Farms in Kansas, and charges $5 less). Lastly, the special wood burning grills of NEG, which gave us such hope that the steak would be exceptional, seemed to have injected no special flavor at all.
It might have helped if Chef Cardoz were actually working. To our knowledge, he was not the chef. We never saw him in the open kitchen visible 30 feet away. It seems he phoned this one in.
The side dish we selected was “Truffle butter mashed potatoes”. That was a big big mistake. Truffle oil is like gasoline to this author’s stomach, and we have avoided it for so long, that we forgot about the dangers. Hidden in the middle of the bowl of potatoes, a large dollop of butter was deposited. Whoa Nelly. More on this later.
For dessert, the pecan pie made by the new pastry chef Tracy Obolsky was superb. Unlike the previous dessert menu, where items, such as the “German Chocolate Cake”, did not remotely resemble “cake” per se, this pie was traditional, with ample pecans in a nice, thick, chilled, syrupy filling.
After plunking down $85 for an 8-ounce steak that could have been purchased for $10 from a Kansas City butcher shop, we felt a bit disappointed. Little did we know, we would be feeling a lot worse. Over the next several hours, the gasoline-like truffle oil began to upset the stomach, causing nausea and vomiting as we tried to watch football.
We are not alone in our disgust for truffle oil. Many prominent chefs strongly believe that it should never be used as an ingredient. Chefs Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot, and restaurateur Joe Bastianich, famously said on the TV show MasterChef, as written in the LA Times, “One of the finalists, Tracy, went before the judging panel…. Then, she reached for a silver cylinder and began drizzling the contents over her dish. You could see the judges visibly brace, noses a-twitching, as they surmised what was happening. “What is that?” Joe asked sternly. White truffle oil, Tracy chirped, clearly quite pleased with her dish and her finish and absolutely clueless as to what was unfolding. “One of the most pungent, ridiculous ingredients ever known to chef,” Ramsay said. “I can’t believe you’ve just done that. I think you just put your apron up in flames.” “A sure sign of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing,” Bastianich continued. “Do you know that truffle oils are made by perfumists that have no white truffles in them?” He added: “Generally if you go to a restaurant and you see white truffle oil on the menu, it’s a good reason to run away.””
Chef Floyd Cardoz makes no secret of the fact that he likes strong spices. His cookbook is called “One Spice, Two Spice”. You either love his food or hate it. Critics of NEG menu items commonly say that the spiced fries are “too much” and order them sans seasoning. Other items, like the short rib burger, are too salty by a factor of three.
BatteryPark.TV hates to be negative about the North End Grill. Their service is some of the best in the city, we like USHG, and the community desperately needs fine dining. We have resisted writing a bad review of NEG for many months, for those reasons. However, enough is enough.
BatteryPark.TV no longer recommends North End Grill. It is too expensive and too hard on the stomach.