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Brasserie 44

Address: 44 W. 44th St., between Fifth & Sixth Aves. 

Phone: (212) 944-8844
Hours: Dinner, Sun.-Thur., 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5:30 p.m.-midnight. Breakfast &
lunch service.

Cuisine: Modern American.

Vibe: Yacht adrift.

Occasion: Under-the-radar dinner; hotel dining.

Don’t Miss Dish: Sweet onion tart; olive oil poached salmon.

Price: Appetizers, $14-24; entrees, $24-44; desserts, $12-15.

Reservations: Accepted.

Capsule: The nautically themed Brasserie 44 feels like a restaurant adrift in the Royalton Hotel.

A $17.5 million facelift and a newly minted restaurant were meant to reignite the once iconic Royalton Hotel. So where is everybody?

Media moguls once flocked to the Philippe Starck-designed
boutique hotel. Its futuristic lobby looked like a runway leading to
its restaurant, 44, the city’s most fashionable cafeteria. But even the
best of trends fall out of fashion.

After a dramatic renovation, the Royalton Hotel’s lobby now looks
like a plush bachelor pad. Designers Roman and Williams have outfitted
it with masculine cowhide-covered lounges and a two-sided gas
fireplace.

Stashed at the far rear of the lobby is Brasserie 44. Restaurateur John McDonald
(Lever House, Lure Fishbar) has swapped the minimalist trappings in
favor of creamy leather banquettes, glossy teak wood and woven rope
arches that evoke a yacht-at-sea vibe. Though it feels luxurious and
serene, the space appears timid against the swanky backdrop of the
lobby.

McDonald has elected chef Scott Ekstrom
(Oceana, Daniel) to oversee the modern American menu that ambitiously
straddles breakfast, lunch, dinner and room service. Thus, it caters to
a broad scope of hotel guests at the sacrifice of excitement.

Like the setting itself, many of the dishes proved timid and
lackluster. A steamed black bass barely registered any flavor at all.
The dashi broth poured tableside, albeit a lovely gesture, was nearly
as tasteless. Room temperature gnocchi neither benefited from a thin
saucing of beurre noisette (browned butter) nor an accessory of white
asparagus, distinguishable only by texture.

Even a milk-fed poularde (chicken) wasn’t particularly juicy or
crispy. And though I was fond of its roasted artichoke accompaniment,
they certainly didn’t warrant a pilgrimage through a lobby that spans a
city block.

But Ekstrom’s olive oil-poached salmon is worth the trek. The glossy
pink fillet sits above stewed leeks on a plate richly painted with
dollops of sour cream and caviar vinaigrette.

A sweet onion tart is nearly as delicious. Its flaky crust is
flavorfully stacked with caramelized onions, chevre cheese and a
shallot confit. There’s also a velvety risotto that gets its thickness
from an acorn squash puree, and a terrific sunchoke soup topped with
smoky bacon and wild mushrooms.

At times Ekstrom’s pedigree translates to overworked dishes with
underwhelming results. Medallions of lobster were clobbered by maitake
mushrooms and artichoke barigoule. Not to mention a fistful of frisee
and pea shoots. I felt like I was fishing for lobster in a jungle of
greens. The short ribs were tough and curiously topped with a
penny-sized dollop of bone marrow, which had to be identified by the
server and did nothing to enhance the meat.

But pastry chef Tai Chopping‘s subtly crunchy chocolate torta, encircled by spicy cardamom foam, makes a seductive case for fuss.

Still, more than half of the tables were vacant on numerous visits.
Sequestered deep inside the belly of the hotel, Brasserie 44 is
strangely adrift in a veritable abyss. The restaurant was nearly as
quiet at breakfast, where I enjoyed Ekstrom’s fluffy cornmeal pancakes.
But while a captive hotel audience may not wince at an $8 order of
homestyle potatoes or a $14 bowl of soup, Manhattan‘s
vast culinary landscape offers too many other exciting and affordable
dining options. New Yorkers no longer seem to be taking the bait at the
Royalton.

sits above stewed
leeks on a plate richly painted with dollops of sour cream and caviar
vinaigrette.

A sweet onion tart is nearly as delicious. Its
flaky crust is flavorfully stacked with caramelized onions, chevre
cheese and a shallot confit. There’s also a velvety risotto that gets
its thickness from an acorn squash puree, and a terrific sunchoke soup
topped with smoky bacon and wild mushrooms.

At times Ekstrom’s
pedigree translates to overworked dishes with underwhelming results.
Medallions of lobster were clobbered by maitake mushrooms and artichoke
barigoule. Not to mention a fistful of frisee and pea shoots. I felt
like I was fishing for lobster in a jungle of greens. The short ribs
were tough and curiously topped with a penny-sized dollop of bone
marrow, which had to be identified by the server and did nothing to
enhance the meat.

But pastry chef Tai Chopping’s subtly crunchy
chocolate torta, encircled by spicy cardamom foam, makes a seductive
case for fuss.

Still, more than half of the tables were vacant
on numerous visits. Sequestered deep inside the belly of the hotel,
Brasserie 44 is strangely adrift in a veritable abyss. The restaurant
was nearly as quiet at breakfast, where I enjoyed Ekstrom’s fluffy
cornmeal pancakes. But while a captive hotel audience may not wince at
an $8 order of homestyle potatoes or a $14 bowl of soup, Manhattan’s
vast culinary landscape offers too many other exciting and affordable
dining options. New Yorkers no longer seem to be taking the bait at the
Royalton.

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