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Commerce
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Commerce

Nostalgic for an old New York.

50 Commerce St., between Bedford and Barrow Sts. (212) 524-2301
Dinner: Mon.-Sat., 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
CUISINE: New American
VIBE: Charming tavern
OCCASION: Neighborhood dining; group dinner
DON’T-MISS DISH: Marinated fluke sashimi; red snapper with Thai-inspired herb broth
PRICE: Appetizers, $11-19; entrees, $23-44; desserts, $9-16
RESERVATIONS: Recommended

Cue the historical relevance of 50 Commerce St.: Nestled on a cobblestone-paved corner in Greenwich Village,
this address has seen a Depression-era speakeasy, the 50-year-long run
of the Blue Mill Tavern and a quintessential neighborhood haunt, Grange
Hall. Did I mention a short-lived restaurant that resurrected the name
of the Blue Mill Tavern?

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like
to dine in the Village in the 1940s, step into Commerce. It’s the
newest incarnation of this landmark building. Co-owners Tony Zazula and
chef Harold Moore,
who met while working at Montrachet, have elegantly appointed the space
with bronze sconces, an Art Deco Brunswick bar and restored wooden
booths from the original Blue Mill Tavern.

The menus are presented in chintzy plastic slips, but this is not standard tavern fare. Trained under Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef Moore issues New American cuisine, rife with ambition and refinement.

Instead
of the down-home comforts of meatloaf or a green bean casserole, you’ll
find a salad of “20 herbs and lettuces,” sliced beef tataki and a
market special of parsnip soup with black cherry foie gras and maple
syrup gelée. There’s even a full-time baker in the kitchen, exclusively
devoted to a glorious assortment of housemade pretzels, olive rolls,
crusty baguettes and brioches.

You could spend an evening just
feasting on the bread basket, but then you’d miss out on a classically
French arrangement of warm oysters luxuriating in a Champagne sauce,
decked with leeks, caviar and slivers of potato. Or an exceptionally
fresh appetizer of lime-marinated fluke sashimi, perfectly seasoned
with fleur de sel and an herb-infused oil. There’s also a fantastic
treatment of crispy-skinned snapper, which gets a foamy rush of flavor
from a green coconut-curry broth that’s poured over the filet
tableside.

Though there are a handful of successes on the menu,
too many dishes amounted to overworked compositions with little payoff.
A poached chicken breast, deprived of its skin, proved a bland
centerpiece for a mushy assemblage of potato purée, mushrooms and a
braised mixture of cabbage and brussel sprouts. A $52 steamed dorade
for two offered no real flavor at all, sinking into a watery verjus
scattered with plum tomatoes. Even worse, a stuffed veal breast was
entirely obscured by a chalky stuffing and a heavy-handed tarragon
mustard sauce.

Then there were misplaced sweet potato
tortelloni doused in a pomegranate molasses, so cloying that they were
better suited to the dessert menu. Pastry chef Josue Ramos
conceives restrained desserts, the best of which was a cocoa-dusted
chocolate mousse with dainty cubes of Champagne gelée and a velvety
chocolate peanut butter marquise, grounded in a celery salad and salty
peanuts.

Bent on proving his versatility and culinary
repertoire, Moore overreaches with a self-conscious and pricey menu
that feels notably out of sync with the informal tavern setting.

While
the food hounds are currently packing into the cramped dining quarters,
the handsome bar offers a welcome refuge for locals to sip old-school
cocktails and fondly remember the building’s storied past.

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