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Eighty One

An upscale newcomer on the upper West Side.

45 W. 81st St., between Central Park West & Columbus Ave. (212) 873-8181
Dinner, Sun.-Thur., 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m; Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.-11:30 p.m.
CUISINE Modern American
VIBE Upper West Side elegance
OCCASION Romantic date; fine dining
DON’T-MISS DISH Sea scallop & foie gras ravioli; dry-aged Black Angus sirloin
PRICE Appetizers, $12-39; entrees, $29-42; desserts, $12
RESERVATIONS Recommended
With Dovetail, Bar Boulud,

With Dovetail, Bar Boulud, Madeleine Mae
and the latest arrival of Eighty One, the upper West Side is having an
impressive run of new restaurants. If I lived in the neighborhood, I
would certainly make a habit out of the scallop and foie gras ravioli
at Eighty One. It’s a splendid appetizer conceived by chef-owner Ed Brown,
who served as executive chef at the Sea Grill for 14 years. If you’re
not familiar with his cooking, these sophisticated nibbles make a great
first impression. The crowning touch is a straw wine sauce that
sharpens the sweetness of the scallop while cutting the richness of the
foie gras.

Eighty One puts a high premium on luxury ingredients with downright
lofty prices; the contemporary American menu is peppered with foie
gras, sweetbreads and truffles. The foie gras hails from the Hudson Valley
and the black truffles – which diners can have shaved over any dish for
$42 – are shipped from Provence. The space is nearly as elegant as the
menu, cloaked entirely in red velvet: plush banquettes, upholstered
walls and drapery. The bustle of the 120-seat dining room is proof that
fine dining and white tablecloth affairs are still thriving on New York City‘s notoriously casual dining front.

Eighty One strives toward upscale pleasures instead of bold
invention. There is a lovely arrangement of roasted root vegetables
that gets drizzled in a full-bodied salsify and apple vinegar, as well
as a fine pumpkin risotto, crowned with braised chicken wings and a
nutty dash of pumpkin oil. While neither dish is revelatory, these
perfectly civilized gestures cater to a conservative upper West Side
clientele. Both are listed among six selections labeled “tasting
collection,” which encourages guests to construct their own tasting
menu. This route may foster freedom, but it also puts these offerings
on a pedestal; suddenly, the appetizers and entrees seem like
second-class citizens that don’t always live up to their charmed
billing.

Though Brown earned a reputation for his finesse with seafood at the
Sea Grill, these dishes oddly proved a weaker point of the menu. A
cautiously flavored entree of Japanese hamachi, cooked à la plancha,
was dominated by a briny scattering of baby clams seasoned with
parsley, chili and garlic. Main characters were constantly being
upstaged by their supporting cast: A lackluster fillet of black bass
went neglected in the more interesting company of lobster-stuffed
endive, sea beans and a frothy lobster emulsion. Baby calamari was
wildly overshadowed by its accompaniments, which included a lush potato
sauce, smoked paprika and chorizo.

Brown has much better success with meats, delivering an exemplary
sirloin sided by a tender short rib folded with an olive oil marmalade,
as well as a perfectly cooked pork belly plated over al dente Beluga
lentils.

Pastry chef John Miele
(Aureole) constructs an equally strong roster of desserts. There is a
deconstructed bittersweet chocolate and hazelnut mille-feuille as well
as a luscious pear tart coupled with spiced cranberries and frozen sour
cream.

Perhaps the best finds at Eighty One are a dazzling wine list, overseen by sommelier Heather Branch,
and a quaint upfront lounge. Here, diners can cozy up on a couch with a
glass of wine and those dynamite ravioli until this whole recession
blows over.

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