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South Gate
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South Gate

We have some reservations.

ADDRESS:154 Central Park South
PHONE: (212) 484-5120
DINNER: Sun.-Thur., 5.30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
CUISINE  Seasonal American.
VIBE Sleek hotel eatery.
OCCASION  Hotel dining; dessert destination.
DON’T-MISS DISH  Buttercup flan; flash-seared calamari.
PRICE Appetizers, $10-$21; entrees, $24-$39; desserts, $9-$12.
RESERVATIONS  Recommended.

How fitting that South Gate premiered just on the heels of the highly anticipated unveiling of Alain Ducasse‘s Adour. After all, South Gate, and its chef, Kerry Heffernan, were installed to fill the void left when Ducasse vacated the Essex House.

While Alain Ducasse’s former restaurant was buried in the rear of the building, South Gate has its own street entrance on Central Park
South. With its glitzy glass façade overlooking the park, it’s a
radically hip departure from Ducasse’s classically French production.
Designed by Tony Chi,
the sleek space is embellished with a long marble bar, modern gas
fireplace and fractured mirror panels along the ceiling and walls of
the front bar and 90-seat dining room.

In keeping with the culinary fashion of the moment, South Gate
embraces a seasonal American menu, aggressively positioning itself as a
trendy dining destination. This is Heffernan’s official reentry into
the Manhattan dining scene after serving as the executive chef at Eleven Madison Park for seven years.

He returns with the same wild mushroom martini he conceived at
Eleven Madison Park. It’s still a thick, woodsy mushroom puree
punctuated by wilted spinach, a poached egg, and a crispy shard of
pancetta. There, he also demonstrated a keen finesse for molding
vegetables into relentlessly silky textures. At South Gate, he turns
out a similar, standout buttercup squash flan that yields tremendous
richness with every melting spoonful. It’s plated with pan-roasted
brussels sprouts, black trumpet mushrooms and crusty drifts of
breadcrumbs, all of which complement the flan centerpiece. Both
appetizers are finely distinguished by the familiarity and purity of
their ingredients.

I would order the flash-seared calamari for its earthy cauliflower
custard alone. But the tender ringlets of calamari that accompany it
get an equally charmed gloss of lobster coriander sauce.

Beyond familiar holdovers from Eleven Madison Park, Heffernan fails
to deliver new thrills. Employing a vast hodgepodge of ingredients, his
dishes tend to emerge in a blizzard of flavors with little rhyme or
reason to their union. The butter-roasted lobster was caught in a
hostile tug of war between overbearing seasonings of marjoram, red
pepper and tart kimchi in a clam broth beneath the innocent crustacean.
A hot-smoked char wholly surrendered to bitter shocks of grapefruit,
nicoise olives and a mustard-streaked vinaigrette.

The meat entrees were an altogether grim roster of consistently
fatty cuts, stripped of critical succulence. The glazed pork belly came
cloaked in a gluey layer of fat, which had to be peeled off to get to
any traceable meat. So did an excessively chewy roasted rib of beef,
flanked by an allspice-muffled short rib. Not to mention a smoky
grilled shoulder of lamb that tasted more like charcoal than lamb.

Rewarding dishes are scarce among the savory selection, but the
kitchen has a much better handle on desserts, all of which were
exceptionally executed. Warm slivers of cider-roasted apples are paved
with a dense bacon streusel and paired with a phenomenal maple pecan
ice cream. But the most imaginative composition was a frozen blood
orange parfait, stocked with mascarpone sorbet and crunchy explosions
of meringue and butter cookie.

While South Gate can be assured of a built-in audience of hotel
guests and business types, the hip trappings and weaknesses in the menu
aren’t going to compel discerning diners here.

 

roster of consistently fatty cuts, stripped of critical
succulence. The glazed pork belly came cloaked in a gluey layer of fat,
which had to be peeled off to get to any traceable meat. So did an
excessively chewy roasted rib of beef, flanked by an allspice-muffled
short rib. Not to mention a smoky grilled shoulder of lamb that tasted
more like charcoal than lamb.

Rewarding dishes are scarce among
the savory selection, but the kitchen has a much better handle on
desserts, all of which were exceptionally executed. Warm slivers of
cider-roasted apples are paved with a dense bacon streusel and paired
with a phenomenal maple pecan ice cream. But the most imaginative
composition was a frozen blood orange parfait, stocked with mascarpone
sorbet and crunchy explosions of meringue and butter cookie.

While
South Gate can be assured of a built-in audience of hotel guests and
business types, the hip trappings and weaknesses in the menu aren’t
going to compel discerning diners here.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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