Address: 409 West 14th St., btwn. Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Occasion: Group Dinner: Night out
Hours: Dinner, mon-Wed, 6p.m.-11:30 p.m., Thu-Sat, 6p.m.-1:30a.m., Sun, 6p.m.-11p.m.
Don’t Miss Dish: Tuna tacos; Strip steak, Apple cobbler
Average Price: Appetizers, $ Entrees, $ Dessert, $12.
Reservations: Highly Recommended.
Capsule: Carnivores in Clubland.
Maybe I’m getting old, but I like a little separate between church and state at dinner. I don’t care less about who’s sitting at the next table than what they’re eating for dinner. I was definitely in the minority on the nights I dined at Abe & Arthurs, a new restaurant that opened over a month ago in the old Lotus space.
The Meatpacking District is much better known for its nightlife than its dining scene, but there are a number of wonderful exceptions, like Scarpetta, Bill’s Bar & Burger, and The Standard Grill. In fact, The Standard Grill is a perfect example of a restaurant that’s mastered the art of being everything to everyone. There’s a distinct separation between church & state — an upfront bar with trendy cocktails & charcuterie, a bistro, civilized dining room, beer garden, and swanky new lounge currently called the Boom Boom Room.
The propietors of Abe & Arthur’s own nightclubs, like Tenjune and nightclubs that also play restaurants like STK. Their newest venture aims to be an American grill that also serves as a hot late-night lounge. Abe & Arthur’s is named for the owners’ grandparents and so is the Symone Lounge just below the dining room. The chef is Franklin Becker, a veteran of the NYC dining scene, who’s worked everywhere from Brasserie to Capitale. He’s a good chef with a string of bad luck over the past year, including Sheridan Square and Delicatessen.
His latest menu features standard American dishes with an emphasis on steakhouse classics. There’s a raw bar with oysters, clams, shrimp, lobster, and one of those seafood tower. Guests can choose from an array of salads, roasted chicken, seafood, three different cuts of steak with four homemade steak sauces. As for sides, there’s some creative riffs on traditional sides, like sweet-garlic mashed potatoes, corn succotash with bacon, and a delicious version of mac & cheese crowned with brown butter and breadcrumbs.
It’s impossible to hear a word anyone says in the dining room. Our server had to shout descriptions of dishes at us one at a time. Apparently, the steaks our “soaked in butter.” Now, I love Peter Luger and I’m not naive about what goes on behind kitchen doors, but “soaked” is not really what I’m looking for in a steak. I ordered it anyway.
Have you ever had that delivery experience where you’re too lazy to go out or cook, so you order take-out and it’s at your order in five minutes. Most of us have. It’s one of those
don’t ask, don’t tell” phenomenons. You’re hungry and it gets the job done. But I’d never had that experience in a restaurant, nevermind a fashionable new eatery. No more than four minutes had passed when out from the kitchen came our appetizers. We all looked at each other in disbelief. The crab cakes were cold and soggy and so were the supposedly “exploding” blue cheese croutons on a salad of field greens. (But who sends back a salad?)
Of course, I had to investigate further. Our server swore the kitchen had just made our crab cakes. “In three minutes?” I asked. She insisted they did and we insisted on new ones. Second time round, they were terrific. There was hardly any breading, just blue crab meat held together by curried mayonnaise and with roasted corn and a tangy red pepper sauce. The tuna tartare in the tacos were impeccably fresh, dabbed with avocado and a red chili aioli, but the taco shells just detracted from the dish.
On two occasions, the strip steak was well-charred and cooked to order. But I wasn’t a fan of a tough pork chop or a seriously overcooked entree of Chatham cod on a muck of cabbage with puffed rice. I did love the spiced sweet potato fries and the mac & cheese.
Desserts were too gimmicky to take seriously, especially the “Carnival for Two” — a ferris wheel of lukewarm donuts that came with plastic bottles to “inject” a strawberry-raspberry sauce and a funky lemon curd into the center of each. There is a good wine by the glass selection and cocktail list. If I were you, I’d give up on surrender to the noise level and people-watch. I just hope Franklin Becker finds the right stage for his cooking because no one’s paying any attention at Abe & Arthur’s, including the staff.