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54 Prince St., at Lafayette St. (212) 226-0211
Mon.-Sat., 7:30 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sun., 7:30 a.m.-midnight.
CUISINE Creative comfort food.
VIBE Open-air theater.
OCCASION Casual date; group dining.
DON’T-MISS DISH Bangers and mash, Ovaltine pudding parfait.
AVERAGE PRICE Appetizers, $7-$11; entrees, $12-$24; dessert, $8.

Not many delicatessens require reservations. Then again, Delicatessen isn’t a “deli” in any conventional sense of the word.

a sleek, open-air theater in SoHo – floating leather banquettes, glossy
white tables, a backlit bar and black Escalades parked out front. The
restaurant spills onto the corner of Prince and Lafayette,
and the corner spills into the restaurant. Waiters walk out onto the
sidewalk to bring you your food. Right out front, slim young things
smoke cigarettes and stare at their cell phones as if they were
compacts. The social electricity lights up the block.

On a
summer night when the garage-door windows are open, it’s a nice idea
for a restaurant. The question is this: Who will want to eat here on a
dark, rainy night in November?

The owners of Delicatessen also
opened a restaurant called Cafeteria, which isn’t a cafeteria. It makes
perfect sense. They’re serving food that isn’t actually food. What
they’re really serving is a scene.

Delicatessen tries to live up to its name, but it’s an empty
gesture. The menu features chopped liver, matzo ball soup and a Reuben.

Except the Reuben here isn’t a Reuben at all. That’s the approach, an ironic take on comfort food.

Reuben is the culinary equivalent of a heart attack – deep-fried
fritters, choked by much too much batter. Inside the batter, there are
barely detectable traces of corned beef and Swiss cheese. The Thousand
Island dressing it’s served with tastes like the takeout variety – the
kind that comes in packets.

The cheeseburger spring rolls,
clearly a novelty item, resemble a Hot Pocket stuffed with supergluey
American cheese and loose ground beef. Speaking of Hot Pockets, the
halibut tacos look like an open-faced rendition of this microwave
classic. The filling tastes disconcertingly like whitefish salad doused
with guacamole and kimchi sour cream.

So what happens if you
shy away from the gimmicks? You would hope you’d be able to take refuge
in a regular burger. It’s really hard to fumble a burger. But the
burger at Delicatessen – overwhelmed by its bun – is stubborn,
serviceable at best. The French fries that accompany it are not
serviceable. They look like fries, but they’re all exterior. They
crumble on contact.

Everyone likes a little grease with their
onion rings, but these are really batter rings. Not many delicatessens
feature sautéed yellowfin tuna over buckwheat soba noodles on the menu.
For good reason. This one does and out it comes from the kitchen, gummy
and cold.

Some of the dishes suggest serious culinary intent. And so does the sourcing of the chef, Doron Wong, fresh from Clio, a prominent restaurant in Boston.
But the clientele doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to the food.
And that may very well explain why the kitchen isn’t paying much
attention either.

One night, we tried the passionfruit cosmo –
really a cosmopolitan in couture. It comes in a glass goblet, filled
only halfway, as if another customer had gotten to it first.

When it was dropped off at the table, my dining companion stared at her $14 drink in disbelief.

half-full,” I said. She took one swift look around the room and said,
“No. It’s definitely half-empty.” Dinner at Delicatessen is a spectator
sport, best watched from the sidewalk sidelines.

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