Address: 71 Spring St., btwn. Crosby & Lafayette Sts.
Cuisine: French-bent global
Vibe: Modern swank
Scene: Euro crowd
Hours: Dinner, Mon – Thu, 5:30pm – 10:30pm; Fri & Sat, 5:30pm – 11pm; Lunch, Friday, 12pm-2:30pm.
First Bite Impressions: Lost in translation
Price: Appetizers, $14; Entrees, $30.
Reservations: Reservations recommended.
Chef Didier Virot & his partner Philip Kirsh are testing their luck at NYC’s restaurant roulette again. While Virot’s first venture notably brought refined French to the Upper West Side, he’s decided this time to tempt fate in Soho with a mixed bag of nearly every cuisine under the “French sun” (Lebanon, Morocco, Vietnam, & Africa to name a few). The two-level space also happens to be in throwing distance from Balthazar, which makes it nearly impossible to avoid side-by-side comparisons to McNally’s French tour de force. But unlike Balthazar’s worn-in brasserie decor, FR.OG looks nothing like France. From a white marble bar to pink ultrasuede banquettes & disco ball-mirrored stairwell, the sleek setting feels more like a swanky nightclub than a restaurant.
While the setting implies frivolity, both the menu and prices suggest an aggressive reach toward destination status. It’s difficult enough to master one region’s cuisine, but upwards of four countries is ambitious to say the least. But Chef Virot attempts just that with a global brew: braised lamb shank with roasted duck breast with cinnamon & Moroccan couscous, monkfish in tajine and foie gras sauteed with ginger crust. Moroccan spices even make their way onto the cocktail menu, implemented by mixologist Robin Lewis, who concocts saffron-perfumed champagne & Vietnamese herb-infused rum. I sampled a ginger rose, a honeyed elixir of gin, litchi & ginger – a drink that’s pleasing on its own, but unfortunately clashed with my curiously plated seared lamb loin (note the photo). Unsettling, no? This long, tasty rope of lamb snuck a lemony kick from a dusting of sumac (nonpoisonous red berry), but went sadly unserved by a tasteless taboulee, apparently just for show. Ditto on a mess of shredded cabbage & carrots that accompanies cardamom & cane sugar-crusted scallops to the table.
Mismatched plates seem a running theme at FR.OG, again rearing its head in an entree of colossal shrimp – indeed enormous – but practically upstaged by a phallic-looking & remarkably tasteless, eggplant roll. But once tossed aside, the deliciously juicy, coriander-spiked shrimp cushioned by the cool pillow of celery root & coconut puree. Likewise, a springy melange of fresh corn, carrots, cabbage & bacon, was the perfect interplay of smoky and delicate textures. If only it weren’t served with an overcooked & chewy pork loin fell flat, seasoned with a barey discernible caramel-ginger sauce.
Chef Andres Vasquez pulls off a luxuriously moist coffee-tinged sponge cake with a naughty mound of Bailey’s ice cream. A prim riff on peanut butter & jelly, the peanut butter bomb itself delights, but strikes discord against a “salad” of strawberries, pine nuts & olive oil. The word salad should never ever appear on a dessert menu. Alas, most diners, were too busy texting or scamming to appreciate Virot’s overly precious plates. FR.OG suffers from an identity crisis: it strives toward chef-driven stardom while simultaneously luring a scenester clientele.
Until we eat again,
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