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The House

121 East 17th St., btwn. Park & Irving Place
212-353-2121

TYPE: Continental grab bag
VIBE:
Charmed townhouse
OCCASION:
A romantic date or glass of wine
DON’T MISS DISH: Roasted zucchini with pattypan squash & cracked olives
DON’T BOTHER DISH: Seared branzino
DRINK SPECIALTY: A sturdy wine list with quartino & half-bottle offerings
PRICE: $50 & up
HOURS: Dinner, Sun – Tue, 5 PM – 2 AM; Wed – Sat, 5 PM – 3 AM; Sat & Sun, Brunch, 11:30 AM – 3:15 PM.
RESERVATIONS: Reservations accepted, recommended for third floor dining.
RESTAURANT GIRL RATES: 4 on food, 8 on ambience
FINAL WORD
: You’ll want to move into this bewitching Gramercy townhouse, but beware of a grumpy master of “The House” and a dull hodgepodge of undistinguished fare.

It’s not often you discover a restaurant quite as inviting as The House, at least as far as appearances ago.  Even from the outside, the beautiful brick exterior and generous black-paned windows of this 1854 carriage house demand attention.  Upon entering through a little black door, visitors seem instantly taken by the glamorous black & white decor, crystal chandeliers, etched mirrors and silver-coated brick walls.  While the main floor’s tall tables and stools lend themselves to a wine bar atmosphere, the upstairs dining room serenely towers over a quiet Gramercy street.   

As you stand in the entrance, you can’t help but wonder why there hasn’t been much buzz about this new spot.  But as Eater deftly pointed out, the restaurant’s all but unsearchable and apart from The House’s website, it practically doesn’t exist. The master of “The House”, who goes only by J.P. and refuses to disclose his full name, is curiously resistant to answering any questions about his restaurant.  As I waited by the front door, I noticed that every visitor who arrived was not greeted, but rather eyed suspiciously as if some stranger had showed up and rung the doorbell unexpectedly.  After being forced to waiting in a tiny front entranceway for fifteen minutes with no sign of a table, a party of four with reservations gave up and went elsewhere.  The House was unsympathetic to the group at best.  I had made my reservation only that morning and, while the third floor dining room was full, there was room on the first floor.  “I prefer that floor.  It’s where the chef’s table is,” the hostess assured me.

BASEMENT DINING
I don’t recommend it.  Dining on this floor is like eating in a basement kitchen.  We were sat directly next to the server station, where waiters came and went with orders.  It’s usually the norm for chefs to work inside the kitchen, but consulting chef Sean Olnowich (Wild Thyme in the Hamptons) stood on the outside passively inspecting plated dishes as they made their way to the dining room.  I attempted to distract myself from the bustle with the wine list; an eclectic and happily inspired 150-bottle selection, featuring 15 quartinos and 25 half-bottles.  I settled upon a ambrosial red – Agamium 2004 from Piedmont – which for only $38, was the very definition of a “bang for your buck” bottle.

THE MENU
It’s confusing.  While the menu leans toward Continental – oysters rockefeller, lobster club and a raw bar – it’s also dotted with Italian dishes, like rigatoni, lasagna and assorted salumi.  Then there’s the random hummus and baba ganoush offering, which Bruni makes note of in his Diner’s Journal.  What no one seems to pick up on is the only thing that ties tuna crudo, a raw bar and hummus together is the lack of actual preparation involved.  With only four burners and three floors of tables, the menu is a strategic effort to minimize the number of dishes that require cooking. 

THE FOOD
We started with the yellowfin tuna crudo; four thin slices of fish, coated in a caper-olive relish, then garnished with an anchiovy aioli and bottarga powder.  While the fish was silky and fresh, it was suffocated by both the salty caper-olive relish and fishy anchovy oil.  A market-fresh bowl of roasted baby zucchini, tossed with plum tomatoes and pattypan squash, received a bright kick from cracked green & black olives.

I thought I’d strike up a conversation with the chef (seeing as he was stationed only a foot away), while we waited for our entrees.  “I’m more of a consultant for the restaurant.  I’m supervising a bunch of different projects in the city right now,” the chef insisted when I inquired about his new job.  So much for small talk.


The seared branzino was an unremarkable fish served atop an unpleasantly cold and bland white bean salad with yellow beets.  I didn’t want to eat at the restaurant and not indulge in their signature, “The House” Lasagna.  A slice of lasagna arrived unravelled: a warm mess of tomato sauce was studded with a flavorful wild boar and undetectable pancetta.  It was good, not great.

DESSERT
The House offers a daily selection of Blackhound’s baked goods,  Il Laboratorio del Gelato ice cream and Steve’s key lime tart, which begs the question: who is Steve?  Apparently Red Hook’s key lime connoisseur, it was indeed nicely tart and smooth.  But if I want to eat store-bought desserts, I’ll make a City Bakery run and adjourn to my apartment.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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