Hotel restaurants used to have a really bad rap — as cheesy, subpar, paint-by-numbers establishments, focused on the unrefined, meat and potatoes tastes of fanny pack-wearing tourists. But nowadays, that couldn’t be further from the case; eateries situated in hotels are frequently counted amongst Manhattan’s finest — from Jean-Georges in the Trump Tower and Café Boulud in The Surrey, to The Breslin in the Ace, Marta in the Martha Washington, and The NoMad in, well, The NoMad.
Brooklyn, on the other hand, remains relatively uncharted territory… sure, Reynard in the tony Wythe is generally respected, but The Elm in the King & Grove (headed by the decidedly un-Brooklyn Paul Liebrandt) all but crashed and burned, shuttering in less than two years. A brand new restaurant, Oleanders, is hoping to make a statement in the newly christened space, now dubbed McCarren Hotel & Pool.
As was the case at The Elm, the “pool” part means you’ll likely cross paths with bathing suit-clad patrons, toweling off in the shared subterranean bathrooms, although hopefully, that will be less of an issue come fall. Cooler weather should also prove beneficial regarding Oleanders hearty, retro fare, which pays very little lip-service to carb-counting, bikini bodies, or staunch seasonality (a shocker, considering the co-owners are Francesco Panella, from celeb-studded Roman export, Antica Pesa, and Brooklyn trailblazer Joe Carroll, of Spuyten Duyvil, St. Anselm, and Fette Sau).
Taking its cue from the “fern bars” of the 1970’s (a tiki-fueled, American comfort food-espousing concept, commercialized by TGI Fridays and Ruby Tuesdays), the cocktail list comes from famed mixologist Dale Degroff, and includes Grasshoppers, Pina Coladas, and even balls-to-the-wall boozy Long Island Iced Teas. Chef Kevin Chojnowski (Willow Road, Public, Olives NY) is responsible for the rib-sticking food menu, which features throwbacks like Lobster Thermidor (well served by the current French brasserie explosion), a creamy, apple and walnut-studded Waldorf Salad, tender Trout Almondine topped with charred bean salad and green grapes, and a truly admirable ode to Clams Casino; fat, fleshy cherrystones, accented (instead of obscured) with smoked bacon and breadcrumbs.
Dessert offerings are also blasts from the past; think Apple Brown Betty, Peach Melba and Baked Alaska, piped with porcupine puffs of meringue. It’s straightforward, uncomplicated, and essentially uninterpreted fare, but if Paul Liebrandt couldn’t make a go of it with deconstructed Chicken Kiev, tiny towers of foie gras and “jelly,” and gold-plated matchsticks of chocolate cake, perhaps Oleanders stands a fighting chance with Liver & Onions, Beef Wellington and rosy croquettes of Deviled Crab.