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The Libertine

British pub grub altered – for the worse –

for the American palate.
The Libertine restaurant New York
15 Gold St., (212) 785-5950.
Lunch: Mon.-Fri.,
11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Mon.-Thurs., 5:30-10:30 p.m.; Fri., 5:30-11; Sat.-Sun., 6-10. Brunch: Sat.-Sun., 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
CUISINE: Brit comfort food
VIBE: Think private men’s club.
OCCASION: Business lunch, group dinner
DON’T-MISS DISHES: Lamb potpie, hazelnut chocolate trifle
AVERAGE PRICE: Appetizers, $14; entrees, $25; dessert, $10

I’m all for whimsy and chefs who play with my food. After all, it’s
just food. I’m game for a gimmick – as long as it tastes good. A
Kobe-beef pig in a blanket? I can’t argue with that. Sliders?
Overplayed, yes. But in the right hands, sliders can be worth a
month-long wait for a table. Case in point: the gravy-smothered
meatball sliders at the Little Owl. Apple pie with cheddar bacon
crumble on top? It all depends on who’s baking it. Nicole Kaplan can crumble bacon over my dessert any day.

I was open to the pork chop with a caramel-apple salad at the
Libertine. That’s the new restaurant tucked away in a corner of the Gild Hall Hotel
down in the Financial District. The Libertine looks nothing like a
hotel restaurant, and exactly like a private men’s club – tufted
leather banquettes, sleek brown tables, oak-paneled walls, dim lighting
– all of it oddly situated on a quirky, quiet cobblestoned street.


The Libertine serves British comfort food. You can eat it in the
dining room or order it upstairs in a faux library with old books
lining the walls and a longhorn hide on the floor.

that brings us back to the pork chop with caramel-apple salad. I’ll be
honest. I didn’t see the red candy coming -the kind you’d find covering
an apple on a stick at a state fair, sugary shards scattered over a
steamrolled pork chop crusted in panko. Nor did I expect the
caramel-apple salad, which crowned the pork chop, to be so musty and
murky. Bottom line: Not a good idea. In these times, it’s also hard to
swallow $22 for an appetizer of three generic-tasting lobster-“roll”
sliders. And if you order the crab cake Cobb – three delicate cakes on
a bit of greenery – you’ll end up wondering where the Cobb went.

menu at the Libertine raises a few questions. For instance, the “steak
and kidney pie” is made with braised short ribs and totally lacking in
kidney. Does Todd English,
a British chef, think Americans are afraid of a little kidney in their
pie? He’s right. We are. (“I feel like a little kidney tonight.” Good
luck with that.) That’s the way the menu here works.

It fudges
the English standards in ways that sometimes succeed but more often
don’t. I liked the braised-lamb potpie with an unusual, harissa-spiced
dough. But not the oatmeal-crusted quail. It made me feel like a kid
being tricked into eating something by her mother. The hazelnut trifle,
on the other hand, is terrific – made with a wonderful chocolate-stout
sorbet, salty chocolate wafers and a wild-cherry marmalade.

The Libertine got me thinking about the state of British cooking in America these days. I think we’ve come a long way. At the Spotted Pig, April Bloomfield does for us what the restaurant St. John did for London
– brings us intense, earthy British cooking. But what Todd English is
serving up is English pub grub altered – for the worse – for the
American palate. The flavors have been neutered and too many
ingredients seem strangely out of place.

There have been many
remarkable hotel restaurants: Lespinasse, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
and Le Louis XV, to name a few. Sadly, this isn’t one of them.

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