Rezdora (New York, August 2019)

Back to New York. After a run of informal or relatively casual meals, here’s the first fancy’ish restaurant for which we hired a sitter and abandoned the boys to go eat at. (By the way, Manhattan babysitting rates: what the fuck?)

When I was planning our New York eating I asked the brain trust at Mouthfuls to recommend a couple of “fine dining” (whatever that means these days) places in Manhattan where two people could eat well and get out for about $250 all-in. This sounds like a tough proposition in Manhattan but bear in mind that the missus never has more than one drink and I rarely have more than two. A few names came up but after filtering for “sounds interesting to us” and “not difficult to get a table” only two remained: Rezdora and Crown Shy. We ate at both on consecutive nights. Here first is the Rezdora write-up.

When I say it was not difficult to get a table at Rezdora you must bear in mind that I booked ours before Pete Wells reviewed the restaurant in the New York Times and gave it three stars. I’m guessing it’s become far more difficult to get a table since then. It certainly must be harder now to get one at 8.30 on a Friday evening as I managed just a few weeks out. Well, it was easy to get the table but it wasn’t easy to find the fucking restaurant. Relying on Google Maps we walked past it a couple of times before realizing where it was. Let’s just say it’s not the most visibly marked restaurant in New York. Nor when you go in will you find it to be the largest or least cramped restaurant in New York. There’s a long narrow dining room as you enter—part of which shares space with a bar—and at the rear there is another small dining room up a few stairs. I’ve no idea if the tables are more widely spaced there but in the narrow section you are right on top of each other, your table is tiny and your neighbours’ conversation is available if not always interesting.

Thankfully, the food—centered on the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna—is much better. But to get to it we had to endure some theatre of the absurd from our server who explained the menu to us as though we were illiterate. Actual questions we had were responded to with answers to the questions he thought we were asking when he cut us off. And one of his recommendations turned out to be less than optimal. We wanted to start with an order of the gnocco frito (already a signature dish and one everyone had told us to get) and their buffalo mozzarella. Alas, it transpired that they were out of the gnocco frito (at 8.30 pm on a Friday). Our server recommended instead the fancifully named “cherry season in vignola”. This was very tasty but it turned out to be very cheese-heavy alongside the mozzarella and also following the amuse which featured ricotta (and very good balsamic) over toasted bread. All of the cheese was good, and the two plates were very well composed but it was, well, a bit too much cheese to start the meal.

Things improved dramatically with the pasta course. We had taken our server’s recommendations here again and this time he did not lead us astray. The spaghettoni with clams was nothing revelatory but it was just right: perfectly cooked pasta with a sauce that complemented it perfectly. The raviolo with ricotta and egg yolk (plus chanterelles and black truffles), on the other hand, was outstanding. That said, I’m not sure why our server felt the need to cut our raviolo in half for us after setting it down. I think we had demonstrated the capacity for gross motor function by that point. We certainly demonstrated it after that as we barely left any trace of the raviolo on the plate—luckily, we’d saved some of the bread we’d ordered along with the antipasti to mop things up.

The secondi were more uneven. The rabbit (braised legs, sausage, sweetbreads) was excellent but the spigola nera/black sea bass was just fine but boring. The beans were the best thing about the plate, I thought. Why we didn’t get the veal cheek instead, I don’t know. To close we shared the warm peach tart which was just excellent. I noted with amusement that their large selection of gelato is described as a “gelato program”—I’m sure it’s a good program but we were too full.

Oh yes, drinks. We started with a cocktail each. The missus got the Hugo—prosecco, elderflower, mint, rosemary, orange lemon—and I got a Paper Plane. Both were very good but I preferred the Paper Plane at Canis in Toronto in June. I followed up with a (fairly-priced) quartino of a rosé that went well with both the pastas and the secondi.

For a look at the space, the food and the drinks, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for more thoughts on service, to see how much it cost and what we thought of the whole experience.

Service in general was both harried and inconsistently present. We went long periods on occasion without seeing our server and he sometimes seemed in a hurry when he did show up. A consequence of higher traffic due to Wells’ review? It also took a while for us to receive our check. When we did receive it that check came to about $260 with tax and tip, putting us just over our $125/head preference. We liked the food a lot—better than any Italian restaurant we’ve been to in the Twin Cities (though you’d hope that would be true in New York)—and considering you can pay as much very easily for a meal in the Twin Cities it’s probably a pretty good deal for Manhattan. I should add though that earlier this year we paid exactly $260 at Hyacinth in St. Paul for a dinner for four people. Now, the food at Rezdora was quite a bit better but not 2x the price better. You might chalk the difference down to Manhattan rent but our meal at Crown Shy the next evening was quite a bit cheaper. And we liked that more. I’ll probably write that one up in a couple of weeks.

Up next from New York, a mod’ish Indian dinner. I might have a far less mod’ish Minnesota Indian lunch buffet report before that though.


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