The Beautiful Ones Find Mixed Pickings at Margaux
With lobster, squid ink bucatini is decadent.
You would look pretty in a booth at Margaux. Her jewel-tone green banquettes flirt and flatter, and the polished, gray marble glow of the tabletops reflects back at your moony mug, smoothing everything it touches; blemishes be gone. The air's afloat with whispers in French or Spanish from nearby tables, a gentle song broken only by the occasional cackle of a would-be socialite.
But you didn't come for the ambience. Or did you? Like it or not, you'll likely eat something while you're there; Margaux is actually a restaurant, after all, tucked into Sean MacPherson's new Marlton Hotel on 8th Street.
The menu's a collaboration between hotelier MacPherson (Bowery, Maritime) and chefs Michael Reardon (Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica) and Jeremy Blutstein (the Crow's Nest, Montauk; Eataly). The food is ruled by ideas: of taste (the kind you either have or have not) — trendy, seasonal, well-sourced ingredients, nothing too strange; of health — olive oil, not butter, is the reigning fat, crackers are gluten-free; and influence — the menu slants broadly Mediterranean, from France to Italy to the Middle East and ever so occasionally to North Africa.
5 West 8th Street
You'll find house-made pastas, firm curls of casarecce ($18), green with kale, tossed in fragrant garlic white wine broth with braised rabbit, and, on a recent visit, pungent black trumpet mushrooms standing in for the yellowfoot fungus described on the menu, all in bite-size bits for the easy nibble.
Other substitutions bring unexpected delights. Usually, squid ink bucatini ($25) shores up hefty hunks of Dungeness crab, but one night the noodles, which twist on your fork like wild black tentacles in spicy seafood broth, are accented with succulent bites of sweet, buttery lobster, elevating the dish from decent to decadent. And with spring approaching, wild mushroom risotto ($19) sates and satisfies. Earthy and warm, it could take you through winter's final freeze by itself, sprinkled liberally with parmesan.
But many dishes fall short, victims to what feels like a kitchen tug of war over how to make food you really want to eat when shooting for upscale (but not too upscale) scenester sustenance in the heart of NYU Neverland. MacPherson is a pro in the art of generating buzz; his hotels are home to celebrity shack-ups and bold-faced names, and those who enter for a glimpse of the rich and famous require a pretty room and familiar food they can eat like birds, a pick here, a shuffle there.
So you get dishes like Margaux's signature "farmer's board" ($19): vaguely familiar, vaguely healthy, Middle Eastern adjacent, and screaming for sodium. Mounds of red quinoa, grated beets, spicy sweet potato mash, and avocado hummus (this tastes as gimmicky as it sounds) perk up with a generous salty shake, but since the buckwheat crackers that come with this spreadable smorgasbord are charming and stiff as cardboard planks (really awful), pair it instead with crudité. Spoon beet or yam into cupped slices of watermelon radish for a satisfying snack; sprinkle it with quinoa for a nutty boost befitting birdseed cravings.
Thin-sliced fluke crudo ($14) on an oil-slicked plate with blood orange is similarly bland; its main redeeming quality is a refreshing kick culled from fresno chile. And, since spreadable meat is having a moment, there's a pork liver paté ($11). Smooth and dense, Margaux's is a porky-pink pat without intrigue, tasty but unremarkable.
But some dishes succeed precisely for their pedestrian nature as inarguable classics. The floral tang of saffron yogurt against glorious, mildly muttony lamb meatballs ($11) steeped in red sauce is so close to perfect, you may find yourself returning to the bar just for these. A bit of citrus and goat crumble with roasted beets ($12) meets the standard, while toasty grilled artichoke spears ($12) crown a milky heap of Cloumage (a soft, creamy curd dubbed a fetch 2014 ingredient by Bon Appétit in January), more unusual but worth a taste.
The chefs again embrace dairy in a wet plate of freeform burrata ($12) with roast leeks, pinked and pickled with Cabernet vinegar. Twirl the mild, springy cheese onto a fork with crisp kale salad ($11) for an excellent lunch. Chopped into thin strips with fresh mint and spiced pumpkin seeds, the kale could use a dollop of fat; for this, a glob of burrata resolutely answers the call.
And the burger ($14), a fatty, beefy stand topped with sharp cheddar and pickled jalapeños, in a dainty but excellent brioche bun: It feels out of place on the globetrotting menu, but, in a bizarre twist of fate, it's one of the better choices. Birds be forewarned: It's a juicy beast, and you'll need two hands to hold it.