The Wright at the Guggenheim: An Early Look

Chicken breast with barley and jusEXPAND
Chicken breast with barley and jus

About two weeks ago, we ran a candid interview with The Wright executive chef Rodolfo Contreras, in which he talked about the fact that he doesn't go out to eat because he can't find a restaurant to his standards, and what it was like to be Mexican in a French kitchen 10 years ago.

We were intrigued by Contreras, and went (anonymously, as always) to check out his cooking at The Wright, the Guggenheim's new fine dining restaurant.

Alaskan halibut with black trumpet mushrooms, garlic chips, and cauliflower sauceEXPAND
Alaskan halibut with black trumpet mushrooms, garlic chips, and cauliflower sauce

As you might expect, the place is filled with wealthy, over-50 Upper East Siders, with a smattering of out-of-towners. Picky eaters abound. "Is the lobster interesting in any way," inquired a woman, "Or is it just regular?" "The lobster is very nice," replied her server, soothingly. A tiny older woman downed two Gray Goose vodkas before the appetizers, while her tablemates tried to figure out what Payless Shoes is, exactly. They had been at a party with Katie Lee Joel, you see, and she had mentioned that she bought her shoes there. Yes, this Manhattan exists and it's fun to be a tourist in it.

Meanwhile, most of the food is very good. It's that particular New American-style of fine dining that presents fish or meat with a few pretty little vegetables, a sauce or two, and hardly any carbohydrates. Contreras's cooking is very precise and delicate. It plays to the ladies who want to eat lightly, but contains enough stealth butter and cream to make it taste great. And a server comes around at regular intervals to offer warm rolls--cranberry/walnut, picholine olive, or crusty white--for those of us who will not be full or happy without starch.

Actually, a chicken breast does come with delicious barley risotto, which tastes like it was enriched with some tangy farmer's cheese. But who wants a boneless, skinless chicken breast? Not us, usually, but we had to tip our hat to this one, which was either slow-poached or steamed until just cooked: incredibly juicy and clean-tasting.

But the menu is full of fish (much of it sustainable according to Seafood Watch), and that's where Contreras's heart seems to be. A golden-crusted scallop in creamy sea urchin sauce with barely cooked wild shrimp is a fish-lover's dream. Seared halibut is also a good choice, composed with black trumpet mushrooms and buttery cauliflower sauce.

On the other hand, all these beautiful (but small) plates don't come cheap. Dinner mains range $24-$34, and lunch mains $19-$26.

1071 Fifth Avenue 212-427-5690

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