Ed’s Chowder House smells right–like lemon and that flinty, mineral aroma of good shellfish. But that’s where the good news ends. It’s not that the food is terrible–although the slaw does deserve that adjective–it’s that the place is so cynically expensive, and so very boring. Add to that the fact that much of the fish served is unsustainable–even though so much iconic New England seafood is sustainable, like clams, scallops, haddock and lobster–and you’ve got a downer of a meal. Anyway, the menu is not actually very New England in style. Atlantic salmon with leeks and red wine? Chicken paillard a la plancha? Peppered tuna? Herb-crusted skate? Tuna tartare? Wake me up when it’s over.
Look, it’s the Upper West Side, and it’s a hotel restaurant–I knew Ed’s Chowder House was going to serve an expensive, gussied-up facsimile of New England-style seafood. That sort of restaurant has its place, and I was prepared to like it. But I did expect care to be taken with the food, and for the “chowder house” theme to show up in some coherent way on the menu.
(I’ve heard good things about chef Ed Brown, who I thought was the executive chef of Ed’s Chowder House. But the menu specifies him as the “chef-collaborator,” which probably means Brown has never cooked there.)
The chowders were actually the best part of the meal. The New England-style clam chowder is an attractive golden hue, and tastes of browned butter and clam broth, both good things, although a more traditional rendition would also taste of milk. It’s very tasty, although there were only two tiny chopped bits of clam in the sampler size, and no potatoes, which I find odd. The other two chowders–Manhattan crab, and corn–are more run-of-the-mill, but just fine. If the rest of the meal had been good, I would cut the chowders more slack.
Of all the composed mains, only a small handful are recognizably New England in style–among them the lobster roll, the crab cake, and the grilled lobster. The first two come with slaw. Slaw should not be an afterthought, especially when it’s one of only two things on a plate. No one likes cabbage drowning in mayo, but you can’t julienne a bunch of vegetables, serve them dry, without any seasoning to speak of, and call it slaw. I call that salad. Dry salad. I was tempted to ask for a jar of Hellman’s and a lemon. Maybe some celery seed.
The lobster roll is too much bread, too little lobster, and costs $24. You’d be much better off at Luke’s. But most galling of all, price-wise, is the crab cake plate. Granted, the cakes are mostly crab and not much filler, but the cost is $29 for two medium-small cakes and a little ramekin of that ridiculous slaw. It’s one of the most egregious rip-offs I’ve seen in a long time.
There are so many interesting things a chef could do with the New England classics–an update on baked, stuffed haddock, a really great, lighter coleslaw, a spin on stuffed quahogs, Rhode Island clear clam chowder, fried clams, and so on. Aside from a few perfunctory nods to New England on the menu, and pictures of fishing fleets on the walls, Ed’s Chowder House just isn’t interested.