When it comes to Midtown dining, New Yorkers face two options: ultra-luxe expense-account meccas à la Le Bernardin, or fluorescent-lit steam-table joints. A cool, reasonably priced eatery there is as rare as finding a straight, sexy, single man in this town. (If you are one, get in touch—you’ll find my e-mail address below.)
Enter Tenpenny, a new spot tucked into the back of the Gotham Hotel on 46th Street, just east of Fifth Avenue. Completed in October, the hotel—a narrow, modern building with jutting balconies—appears unremarkable and cookie-cutterish (though the staff offers free wine in the lobby, which I can’t complain about). The restaurant’s décor follows suit, like a place in the Midwest that bills itself as “Downtown Modern.” You know the type: a lone brick wall (edgy!), another painted red (sexy!), while random books and wine bottles lie scattered on a shelf (sophisticated!). Never mind all that, though. This ain’t your meat-and-potato grub hub. Far from it.
Crispy artichokes ($8) rest on a thick puddle of lemon aioli dotted with bright-orange trout roe. Listed as a bar snack,
it needn’t just be paired with booze. Pop these creamy nuggets of fried and brine into your mouth, using the veggie
to shovel up the sauce. Can’t handle that much mayo? Try the $15 crudo—finely chopped ocean trout mingles with apple crème fraîche, served with pumpernickel chips. It’s Jewish deli food out of its realm, in a good way. But skip the $17 beef tartare. While a quail’s egg yolk runs like lava from this ruby-red volcano, truffle overwhelms every other note in the dish.
The fancy fungus does better in a velvety sauce that coats gnocchi studded with lobster chunks ($26)—an entrée that might answer the question “How many rich, upscale ingredients can you cram into one bowl?” Yet the plate has an ethereal quality thanks to a process of sous-vide cooking and roasting, which helps the spuds retain their starch, avoiding a heavy glut in the stomach. But my favorite pasta—and probably my number-one item overall here—is the $24 porchetta ravioli with smoked ricotta, broccoli rabe, and a runny poached egg. Equally piggy and eggy, this indulgence redefines “breakfast for dinner.” Or tuck into good ol’ American comfort with the heritage pork rack ($28), paired with savory apple pie and bourbon sauce.
Chamomile panna cotta ($10) proves the best—and most alluring—of the sweet treats. No longer relegated to tea for upset tummies, the flower subtly flavors the custard, which jiggles sensuously, like a courtesan who has lost her corset after a good romp. Yogurt sorbet and red-currant jellies complete the seduction. Intriguingly explained on the menu as “Shaved; Compressed; Diced; Crisped,” the fruit plate ($12), though, does little to upgrade the 1980s diet-worthy dessert, despite an enticing vanilla syrup.
The after-work crowd, meanwhile, gathers around the bar, munching on interesting nibbles like spicy sugar-coated almonds ($4) or the restaurant’s namesake crisps ($8), a sort of weird-but-tasty amalgam of Doritos, shrimp crackers, and Terra Chips. “The Session,” a/k/a cocktail hour, begins at the gloriously appropriate time of 4 p.m., with Negronis and spicy margaritas, plus a selection of mostly Italian wines. The suited-up gents beam as a new round of drinks arrives at the bar. Midtown is a boring place. Lucky for them, Tenpenny is not.