Is Danny Meyer going to revitalize Battery Park City the way he did the Flatiron district? Last summer, the wildly successful restaurateur opened up a Shake Shack branch on Murray Street. Now he’s unveiling an outpost of his barbecue joint, Blue Smoke, on Vesey, plus a swanky American spot around the corner on North End Avenue called North End Grill.
The upscale North End Grill certainly fills a void for the nabe—a sea of stern office towers and shiny, soulless condos. Suits from 4 World Financial Center power-lunching is a common sight, and the crowd here generally skews older (white tablecloths tend to do that). A striking wall of Scotches greets guests as they enter the barroom. You might as well sample one of the hundred available, which come in portions ranging from a 1.5-ounce “wee dram” to a three-glass sampler “plank.” Then wend your way past the open kitchen to the spacious main dining room, while taking note of the umbrella-shaped light fixtures and the blown-up black-and-white food photographs.
Having previously run Meyer’s haute Indian restaurant Tabla for 12 years until it shuttered last winter, Floyd Cardoz helms the kitchen. You’ll find the occasional exotic spice used here, too, but while that Madison Avenue eatery surprised and delighted with every bite, this one plays it safe and occasionally bores.
Don’t stop reading: Certain dishes blew me away. Cornmeal-battered cod throats ($15)—a heart-shaped cut of the fish rarely seen in New York—roost over a meunière sauce that’s miles better than the rustic lemon-parsley-brown-butter treatment common in French bistros. Here, lime pulp and paper-thin slices of jalapeño enrich the sauce. Grilled sardines ($13) are also top-notch, hefty enough to complement the frisée-and-lardons salad accompanying it. And a lightly spiced soup illustrates the underappreciated affinity of crab and pumpkin ($14).
After starting with surf, you’ll want to head next for the meaty treats. Lamb loin fanned over a bed of chickpeas and preserved lemon ($32) is bright and flavorful. And one of my dining companions proclaimed a grilled pork chop at lunch ($28) as some of the best swine she’d ever eaten. I concurred. (Replaced by a version with chorizo and white beans, that dish is now off the menu.)
So that’s the good. What’s not: overly mushy grilled Gulf shrimp with fennel and radish slaw ($14), a rawer-than-it-should-be coddled egg with hard grits ($15), and a seafood sausage at lunch with nary more than a hint of shellfish ($18). I could have also skipped the hamachi sashimi drowning in dressing ($14) and a dull shaved-turnip salad with pecorino ($12).
Desserts ($8), however, provide a happy ending. You’ll find traditional sweets such as a tangy lemon meringue pie, plus more inventive fare, like a currant-filled eccles cake with a side of shaved cheddar.
As you fork up those last bites of your meal, be sure to gaze out the western-facing wall of windows. Directly across the street lies artist Brian Tolle’s Irish Hunger Memorial. The quarter-acre monument contains stones from each of Ireland’s 32 counties and serves as a reminder of all who died of starvation there during the 1840s and 1850s. Even if you don’t totally love everything at North End Grill, seeing that sculpture will make you appreciate those masala-spiced French fries just a teensy bit more.
For more restaurant coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at voicefoodblog.com. Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.