The Good, the Bad, and the Tartare at Manzanilla; Pay to Pray at Cathedral


Spring is (finally) in the air and the warm weather seems to be lightening our moods as well as our wardrobes. Did the rising temperatures have the same effect on our critics?

Tejal Rao has mixed feelings about Manzanilla in Gramercy, while Robert Sietsema writes a rave for Cathedral in Flatbush. Read on to find out how they really felt.

“What’s a modern Spanish brasserie?” Rao wonders as she peruses the menu–once she can get her hands on one–at Manzanilla, Dani García’s new spot on Park Avenue South. The restaurant lacks some of the refinement that is typically associated with a chef of García’s caliber, but the cooking is playful, inventive, and often very tasty.

Rao writes:

There is tomato tartare ($8), which references rustic pan con tomate and steak tartare–the cured tomato’s sweetness and umami drawn out, garnished with mango puree disguised as tiny egg yolks. And there are crisp, extraordinarily lacy sheets of shrimpy tortillita gaditana ($8) with a bit of mayonnaise to dip them in.

One of the best things on the menu is the pork “presa” ($36), which involves slices of meat reclining on potatoes and peppers. The Iberico pork is fine and fatty, served a freshly spanked pink.

Still, the kitchen seems conflicted:

there’s often a disconnect to the high-low presentations at Manzanilla. A tuna tartare ($14) is served inside a sea urchin shell, on a bed of crushed ice, under a froth of urchin. It tastes nice and it’s very pretty, recalling the loveliness and excess of classical French cuisine, but it’s far too overdressed alongside the restaurant’s more casual presentations, looking just plain silly next to a pair of fat oxtail sliders ($10).

Meanwhile, Robert Sietsema found a Haitian “house of worship” in Cathedral, the Kreole restaurant on Church Avenue. Our critic regards the food as “electrifyingly good,” so much so that it silenced his table’s conversation.

He writes:

That pork grillot arrives scattered with pickled purple onions alongside a mountain of white rice and a teacup of pureed black beans. We dipped the pork tidbits in piklis (“pick-lees”), a combination of shredded cabbage, white vinegar, and Scotch bonnet peppers that serves the double purpose of hot sauce and slaw.

Instead of the plantains you can order accra–African-style fritters of grated malanga, a corm (thickened stem) that is a cousin to taro. Flecked with garlic and green onions, the fritters are golden brown and fluffy.

The menu also contains a few worthwhile surprises:

Of the entrées available that first Saturday afternoon, last to arrive was poulet en sauce ($10), a half-chicken braised in a rich gravy propelled by Worcestershire and allspice. This must be what the sign in the front window means by “Haitian and Caribbean Cuisine.” It tasted as if the Jamaican national dish of jerk chicken, found on nearly every block in the neighborhood, had been thrown into a stew. This is Flatbush fusion at its finest.

Other critics were also busy dining around town. At NY Mag, Adam Platt pays a visit to the once druggie, now lovely Beatrice Inn in the West Village. While it took a few months for the revamped restaurant to work out its kinks, Platt now describes the place as “that ephemeral, rarely achieved sweet spot for a scene restaurant, where the quality of your dinner matches (or transcends) the quality of the scene.” He awards it two stars.

At the NY Post, Steve Cuozzo files a Yelp-inspired review for Pearl & Ash, Richard Kuo’s new restaurant. But everything is not OMG AMAZING! on the Bowery. “Pearl & Ash is up to its eyeballs in attention begging shticks and nuisances,” says the critic.

Michael Kaminer says the “wrinkles are showing” at Union Square Cafe. The NY Daily News critic is no longer impressed with the “generous” and “unfussy” food at Danny Meyer’s flagship restaurant. Perhaps he should grab a Shack Burger instead?

Time Out’s Jay Cheshes enjoys Gabriel Stulman’s other restaurants (Perla and Fedora, among them) more than the latest hotspot, Montmartre. About chef Tien Ho’s cooking Cheshes writes “instead of pumping up classics, he’s watered them down, his flavors often floundering at polar extremes–either a salt lick or a bland washout, without much in between.”

Ryan Sutton endures an almost four-hour meal at Aska–and loves every minute of it. His favorite bite? The restaurant’s over-the-top bone-marrow-laced rendition of oatmeal. “The creamy grains are fortified with the meaty gelatins of beef marrow which is further amped up with egg yolk and salty shad roe,” Sutton writes. “It is the best and richest cereal known to humankind.”