Brasserie Pushkin, that splashy midtown restaurant with gilded walls and an over-the-top Russian menu, didn’t exactly get a lot of love from the critics (exhibit A and exhibit B, the latter of which calls the restaurant exhibit D in support for the argument that there’s no correlation between wealth and taste), and it eventually went out with a whimper, shuttering for renovations late last year. But instead of let the spot be consigned to the annals of mediocre restaurant history, owner Andrey Dellos decided instead to rise from the ashes, and he brought on Eleven Madison Park alums Bryce Shuman and Eamon Rockey (Rockey also did time at Atera) to reincarnate the place as Betony, an upscale New American eatery named for a lavender-hued herb, tiny vases of which can be found on the restaurant’s bar.
That spot opened almost as quietly as Pushkin went out, and on its second night of business (or first official dinner service, if you’re keeping up with opening reports), just a few parties nabbed tables and bar spots — and a few folks were surprised to find such a divergent concept had replaced their beloved Russian neighborhood joint.
Dellos went to great efforts to tone down much of the opulence that characterized Betony’s predecessor, but low-slung plush benches, ornately carved walls and sconces that emit that particular golden glow that makes everything look expensive ensure Midtown execs trying to impress potential clients and people comfortable with dropping a grand on shoes will feel right at home here, even if they’re sharing space with the industry folks who might continue to belly up to the bar as they did last night.
The beverage program is solidly rooted in classics but expands widely from there, with a cocktail list that’ll please the Moscow mule fiend and brown-bitter-and-stirred fanatic alike, a beer menu that runs from the usual local suspects to more interesting and thoughtful brews and an extensive by-the-glass wine selection that’s skewed toward the Old World but rounded out with things like Santa Barbara Pinot for good measure. There’s also an obligatory nod toward the sherry drinkers, because can you open a restaurant without that on the menu in 2013? We doubt it. It’s so hot right now.
Shuman brings a seasonal touch to the menu, which is presented on a tri-fold sheet as a subtle suggestion to order three courses. This being spring, you’ll find zucchini, ramps and asparagus papardelle. This being New American cuisine, you’ll also find bone marrow and foie gras alongside a play on a tuna melt and a potato chip starter (that you can order with caviar if you want). The dessert list mirrors that time-and-place focus, though the menu descriptions are more likely to conceal exactly what you’re going to get (hint: it will probably have contrasting textures thanks to some sort of molecular gastronomy-ish technique).
It’s not spring in New York without ramps, and Betony pickles them, fries them and sides them with an Aleppo pepper-infused yogurt dipping sauce for tart contrast.
Lightly cured pink snapper comes pooled with pesto and topped with pickled red onion. When we waffled over our second course, our bartender also called out the hot preparation of foie gras, noting that ham hock and kale serve as accoutrements.
Summer truffle adds subtle earth and firm texture to this whisper-thin pasta, which is bathed in a rich, creamy sauce infused with the green note of asparagus. Mains also include shortrib with romaine and sweetbreads as well as shellfish ragout with cranberry beans and nettles.
When we specified our preference for savory-edged desserts, our bartender directed us toward the apricot, a blend of tart, chewy fruit, sweet sorbet, brittle almond-flavored sheets that melt on the tongue like meringue and a fresh bite of watercress. Had we gone all-out sweet? “The coconut,” he offered, paired with the flavors of white chocolate and aged rum.