In November, we chatted with chef Alex Guarnaschelli about the opening of Butter Midtown (70 West 45th Street, 212-253-2828), the chef’s second location of her beloved downtown dining hub, which closed its doors earlier this year for renovations. To ease the inevitable anticipation that has been building in the downtown absence of Butter, Guarnaschelli packed wisely for the new below-ground space, bringing with her the same greenmarket philosophy driving the East Village spot and even a few house favorites, such as veal bacon with red wine mustard and cavatappi pasta with spicy lamb.
These two dishes fall under the “small plate” section of the menu, which bears two other main categories: raw and large plates. Four subheadings further organize small plates into charcuterie, salads, from the oven, and ragouts. All dishes are seasonally-driven and built for those willing to share, and the menu implies this practice both subtly (try a dozen of the daily rotating oysters) and overtly (see the 28-day aged Tomahawk steak for two). Attention is paid to purveyors and ingredient sources throughout the menu; Hudson Valley duck rillettes get a sweet tang from Champagne grape mostarda, Di Palo’s burrata receives company in oven roasted tomatoes and aged balsamic, and Creekstone “Butter Cut” bone-in filet is dry aged 40 days and met by bone marrow gremolata and pearl onions.
After failed attempts to escape Times Square hordes, pellets of freezing rain and, as a result of both, “may the sturdiest and tallest umbrella win” standoffs, the warm entryway to Butter’s downstairs dwelling offered immediate saving grace charm. In the main dining room, the vibrant, scene-seeking energy and downplayed attention to décor are all signs that point to a downtown power-dining destination; perhaps the only Midtown giveaway is found in the restaurant’s cavernous structure. Towering ceilings direct gazes towards an illuminated portrait of forest floor trees, an icon suggestive of a more deliberate focus on wood throughout the room, from a wood-finished bar and wooden walls, to shelves of chopped timber surrounding a wood-burning oven. It’s a dining room made for groups; rows of communal tables line the middle of the room, and chocolate-hued booth seating lend enough loftiness to impart a surge of importance for a modest two-top.
As for the food, some highlights: Spicy nuggets of lamb sausage and al dente spirals find each other in a rich, yellow tomato sauce for the cavatappi pasta, a dish that traveled from the original location for its uptown debut. Toasted sourdough slabs serve as resting spots for crispy, charred brussels sprouts leaves, hen of the wood mushrooms, and creamy homemade ricotta cheese. Shaved parmesan tops a lovingly-dressed kale salad, whose bitter leaves are leveled by zingy vinaigrette — a well conceived bite might layer silky Chällerhocker cheese with toasted pecans and crunchy Gold Rush apple slices. Whole roasted branzino is brightened up by preserved lemon stuffing and a trio of lemon slices, and its modest portion size, after a handful of previous dishes, was more of a relief than a disappointment — and perhaps an indication that, despite its “large plate” menu placement, it’s no more of a main event than its “small plate” contenders. To finish, warm and billowy palm-sized beignets are rolled in sugar and proportionally perfect between tart raspberry filling and rich vanilla bean dipping sauce.
On a cold night like tonight, we’d peruse the cocktail menu and opt for the warm Empire apple cider spiked with Maker’s Mark.
Butter Midtown is located at 70 West 45th Street and is open for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 5:30 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.