By design, New York’s hidden restaurants don’t give diners much to look for. There are the unmarked doors, often festooned with peeling paint or graffiti. Some façades are windowless, some have no signage, and some, like La Esquina and Luksus, require entry to a first restaurant in order to reach a second, more coveted destination. Sardined into a small foyer next to the Paris Theatre, the entrance to Beautique, midtown’s newest posh restaurant, could be mistaken for a modern art installation. A bouncer guards an unmanned piano in an empty room — we never saw any ivories tickled.
It looks like the lobby of the fanciest walk-up (or -down) apartment in town, but downstairs you’ll find a dimly lighted, subterranean complex that’s trying very hard to appeal to the tony neighborhood with décor inspired by Coco Chanel, which edges toward the comically baroque.
Frank Roberts, former GM of the Rose Bar in the Gramercy Park Hotel, has tapped Le Cirque vet Craig Hopson for the project. The Australian chef rose to fame in New York working under Terrance Brennan (Picholine) before a brief stint at One If by Land, Two If by Sea, and was most recently listed as the consulting chef for an Upper West Side wine bar. He cooks visually appealing, often expensive food.
The list of 13 tipples, all priced less than $20 — which is to say: all priced precisely $19 — was developed by renowned bartender and brand ambassador Charlotte Voisey. Her talents are obvious in quaffable concoctions like the “Lady Eloise,” which swirls lemon juice and pisco with mirto, a Sardinian liqueur fortified with myrtle berries and leaves for a flowery, tangy sip.
Beautique bills its fare as American, but Hopson’s best work derives from his French training. Burgundy snails are hit with whiskey and pancetta, delicate Comté cheese dumplings swim in verdant spring pea soup dashed with mint oil, and a salad of rabbit meat and fava beans enjoys the tart complement of verjus vinaigrette. When the menu globe-trots, things can get dicey. I won’t be returning for lemon spaghetti hiding salmon roe, smoked broccoli, and strips of smoked salmon. After the first forkful, the components lump together at the bottom of the shallow bowl. A special of hamachi crudo topped with cubes of melon pulled off the feat of being both boring and unwieldy, the diced fruit flopping off the thin strips of fish, which needed salt and more of the promised chipotle chiles.
Scallops with foie gras sabayon might be the most straight-forward seafood entrée, the sweet, meaty surf dragged further into turf territory with shiitake mushrooms.
Just as enjoyable is a brick of king salmon, confited and served with lively buttermilk vinaigrette, dill pickles, and potato chips. Carnivores should seek
out the lamb mixed grill, which allocates bacon, sausage, chop, loin, and breast
to pair with a minted olive relish and roasted tomatoes. In a progressive touch gone awry, the seared duck breast with peaches harbors a scattering of cocoa crumbs, which tasted like a grain-based energy bar.
Desserts are the work of Jiho Kim,
who comes to Beautique from Gordon Ramsay at the London. His creations nearly eclipse the main courses, with impressive technique and attention to detail. Black Forest cake is arresting, a
nest of chocolate brownie holding three Chantilly-cream dumplings, accented with cherry-blossom ice cream and crumbles of green tea sable cookies. Whereas some of the savory items don’t live up to their price tags — $15 to $20 for appetizers, $30 to $40 for main courses — Kim’s desserts feel like a steal at $12.
Perhaps those accustomed to slapping down a Jackson for a cocktail won’t bat an eye at paying for water. Our server didn’t even bother to mention tap as an option, instead toting up an $18 charge for a single bottle of Evian. (Note to
self: Caveat quaffer.) We were also encouraged to try a $135 Australian truffle tasting menu because “the chef
is from Australia.” But if a chef from Down Under wants to showcase native delicacies, why not choose main ingredients rather than exorbitantly priced garnishes? On the other hand, the staff will cheerily erupt into a cacophony of the “Happy Birthday” song if you tell them it’s yours, and I’m pretty sure they don’t charge extra for that.
Like many restaurants geared toward well-heeled clientele, Beautique already has a built-in audience, and between Hopson’s and Kim’s food, they’ll likely do well in this neighborhood of high-rises and fancy hotels. Whether that appeals to you depends on your affinity for businesses that champion dollars over diners.