From the moment the doors opened at the Park Hyatt New York, we were swarmed by the kind of eager, welcoming handlers that sidled Bill Murray throughout Lost in Translation, which simultaneously provided every visitor an air of importance and made them difficult to glimpse. We were headed to The Back Room at One57 (153 West 57th Street, 212-897-2188), the hotel’s hideaway upstairs grill, where oversized curved banquettes stretch out between two walls of sheer-curtained windows. Once the elevator button was pushed for us, we were ushered to the upstairs lobby, where another greeter guided us through the Living Room, where local suits were expensing $16 Julie Reiner-designed cocktails, like fragrant goblets of gin and tonic. Handed off to the Back Room hostess, we claimed a back wall corner banquette.
It was an afternoon, and the restaurant was empty. Two Japanese tourists 30 feet apart bookended our table; they stared at their undressed steaks through iPhones. Across from us, a precocious little boy danced atop the banquette, joined by an adult guardian sipping coffee beneath a wide-brim hat. No one here came looking for attention, and everyone looked at peace.
Service was delivered through vaguely international accents, and while that made us feel that we were somewhere important, it couldn’t mask the fact that the burrata was paired with only two meager slivers of charred, pickled peppers while a vibrant tomato fattoush burst with them, or that roasted prime rib deckle warmed in edge fat and veal jus was impossibly oily; the stale Focaccia failing to contain it quickly crumbled to pieces in our hands only to reveal a bare minimum of trimmings.
Good thing we ordered the $24 cheeseburger. Chef Sebastian Archambault’s hulking inch-thick grass-fed beef patty is thickly coated in salty, aged cheddar balanced by a peppery smattering of watercress hiding a crisp of pancetta that offers all the kick of bacon with none of the drippings, piled into a crispy potato onion roll from Amy’s Bread. The burger’s paired with creamy thrice-fried chips showered with a flurry of grated parmesan, and an ambitious ketchup that is over-thought, fussy, and highly addictive. The sauce-obsessed Archambault blends Heinz with an opal basil pesto thickened with garlic, Parmesan, and pine nuts, finishing the mixture with olive oil and sea salt.
“In DC, I wanted to do everything from scratch,” Archambault told us when we caught up with him later, speaking of his sauces at the Blue Duck Tavern. “So as a French guy, mayonnaise is very specific. I don’t like it sweet, I like mustard. I like it strong, with vinegar, lemon at the end. So for french fries, we needed to do mayonnaise. We tried ketchup, we tried five or six recipes, but we always came back to Heinz because [customers] are so brainwashed to this taste, and whatever we ordered was slightly different and they just asked for Heinz. We still have our ketchup available, but they want Heinz. But here we do a switch, with the base of a well known brand, for a different kind of taste.”
It works, and it makes a case for discretion when most high-end burgers in Manhattan are piled with bells and whistles.
The Back Room serves a number of carnivorous pleasures, but Archambault is insistent that it is not a steakhouse. “Not a steakhouse, a grill,” he said. “We have a beautiful double broiler. When I look at this piece of equipment I say, ‘What can we do here?’ To think about it, we can do beautiful meat, yes, but so many things. So I will use this equipment, this grill, to go through a line of ingredients that we are not used to seeing in an American grill.”
Look for those changes as the chef transitions the menu to fall. “We have mushrooms coming in, seasonal scallops will start,” he said. “We can’t not offer scallops, because they are so close to here. They will be beautiful on the shell — boiling, grilling, a little gratin, there are so many ways to enjoy them. Here we are more sea oriented, with Montauk, northern influences, all these lobsters. And dinner will be for someone who wants to enjoy the best meat from DeBragga.”
And expect more head-turning sauces on the side: “We are developing some sauces, but like the way Dad used to do them — true sauces with a brown stock,” the chef told us. “You do true, thick, rich, not fatty, but very classical. The reason why I want to do that, no one is doing it anymore. It’s complicated, it takes a lot of time. A veal stock takes three days to do. I can do a beef jus with morel mushroom or green pepper, or the mother sauce as base for fennel, and onion. I want three sauces like that, very unique, that will bring you more memories to your meat. With simple grilling the meat is tasty by itself; the wow effect is with the sauce.”
The final course lies in the hands of pastry chef Scott Cioe, formerly of Gordon Ramsay at the London NYC. And because the Back Room is not a steakhouse, these aren’t steakhouse desserts — they’re refined and deconstructed pastries, like a chocolate stout ice box pudding, artfully smeared beside a potent scoop of stout ice cream and hefty squiggle of whiskey whipped cream. More petite desserts include a trio of pistachio, dark chocolate, and blueberry cheesecake eclairs, on display in both the lobby and a display case at the center of the dining room.
The Back Room at One57 is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 23, 2014