June 29, 2009 | BITE: My Journal
Nothing Standard about The Standard Grill
Chef Silverman’s chicken with fries for two is a deal at just $32. Photo: Steven Richter
They’re calling it a soft opening. Nice try. After the usual rehearsals and jollying up of friends and family, The Standard Grill is open. Evening two. Already heat-seeking nomads are three-deep at the bar and from my heavy leather chair I am looking right at Anna Wintour. I know for sure this is the place to be tonight. I often hear that the Meatpacking district is over – abandoned turf for riffraff and tourists – but I suspect the High Line Park and this appealing canteen in André Balazs’ hotel tower on stilts will be the Botox that makes it look young and hot all over again.
“PREVIEW MENU” is stamped in red on the daily dated lineup of offerings, a plea for critics to pull their punches. So please know – this is not a review. It’s my first impression. I’m still giddy that the doorkeepers let me in without a reservation and gave me these orchestra seats.
Day 2, still daylight, and already the bar is packed. Photo: Steven Richter
Clearly, I’ve been recognized, whatever that means. But I think it’s safe to promise you a handsome untricked-up room, well-trained servers and an army of overseers (at least right now), compassionate prices (entrees mostly $21 and under), a very good burger and smartly-spiced lamb chops I’d come back for. Yes, it’s noisy. The screech and clatter has nowhere to go with high-gloss white tiles on Guastavino-like arches above, windows looking at the Standard Hotel’s outdoor “Living Room” to the north, and what will be a beer garden late this summer on the south and the gleam of a huge copper hood tenting the glare from the glassed-in kitchen. The floor is embedded with 480,000 pennies. (Luciano, our remarkably schooled waiter, gives us that statistic.)
“In India, it’s sacrilegious to walk on money,” one of our companions remarks.
Does tufted leather absorb sound? How much can you expect from unpadded tables draped with country kitchen checks? Helena Christensen strides by creating a little frisson. Isn’t this why we had to rush here so early? We lean in and holler. We want to be here. The peppermill sitting on every table may be a sign of faith, hope that the age of Obama has ushered in a new morality. And I like that female servers wear skirts and little aprons and don’t have to walk around like man-kins with breasts.
“Is that all Anna is eating?” I ask my friend Gitu. “All I see on the table are string beans.”
She corrects me: “Anna is eating haricots verts.”
Steak tartare with a quail egg mix-in pleases all four at our table. Photo: Steven Richter.
A busboy brings crusty rolls in a brown paper bag, a small dish of long red radishes and another with chunks of parmigiana. The house has stocked one of the Road Food Warrior’s favorite non-alcoholic beers, Clausthaler. He’s defanged. I’ll admit it: congenitally critical as this foursome is, we’re poised for wonderful. The Rum Swindle ($10 cocktails) is not too sweet. Perhaps that’s a slightly skimpy portion of steak tartare for $14, but still, it’s a starter two might share. A sweet pea ravioli entrée for $15 evens that out. The Kentucky bacon on our iceberg wedge and also on the burger is strangely stiff, like a Popsicle stick, perhaps cooked too far ahead. Maybe it’s my fault. I asked for “crisp.” I probably meant cooked and curled and fatty.
You don’t have to be pinching pennies to love this burger. Photo: Steven Richter
But the burger is rich and juicy and we love the lemony cumin-coriander-turmeric-rubbed lamb chops beside their fabulous crispy polenta cake, spiked with mascarpone, olives and basil. Wonderfully starchy potato-corn pancakes with béarnaise sauce are a side four can share. It will be even better when the great corn crop rolls in. How about a good pickle for $1? And I’m definitely eating more than my share of crusty potato chunks drizzled with smoked pepper aioli. “Did someone order this?” I ask. No, it’s on the house – a generous bowl for every table. Possibly my favorite taste of the evening.
This shot in the dark doesn’t quite capture the room’s good looks. Photo: Steven Richter
Dozens of new restaurants have opened. I have a list in my computer of places I want to check out. But the next day all I am thinking about is how soon can I get back to Standard Grill.
Shouldn’t my “impressions” require more impressions? No point in reserving in another name as I do. The voice at the other end is already offering 6:30 or 9:45. (Not arrogantly yet, but as if even she is embarrassed). Dan Silverman, whose food I loved at Lever House, will need more than 48 hours to drill the kitchen before he starts serving food in the sidewalk café and launches breakfast and lunch in July. But we’re back.
A fresh sardine treat for sophisticates who don’t mind boning a fish. Photo: Steven Richter
Again I appear at the pearly gates seeking entrance. It feels like a club already – Aerin Lauder, Fernanda Niven, Cristina Cuomo, Frank di Giacomo and my confrère de forchette, the Post’s Steve Cuozzo, are here – but the house is still having me. Given the hotel’s grand scheme, rooftop lounge to come, that beer garden, lunch, and a secret dining room hidden somewhere in the tower (the skilled Luciano knows everything), eventually Standard Grill will need non-boldface derrières to fill all those chairs. I can’t say yet if the slatted seats in the center of the room will respect those bottoms.
Splendid strip with duck fat potatoes; behind, the chef’s great potato giveaway. Photo: Steven Richter.
Our booth with its stunning window view must be a buffered cul de sac, somehow shielded from the full throttle sound. A packed house is challenging the kitchen (still in previews, remember). The grilled asparagus is less perfect than last time but there are whole pedigreed anchovies on the Caesar-like Satur Farms romaine and a splendor of fresh sardines, grilled whole and served beside sweet and sour radicchio with balsamic and pine nuts, on parsley oil with scattered leaves of celery and parsley. I’d rate the “Million Dollar” whole roast chicken for two at $950,000. It looks marvelous in that black iron skillet and $32 to feed two is a Million Dollar Concept, but it could be slightly less cooked for my taste. DeBraggia & Spitler’s New York strip is perfect – love those duck fat smashed potatoes with sweet cloves of garlic and olives.
With drinks, sides and entrees $15 to $25 (plus a $65 rib eye for two), we’re getting away with spending just $50 to $60 per person, tax and tip included, but we could do burgers and salads for less or easily spend much more on cocktails, a $70 Bordeaux and desserts all around.
Shaved lime and mint ice is refreshing but it’s shaved ice. And the "Humble Pie" with its rhubarb mush is humble indeed and, I hope, a work in progress. But when was the last time you saw $6 and $7 desserts under a glazed Guastavino tiled ceiling?
The truth is, I would go back tonight. I’d try the rib eye, halibut hollandaise, the pork chop and the brownie, even if it does come with toasted marshmallow. I don’t know how long I will be recognized at the door when this place boils over. I’m sure I’ll be getting calls for dinner from friends I haven’t heard from since I got fired.
848 Washington Street between 12th and 13th, 212 645 4100. Breakfast 6 to 11:30 am, Lunch 11:30 am to 5:30 pm (Promised early in July). Dinner Sunday through Wednesday 5:30 am to midnight. Thursday through Saturday 5:30 to 1 am. Late night menu (due one day soon) Sunday through Wednesday midnight till 4 am. Thursday through Saturday 1 to 4 am.