In NYC, a Hot Table Disappoints

By Ezekiel J. Emanuel
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Photo by stu_spivack/Flickr CC


It's hot, hot, oh so very HOT. It is the New York City place to be seen these days. Indeed, it is so hot the receptionist said she could not get reservations even for her friends. (Not sure I believe her.) She recommended calling two months ahead. The only way I got in was a TV personality friend used her name to make the reservation.

Minetta Tavern on MacDougal street in the Village is the HOT New York City eatery. Another Keith McNally creation. It is a retro tavern. Recently renovated--or what do you call it when you re-do a place to make it look old?--to capture a bygone atmosphere. Large black and white squares on the floor. Vinyl red upholstery on the chairs and booths. Tables covered with white butcher paper. You get the picture.

The menu is high-endish bar food with a few twists thrown in. Salads and then things like stuffed squid, oxtail, and foie gras terrine, and three kinds of meat tartares--beef, lamb, and veal--for hors d'oeuvres. Burger, tavern steak, trout meuniere, roasted chicken, for entrees with some unusual bits like cod en papillote.

Maybe people think they are getting a bargain. At one level they are, but the consequent expanding waistline is no bargain at all.

Ah, the disappointment of it all. There is nothing about Minetta's that is worth a two-month wait. There is nothing worth even waiting in line the night of, unless what you want is a good story for your next dinner party or to be "seen" at the hot place. And no real foodie wants that; they want to discover the hot place.

The bread that came out was nicely shaped, baked that day, but was cold. Of the three meat tartares, only the beef was remarkable--mixed with mustard and cornichons. The veal was decidedly bland, almost tasteless.

Regarding the entrees, the mashed potatoes accompanying the chicken were silky smooth and very rich with a hint of garlic. Very tasty. As for the chicken itself, I can make better using the recipe from Boston's Hamersley Bistro. The cod was tender and elegantly presented with an oblong pan with the parchment split open, herbs sitting on the white meat surrounded by cooked cherry tomatoes.

The most remarkable thing about Minetta Tavern was that it appeared to be a response to the bad economy. If your aim in dining was maximizing value for dollar, then Minetta is a find. I don't know the precise figure, but the cost per calorie was very low. The portions were large, very large. The tartare was three golf ball mounds. The small rounds of toast were warm and very tasty. The chicken was a good pound and a half of meat. I came home with the chicken breast in a doggy bag. At the next table, the steak was falling off the plate.

And the prices were reasonable--even low, by New York City standards. The chicken was $28, the tavern steak $21, and the burger a measly $16. But maybe the proprietors--and the customers for that matter--need an education on obesity. This was a textbook case of what we--individually and collectively--shouldn't want and don't need: huge portions at low prices. Maybe people think they are getting a bargain. At one level they are, but the consequent expanding waistline is no bargain at all.

Don't waste your time trying to figure out how to score reservations at Minetta Tavern to impress your friends. The only thing you will actually get is regret.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/10/in-nyc-a-hot-table-disappoints/28523/