The Whitney has always straddled a slightly odd balance: it shows art that should poke a sharp stick in the eye of the rich, smack in the middle of the staid-est, stodgiest silk-stocking district of the city. The last occupant of the Whitney was Sarabeth's Kitchen--a perfectly good choice for the Upper East Side neighborhood where the bakery/tearoom established its reputation, but not very ambitious. As he did at the Modern, Meyer has shrewdly looked to who lives and works nearby--the customers who can really keep the restaurant going--more than at the art. And he looked at the somber, dark-gray, modernist lines of the celebrated, stark 1966 Marcel Breuer building.
And so Meyer has chosen two things: a smooth, soothing, gray and brown palette with comfortable booths, and tables that can accommodate both power breakfasts and casual snack-seeking museum-goers, and food in the style of diner/luncheonette--which real East Siders know have always been the real places for power breakfasts and lunches in their neighborhood. Eggs, bagels and lox, BLTs, tuna melts, grilled cheese, pastrami reubens--these are extremely familiar territory for the supposedly fancy people who have always enjoyed economizing, and these days have an excuse to. And, of course, there are burgers. How could there not, given the huge success of Meyer's Shake Shacks?
(Side note: I went into the Upper West Side Shake Shack last night at about 10:00, scene of another Times Magazine Meyer visit, and didn't smell the aroma Meyer tells the author to sniff for as soon as he gets near a Shack--the Shacklike aura. Didn't smell anything, in fact. I took this as a sign of cleanliness and efficient ventilation, and the place was packed--including the "scrum," the small basement rec-room style seating area where there's a mercifully silent, big flat-screen TV showing, of course, sports. If Meyer wants to ventilate into the street the always-hunger-inducing aroma of new burgers, which I do associate with the original location in Madison Park--I just went this morning, and smelled the summerlike aromas of grilled cheese and ketchup, but not much burger grease--I'm sure he can arrange that too.)
I didn't have a chance to taste nearly enough at Untitled, because I could do only a pre-dinner on Saturday (the old restaurant-critic trick of two dinners in one night). On weekends, Untitled is offering three-course prix fixe dinners that hew much more closely to the Brooklynite, farm-to-table ethos Meyer says his team is bringing to the Upper East Side diner--though the breakfast-all-day/lunch-all-morning menu doesn't trumpet that farm-to-table connection. (It carefully looks like a standard diner/luncheonette menu, with salads-for-the-dieter choices thrown in.) My impression of the prix fixe dinner ($46) was that it's a work in progress: not diner-y at all, in fact much more like the immaculate little items as amuses-bouche you might get at the Modern, for instance a cheese biscuit filled with perfect cubes of raw salmon with a chive vinaigrette; lovely and small salads; and, for the main course, grilled quail marinated in a slightly spicy sauce with ketchup--the chef, Chris Bradley, has Southern roots, our waiter explained. The homemade spaetzle with more chives were the most memorable part of the main course, along with a slice of grilled local peach on fresh, peppery greens. For dessert, honey-lemon yogurt with figs. Very simple, very farm-to-table, very Brooklyn.