If your doctors aren’t calling back, they may be lunching at Riverpark.
Moguls have the Four Seasons. Media power brokers have Michael’s. Fashion models pretend to eat at The Standard.
Now “Top Chef” Tom Colicchio has given the midtown-east medical mafia a brand-name restaurant it can call its own.
Instead of hospital food, the docs can dine on rare squab and relax with panoramic East River views. A $55 chicken for two comes with a crazy-rich gravy boat for French fry dunking; a $14 cheddar burger collapses into a salty, beefy fantastically satisfying crumble.
Riverpark sits behind New York University Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital Center. A stone walkway off East 29th Street, lined with photos of James Watson and other Nobel Prize-winners, leads you to your odd dinner destination: the $150 million Alexandria Center for Life Science.
Cancer researcher ImClone, once beloved of Martha Stewart, is the upstairs tenant in this Kips Bay neighborhood, a culinary tundra.
Colicchio is clever. He transformed the so-so Craftsteak into the excellent Colicchio & Sons. He turned Craft’s under-used private dining room into the $210-per-person Tom Tuesday Dinner. And now he’s begat a joint with no real competition unless you count Totonno’s pizzeria and halal street-meat vendors.
No Dress Code
Riverpark could be the year’s most gorgeous new restaurant, at least for patrons who don’t mind things a bit corporate and adult. The space reeks not of perfume, but of leather. The square dining room and perpendicular booths make you want to sit up straight and part your hair. There’s no dress code, though there’s no one wearing hoodies, sports caps or torn jeans. Folks just seem to behave better here.
They sit under an avant-garde lighting installation, drinking rye Manhattans spiked with peaty Islay Scotch from the stellar cocktail list.
Saline carrots slice the richness of glazed pork belly; alternatively, pair the dish with a bracing swallow of calvados, honey and lemon. Pickled peppers perk up a plate of roasted provolone; a Dark ‘n Stormy highball (rum & ginger beer) perks it up even more.
Chef Sisha Ortuzar gets credit for the adventurous pan-American menu. Beef tartare, an establishment staple, has always been a stealthy surf and turf, deploying a hint of anchovy for a salt sting. Ortuzar ups the ante by coating the raw meat with sea urchin, imparting the crimson cubes with a deep maritime jolt. I don’t mind when my fish tastes like steak, but steak that reeks of fish is for senses more adventurous than mine. It’s a challenging dish.
The octopus roll is a tasty Mediterranean riff on the New England lobster sandwich. The coiled tentacles tumbling outside the bun make it a little scary looking, a dish for Medusa. French-onion soup emerges as a brilliant maitake mushroom consomme ($14); the woodsy broth softens a pecorino crouton. Surprising shrimp cocktail ends up delighting with head-on, barely cooked-through prawns ($12).
How about a little gourmet Tex-Mex? Chocolaty mole is great over grits, but not with pigeon, which turns the skin to mush. Remember, this is Colicchio’s first project where he’s not the chef, just the restaurateur; hence the entry-level mistakes that wouldn’t happen with a seasoned cook in the kitchen. A paste of romesco adds coarseness to a bland square of steamed branzino.
Other misses you could almost predict. Steak has always been Colicchio’s bete noir; so it goes that a $68 rib cut for two comes gray and overcooked (though nice work on the smoky crust); a skirt steak lacks sufficient marinade to tame its offaly bite.
In a nod to the nearby hospital cafeterias, there’s grilled cheese with tomato soup. Lasagna ($16) is overdone to the point of rendering the noodles indistinguishable. No matter, think of the heady dish as a pot of drool-inducing Bolognese. Mop up the meat with hot, crusty, salt covered baguettes.
It’s one of five good pasta dishes. Burnt-flour fettucine tastes great with cauliflower and bread crumbs, though the noodles are better when coated with a livery sauce for duck agnolotti. Riverpark, like every other New York restaurant, wants to be Italian too.
The Bloomberg Questions
Prices: Most dishes under $30; many under $20.
Sound Level: Moderate, around 70 or so decibels.
Date Place: Yes.
Inside tip: Braised polpo in a chili-oil-infused dashi, an elegant alternative to the octo-roll.
Special Feature: Excellent lemon meringue tart for dessert.
Will I be back: Sure, it’s all Kips Bay really has.
Riverpark is at 450 E 29th St.; Information: +1-212-729-9790 or http://www.riverparknyc.com/.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels):
51 to 55: Church on a weekday. 56 to 60: The vegetable aisle at the Food Emporium. 61 to 65: Keyboards clacking at the office. 66 to 70: My alarm clock when it goes off inches from my ear. 71 to 75: Corner deli at lunchtime. 76 to 80: Back of a taxi with advertisements at full volume. 81 to 85: Loud, crowded subway with announcements.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)