The Lambs Club is the latest entry in the collection of restaurants that includes The Lion (bad), Monkey Bar (so-so) and the Waverly Inn (occasionally quite good), all of them dark, clubby and exclusive-feeling.
Named for the thespian society whose former Times Square home now includes the Chatwal Hotel, the Lambs Club features cooking by Geoffrey Zakarian, who made his name with the exceptional, now defunct, Town and Country restaurants.
He charges $26 for a dry chicken breast, $10 for stale profiteroles and without irony, $39 for an overcooked, taste-free saddle of lamb.
The Lambs is a decent enough place for steak and martinis post-theater. I recommend booze over Barolo because the website bills the space as a venue for “dining and cocktails,” and rightly so.
Proper stirring and judicious vermouth mollifies the sting of Manhattans. They are to be consumed at lunch with an expertly charred, deeply tangy $32 rib-eye ($48 at dinner). Thank consultant Sasha Petraske (Milk & Honey) for these courtesies, including a bracing blend of honey, lemon juice and bourbon whose name, the Gold Rush, references the drink’s color as well as its price ($18).
Leave the bar (tabs are transferred) and eat in the elegantly appointed, maroon-leather-and-chrome Art Deco room. Expect waiters in white jackets, a mural and monochrome photos of stars of stage and screen past.
Was that John McEnroe walking out with a backwards baseball cap? Sure was. Was that MSNBC’s Dan Abrams strolling in? Perhaps the Lion’s co-owner was checking out the competition.
Try Zakarian’s beets with stracciatella and remember why this guy’s a cook. Thin slices of the crimson roots have crunch; thicker, roasted slabs yield with little effort. Soft mozzarella finishes the textural declension with creamy aplomb ($16).
Follow up with lemongrass-scented octopus, which bears less resemblance to a chewy cephalopod than to a briny, maritime sausage. Brown butter adds depth to butternut squash soup. The nearby fireplace adds warmth (sometimes too much warmth).
The Lambs Club might have as many solid dishes as a two-star restaurant, but the high prices magnify the misses here.
A $14 salad tasted straight out of the bag. An underseasoned, jaw-tiring lobster roll is $32. A more appropriate value is the $18 sirloin burger, no better or worse than any other around town.
Chatham cod is as salty as baccala; it’s part of a surf-and-turf combo that includes a silly little slice of pork belly sized for a much smaller fish. Someone in the kitchen get hungry?
Gazpacho, poorly blended, is an exercise in extremes -- one spoonful is cloying, another packs the unwelcome punch of pure vinegar. That’s the same pucker power lemon tart needs -- and gets -- here; too many chefs destroy the dessert with sugar.
End the evening with caffeine. White Russians are usually a cafe au lait-style mix of Kahlua, vodka and cream. But Petraske prepares it cappuccino style, with a dark, distinct layer of high-proof spirits lying below a cool pool of heavy cream. It’s an elegant finish to a frustrating meal.
The Bloomberg Questions
Prices: About $100 per person.
Sound Level: Reasonable, about 70-75 decibels.
Date Place: Yes.
Inside tip: Build a meal on starters like chewy beef tartare and pork ravioli.
Special Feature: Larger cocktail lounge upstairs.
Will I be back: For drinks and the lemon tart.
The Lambs Club is at 132 West 44th Street, near Seventh Ave. Information: +1-212-997-5262; http://www.thelambsclub.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.)