As a rule, you go to the U.S. Open for high-end tennis, not high-end dining.
That presents a problem at Aces restaurant in Arthur Ashe stadium, where it’s near impossible to see the match.
There’s no view of the tennis court, and only minimal sighting of lovely Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Also unseen, at least from our vantage point, was the flat-screen TV showing Andy Roddick in a tight contest with Michael Russell. That’s one working TV for about 270 guests (a second one appeared to be broken).
Aces is the Open’s attempt to bring fine food to athletic events, as the Food Network-watching fans demand less nachos with plastic cheese, more signature cocktails and sushi.
Levy Restaurants, a division of Compass Group PLC and the group behind Chicago’s one-Michelin starred Spiaggia, run the catering operations at Ashe. Danny Meyer, the local hero who brought quality fare to the Mets’ Citi Field, probably would have been the better choice.
The restaurant’s main achievement is not its Creekstone beef or sushi from “Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.” Rather, it’s that the cacophonous hall manages to be louder than inside the stadium itself. That’s partly because tennis fans are relatively quiet, the better to hear Maria Sharapova’s rousing grunts.
The food is serviceable -- better than a wedding banquet, though not by much. Corn soup tastes of salt water and coconut milk and little corn. Slices of red and yellow tomatoes were chilled into a mealy mess. Hidden in our vegetarian sushi was a toothpick -- a sliver of bamboo the rice had been rolled in.
Want to add lobster to your bland, $40 filet? That’s a $24 supplement for four tiny, if tender, bites. Charred salmon, devoid of any luster, tasted like packaged tuna fish.
Morimoto offers an “Ultimate Combo” at $125 for two. Order instead his $20 toro scallion rolls at the bar, knock back a properly vermouthed martini, and leave.
A pair of courtside seats for Sunday’s men’s singles final were topping out at $14,524.85 on the Open’s Ticket Exchange. The relationship between price and quality was less proportional at Champions Bar & Grill, the other high-end dining option at Ashe. Our $46 Creekstone ribeye was an undercooked horror, with gristly, under-rendered fat and cold red flesh.
A slow kitchen stretched our two-course meal close to the two hour mark, which was longer than Novak Djokovic’s rout of Carlos Berlocq. At least there were TVs everywhere. Everyone got a great view of center court.
There’s even a sommelier, rare for a sports venue. So we asked the French-accented gentleman for advice and he poured our $30 Sangiovese into proper stemware. Nice.
East coast oysters -- neither the menu nor the waiter could identify precisely where on the East coast -- were poorly shucked, with popped bellies and sandy bits of debris in every bite. A $20 crab cake was covered in raw breadcrumbs.
Ahi tuna, a perfect medium rare, was rolled in so many sesame seeds the fish had the flavor and texture of halvah. If you’re stuck here, grab a beer, some tender fried calamari and a moist slice of cream-cheese studded carrot cake.
At the general concession stands, Pat LaFrieda, the celebrity meat-purveyor to Keith McNally’s Minetta Tavern, supplies half-pound burgers. The dry, livery creations taste as if they’ve sat under a heat lamp for an hour.
Hit up the New Delhi Spice stand instead for spinach with chickpeas or chicken tikka masala. Pair with a bright, boozy and fresh frozen margarita. Take them back to your seat and watch some tennis.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Around $60 per person at Aces and Champions, depending on the selections.
Sound Level: At 7 p.m., about 83 decibels at Aces, 86 at Champions.
Date Place: No.
Inside Tip: Avoid at all costs the U.S. Open’s signature Honey Deuce cocktail.
Special feature: The carrot cake at Champions.
Will we be back? For the tennis.
The U.S. Open runs through Sunday in Flushing Meadows, Queens. For reservations at Aces or Champions, call +1-718-393-1933. One must provide ticket information to land a reservation. http://usta.usopen.org/US-Open/dining_at_the_open. Both restaurants close up shop after the men’s final.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse sotto voce. 56 to 60: Speak up, please. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: Heads turn because you’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton and Philip Boroff write for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Philip Boroff in New York at email@example.com.