When you’re paying $125 for cote de boeuf for two in a converted Upper East Side townhouse, you reasonably expect a certain level of service.
Diners at Crown, however, are likely to encounter eager staff members who aren’t trained well enough to get the job done properly.
After you fill up on sweet, pristine Nantucket bay scallops or a great, flaky turbot, you’ll still leave Crown hungry for some Danny Meyer-style hospitality.
The proprietor here is John DeLucie, the chef who opened Waverly Inn with Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter. Carter now also runs Monkey Bar, superior to Crown in every way. DeLucie, who also runs The Lion, is decent enough as a chef, not-so-great as a restaurateur.
The party starts in the long, narrow front room, where a bartender took away my wine list before I’d ordered.
A Stork Club cocktail mixes gin with lime, orange and mandarin liquor and tastes like a screwdriver made with a can of frozen Minute Maid. A mint julep doesn’t get the proper upfront chill, resulting in room-temperature rye and cognac that slowly turn into watery sidewalk slush.
Pay Up Front
Bartenders won’t transfer checks, so settle up and move to the dining room. Table side candles (or your iPhone screen) will help you read the menu. Everyone struggles to hear amid the ear-piercing noise levels.
Curried squash soup, heady and soothingly warm, is a brilliant foil for a glass of $29 Pol Roger, the cheapest champagne by the glass. A flute of Dom Ruinart Rose is $40 and bottles start at $150.
Sometimes, that bubbly arrives when you’re halfway done with your appetizers. Waiters are as likely to steal glasses when there’s still a sip left as they are to leave empty glasses untouched.
Then you watch your $46 lamb chops get cold. They come with braised shoulder and chanterelles; the ruby port Bordelaise begs to be paired with a glass of Chateau Rayas Cotes du Rhone ($25), with luscious notes of green olives. Wine director Jordan Salcito has put together a solid, expensive list that includes 22 offerings by the glass, with whites averaging $17 and reds around $22.
Soaring skylight windows, fireplaces, sketches of nudes, and wood-paneled walls warrant steak or game, so you order Wagyu tartare ($25). The waiter misinterprets this as ocean trout tartare, which you start eating, because no one had the good sense to announce the dish upon presentation. It tasted like ceviche gone bad.
The beef tartare (the order was quickly corrected) is another miss. Mouthfuls of unctuous, almost greasy meat, with no tang to cut the fat or wake up the palate. Silky foie gras ($23) is better, as is DeLucie’s sturgeon caviar from California ($85- $110).
Silk handkerchief pasta ($26) is your go-to middle course. Layers of broad fazzoletti noodles are topped with a meaty white Bolognese sauce. Avoid short-rib tortellini ($28), in a red wine brodo that tastes like what would happen if you heated up red wine and accidentally called it a broth.
Grilled lobster is served, inexplicably, in a cast-iron pot that’s too narrow to allow for knife work; it also traps the heat so the $48 crustacean becomes rubbery as the meal goes on. Chardonnay nage at the bottom adds the flavor of movie theater popcorn oil.
Eat red meat. The $55 sirloin is a fine cut. Don’t expect any grass-fed notes of iodine or offal. It’s just a charred, juicy steak for entry-level carnivores.
Smarter guests will opt for DeLucie’s killer duck. The bird is exactly what it should be, a rare breast with perfectly rendered fat, confit leg and drumsticks. Splurge for supplemental fries to sop up the drippings. Cost: $97 for two.
End with pastry chef Heather Bertinetti’s tasting of apples or her competent souffle.
Crown is a decent enough place for an after-work Manhattan and a steak with friends. It’s not quite ready for courting museum donors.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Easily more than $100 per person with wine.
Sound Level: Loud, often over 80 decibels.
Date Place: Flagging down our waiter was not sexy.
Inside Tip: The bartenders stir a fine Manhattan.
Special feature: Good bread, especially the spicy lavash.
Will I be back? For a quick, late night duck.
Crown is at 24 E. 81st St. Information: +1-646-559-4880; http://www.crown81.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: 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 writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)