These days, chefs with split personalities are as likely to open a second spot as to merely add a new dish to the menu.
Case in point: Mas La Grillade, Galen Zamarra’s West Village sequel to Mas Farmhouse.
Good things happen when Zamarra trades gas burners for a 2-ton grill over a fiery pit. Elsewhere, the smoking trend seems to extend from snails to ice cream. Zamarra shows restraint and the results are subtle yet satisfying.
La Grillade is French barbecue, in style a bit quicker and less Rabelaisian than its American low and slow cousin, demanding smaller portions, white tablecloths and people who eat with knives and forks.
Squab ($36) comes medium rare and bloody, just a whiff of wood sheathing the faintly livery bird. Brussels sprouts, bacon and cippolini onions give it finishing-school elan.
Silky salmon ($32), with applewood for the nose and unctuousness for the palate, is glazed in sweet-salty teriyaki sauce and served with an earthy rutabaga puree and endive-like treviso, also from the grill.
I was skeptical of Zamarra’s smoked pecan soup ($14). But the taste of wood is as delicate as the nut itself, with apples and mint adding a soft sweetness.
Restorative game soup, on the $95 tasting menu, warms with salty astringency. Grilled romaine ($14) sops up buttermilk bacon and blue cheese dressing.
Service is perfunctory and the room isn’t what you’d call inviting. The nondescript bi-level space lacks the rustic charm of the original Mas Farmhouse on Downing Street.
Hungry? Sit at the bar, where waiters convene behind the granite counter. Balcony guests resort to flagging down the help, and on nights when the kitchen’s busy your first course might not arrive until an hour after you’ve stepped inside the restaurant.
The wine list is heavily French and the only sparklers available by the glass are Champagne. A Jackson gets you a bright, bubbly flute of Pierre Gimonnet. It’s what you should drink with the wood-fired oysters ($9) oozing lemon-thyme shallot butter, a worthy challenge to raw bar habitues.
Sage-stuffed squid, barely charred on the outside, soft and creamy within, call for the slightly reticent Donnhoff 2010 German Riesling ($15).
Move on to dorade ($28 for one, $42 for two) and devour the toasty skin. Scallops are grilled over preserved lemon and served with crunchy yet tender cauliflower, zinged with paprika oil.
The wood gets the better of strip steak, any flavor smoked out and leaving a $49 chew. On the other hand, filet mignon packs an atypical beefy punch, with bone marrow adding even more flavor.
Slightly spicy Regnie Thevenet 2008 Beaujolais ($68) was a perfect complement.
Honey ice cream, its flavor but not its sweetness satisfyingly concentrated, is your go-to dessert. I see that smoking ice cream is on Zamarra’s agenda. Chances are he’ll get that right, too. Rating: **
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Entrees $24-$49; $95 six-course tasting.
Sound Level: Loud upstairs, sometimes over 80.
Date Place: Yes.
Inside Tip: With drinks, order popcorn tossed with fried herbs and Parmesan.
Special feature: $28 set lunch.
Back on My Own Dime? Absolutely, for the oysters.
Mas La Grillade is at 28 Seventh Avenue South. Information: +1-212-255-1795 or http://www.maslagrillade.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.)