Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Saxon & Parole isn’t just another American chophouse. It’s where New Yorkers become unwitting participants in blind beverage tastings.
Shortly after I put in a drink order, a waitress approached our table with a tray of half-filled wine glasses. She placed one in front of me and left. Not a word was spoken.
There was no bottle to verify the accuracy of the pour, no opportunity to ask about the grape blend or the winery; the server bolted before I could utter a question.
The drink was slightly sweet, with little body or acid. It neither added nor detracted from my under-salted short rib, all of its flavor and succulence braised away for a punishing $44.
What I ordered was a Syrah from Long Island’s Bedell Cellars. Is that what I got? Who knows? It was just another $16 glass of red at a crowded New York hotspot.
Such a transactional style of delivery one might expect from the UPS man, not at a restaurant charging $22 for an Archipel cabernet sauvignon or $25 for a flute of Ayala Brut Majeur. You become suspicious when they don’t even offer a standard taste before making you buy one of those wallet drainers.
Order a $14 Four Graces pinot noir for some acid balance (and pray you get the right wine). Or muscle up and knock back a spicy Manhattan “on draught” and the $18 burger; Saxon’s beef blend eats like steak, with a hefty chew, gamy tang and a fried egg to boot. Finish with hearty, heavy doughnuts.
Yes, Saxon & Parole is a decent enough place to fortify your winter fat reserve, especially if you’re eyeing that plate of sharp cheddar, pistachio-studded pork pate and Mangalitsa ham ($29). But we expect better food and service from the impresarios behind Michelin-starred Public.
AvroKO are the backers. They’re the restaurant group and design firm that helped pioneer that industrial-chic look around town.
Saxon & Parole replaced the team’s ill-fated Double Crown, which closed last year. The new spot is a looker. Barnyard browns glow; there’s a candle-lit fireplace room for families; black banquettes downstairs are for first dates, birthday parties.
No Free Transfer
On arriving, some guests are offered coat check. Others aren’t. When your table is ready, about 15 minutes past the reservation time, you vie to flag down the bartender, because the host won’t transfer any checks.
Slurp a Blue Point oyster and you might find yourself grinding bits of shell and sand. Chef Brad Farmerie phones in his razor clams; they’re doused with so much diced egg and mushy caviar that it’s hard to detect any bivalve.
So start with oversize miso-glazed marrow bones. The sweet fat practically smears itself over brioche toast. House-made rolls with foie gras butter are great too, when the kitchen remembers to send them out.
Chicken liver pate has an addictive creaminess. Sugary portobello mousse tastes like a barely savory mushroom dessert. Marshmallow-spiked carrot soup somehow keeps its cloying tendencies in check; order it for gingery warmth.
Do not order the ghastly, $32 branzino, which is light on meat and heavy on soggy panko stuffing. A $29 pork chop chewed like cardboard and tasted chemical. Strip steak suffered from timid seasoning, blandness, too-thin slicing and undercooking. That’s a $49 flop.
Lobster ($38-$45) is tender and succulent, though sports none of the promised chili butter flavor.
Skeptics might skip dessert by this point but that would be a mistake. A fluffy chocolate souflee or the spicy Dickensian Christmas pudding served with hard sauce help erase the spirits of entrees past.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Most dishes under $30.
Sound Level: Around 75, not onerous.
Date Place: For cocktails and charcuterie? Sure.
Inside Tip: Decent burger; skip the sweet bacon.
Special feature: Nuanced beet and tequila cocktail.
Back on My Own Dime? Nah.
Saxon & Parole is at 316 Bowery, near Bleecker Street. Information: +1-212-254-0350 or http://saxonandparole.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.)
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