North End Grill is the new power spot of choice for Lower Manhattan.
The steak is $58. The official drink is Scotch. And the clientele are the corner-office denizens of Wall Street and Hanover Square.
No tasting menus push client dinners past the three-hour mark; no prix-fixe policies forcing a full stomach to confront dessert. There are no petits fours, no intermezzos. Don’t expect a ribbon-wrapped parting gift.
Also no tripe: Danny Meyer’s latest is expensive and safe for the offal-averse.
At North End, the party’s inside, where it smells like cumin, courtesy of Chef Floyd Cardoz, rallying from his Indian love affair at the now-closed Tabla. He’s sending out spiced fries, which is about as adventurous as things will get.
Try a few bar snacks, which are sort of like amuse bouches except that you have to pay for them.
Three buffalo wings are $9. Why? Because they’re Poulet Rouge, the Kobe beef of chicken. The bird is slow-cooked in duck fat, deboned and grilled. Not your typical Atomic wings.
A host appears not a minute past your reservation time and shows you to your table. Bar tabs are transferred with no fuss. That $13 lavender-honey cocktail you’re drinking (don’t be shy, it’s made with Scotch) is ferried over on a silver tray.
These are the once-standard courtesies that have gone the way of gas station attendants and “Thank you.” Meyer reminds us that dining should be effortless.
Three Champagnes are offered by the glass: For $18 you get a bright Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs, a perfect match-up with clam pizza ($18). The saline bivalves, the kick of chili and the licorice whisper of cilantro make the pie as balanced as the bubbly.
Move onto Andre Clouet’s Grand Reserve ($24). Fig flavors heighten the musky crunch of sauteed soft-shell crab ($18). Last, there’s the R. Dumont & Fils Brut Rose ($23), with enough gentle astringency to tango with silky pork belly and fried oyster ($15).
Cardoz’s training at Lespinasse explains the mild Asian accents. The wood grill doesn’t hurt either, imparting whole chicken with a smoky fragrance ($52). Fat drippings are soaked up by focaccia breadcrumbs. The oak smoke also perfumes whole turbot ($62).
Boredom occasionally threatens. Balsamic glazed salmon ($27) is like any other version circa 1989. Same goes for scallops and cauliflower ($30). But the chef sets things right with halibut ($29). Pine nuts, coriander, saffron and clam juice merge and the result is sublime.
Comfort zones are pushed, though not by much. Crispy cod throats ($15), which mimic slimy (if tasty) rubber bands in many Spanish restaurants, get the meuniere treatment here, conferring a soft crunch like sweetbreads.
Fluke with black truffles, seared into an overcooked choke hold, was a $46 mess, the truffles’ pungency overwhelming the distant oceanic flavor.
Smoked pumpkin with paddlefish roe was a study in mush. We ought to have the option of ordering firmer, pricier sturgeon caviar.
An entire section of the menu is devoted to eggs, the best offering of which is a lobster omelet.
And as for the $58 steak (down from $64), order first the big Fantino barolo ($26 per glass) for the 18-ounce cut. The beef sports a gamy tang from grass-feeding, a country-ham scent from oak grilling and a black pepper sting from a red wine reduction. It tastes like success.
Rating: ** 1/2
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Many mains well over $30; all starters under $20.
Sound Level: Never too loud; around 70 decibels.
Date Place: Sure, go knock knees at the kitchen counter.
Inside Tip: Great lemon meringue pie, butterscotch pudding.
Special Feature: Over 100 Scotch labels.
Back on My Own Dime: Sure thing, when my dime increases.
North End Grill is at 104 North End Ave, Battery Park City. Information: +1-646-747-1600; http://northendgrillnyc.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse. 56 to 60: Speak up. 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: 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.)