Dinner at Manon, the new nightlife hang and restaurant in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, is an onerous undertaking.
Early for our table, we swing by the bar for a drink. The cocktail menu doesn’t actually list ingredients, so right off the bat we’re on our own with drinks called “Love to Turn You On” and descriptions like “light and soothing.”
When we get the bartender’s attention (he’s busy chatting up a waitress), we ask for something shaken. He brings something stirred. It’s called “Marshmallow Clouds” ($14) and is touted as a libation for those who enjoy Cosmopolitans. That makes sense, since Manon could be a set from “Sex and the City.”
I go over to the host to ask about our table. He says it’s ready and sends me back to the bar to close the tab. Thanks. By the time I return, the elevator shuttling guests to the third-floor dining room has departed. Cooling my heels, I take a sip of my Marshmallow Clouds. It tastes like rum cut with Gatorade.
The host regales us with an anecdote about how his mom still smokes pot. Which is fine but we still have to eat here.
Andrey Dellos, the Russian restaurateur who opened (and closed) the poorly-reviewed Brasserie Pushkin in Midtown last year, is still getting the swing of the New York dining scene.
The tri-level Manon, replete with balconies (for ogling diners below) and cushy chairs is the first of two restaurants he’s opened this year. Betony, in the old Pushkin space, is a pleasant enough work-in-progress. Manon, during a series of meals over the last two months, shows less promise.
Fluke with sea urchin ($14) smells like maritime effluent on a warm summer evening. Tender pork ribs lack depth of flavor. A salt-cod fritter is underseasoned while, oddly, the accompanying filet of cod ($27) is inedibly saline.
Then all of a sudden you’re digging into perfect beef tartare ($15), lightly charred to bring out the aromas of the Creekstone meat. Misses aside, chef Tae Strain generally sends out straightforward American fare that gets the job done.
Kumquat and citrus spike the oils of raw Hamachi. A bit of feta enlivens a fine salad of red quinoa and Japanese eggplant. Pastas -- tortellini filled with sweet corn ($13), tagliatelli in shellfish butter ($16) -- are excellent.
The most expensive dish is a $39 strip steak, and while it lacked any minerality or dry-aged flavor, it was reasonably tender for such a muscular cut. Bland chicken breast ($25) is partially redeemed by its flavorful skin and a fried egg.
Then things get weird again.
Rather than offer a beverage list, a waiter asks if he can “get you another Riesling.” Maybe not with my steak?
One of Manon’s central problems is that the staff isn’t familiar with the basic steps of service that make things easier for the diner and that make the staff seem invisible rather than intrusive.
A salad ordered as an appetizer mysteriously appears as a side dish during the main course. My companion asks for water, one glass is served. What about me? Oysters arrive vaguely warm, without cocktail forks, so you end up with a mouthful of rock salt covering the bottom of the bivalves. Wild mushrooms are fine, if only the servers (or the menu) told us what kind they were.
Skip dessert and finish with “In the Shade” -- a floral beverage that might be a martini; the menu doesn’t say -- boasting a clean jasmine perfume. It’s a heck of a lot better than that offending marshmallow drink, which was still sitting, virtually untouched, at our table after the check was paid.
Rating: 1/2 star.
The Bloomberg Questions:
Price: All dishes at $39 or under.
Sound Level: Around 80 at the bar, with thumping club music; quieter upstairs in the dining room.
Date Place: Not if you expect a second date.
Inside Tip: Decent enough dorade for $29
Special Feature: Respectable carrot cake.
Back on my own dime? No.
Manon is at 407 W. 14th St. Information: +1-212-596-7255; http://manon-ny.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: Don’t talk, just eat.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Tumblr at www.thepricehike.com or www.thebaddeal.com.)
Muse highlights include Hephzibah Anderson on Jeffery Archer; Scott Reyburn on London art auction.