Museum Food Has Never Been Better in New York
Every restaurant should aim to be pleasant and accommodating—that’s sort of the point. But just like people, some restaurants have a tendency to take it too far, becoming agonizingly agreeable, void of personality and quirk, pleasant to the point of self-effacement. In an attempt to charm everyone, these menus will include a year-round steak, an over-accessorized burger, a relatively innocuous pasta dish, and poof, just like that, a restaurant can disappear into a chatter of identical new places.
Untitled, a new Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant inside the Whitney Museum, could easily have gone this way. The building that houses the restaurant on the edge of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District is a gleaming tourist magnet that opened in May, a 200,000-square-foot asymmetrical stack of soaring gallery spaces and terraces looking over the Hudson river. The glass-encased dining room resembles a diner from the future, huge and modern, with beautifully colored cakes set up under domes along the counter, as if a pastry chef has brought a Wayne Thiebaud painting from upstairs to life.
How refreshing then, that Untitled doesn't pander. The kitchen has a clear focus on excellent vegetables and local seafood: fat, perfectly cooked mussels bobbing around with fava beans in a salty green broth, fried oysters on a sweet, summery corn-and-bean relish with a generous dollop of mayonnaise, all so tasty you’ll need to clean the bowl out with a piece of warm bread. There are cucumbers in sesame-spiked broth over cold buckwheat noodles, and toast points piled with lobster meat that’s been brightened with preserved lemon and fresh anise-y tarragon leaves.
This cooking pleases—but delicately, in unexpected ways.
For now, there is no rib-eye on the menu, no cheeseburger. (The menu, naturally printed in Swiss typeface Neue Haas Grotesk, puts an emphasis on white space and is carefully edited to be just about 16 lines.) The food is light and bright, satisfying without getting heavy or particularly meaty, which is exactly how you want to eat when it’s so hot outside that even your sunglasses are making you sweat.
Though a few destination restaurants inside museums exist—including the The Modern in the Museum of Modern Art and M. Wells Dinette, set up in an old classroom at PS1 in Queens—museum dining is not usually any good, nor does it generally have a point of view beyond speed, efficiency, revenue. Untitled has what most museum restaurants don't: Michael Anthony, chef at Gramercy Tavern, where he's been cooking consistently delicious food for years and with which he splits his time.
He brought along Chef de Cuisine Suzanne Cupps, who has worked with him for the last four years. Together, they change the menu at Untitled frequently, spontaneously tweaking dishes. This means the swordfish with eggplant you had on Monday might be swapped out for yellowfin tuna from off the coast of Long Island later in the week, served under a layer of basil seeds hydrated so they're encased with jelly. (These are more cool texture than flavor.)
One of the best dishes on the menu right now is a warm salad of slightly charred pole beans under hazelnuts and a little calamari. There’s a pool of deep red, smoky sauce made from dried guajillo peppers that makes every element on the plate somehow taste a bit more intense, more like itself. Sure, you'll find a crowd-pleaser of fried chicken, too, but even this is a bit unexpected: a mix of fried and roasted meat, served on a bed of creamy, wilted greens with some bitter radicchio leaves that make the sweeter, fattier pieces of meat that much more interesting.
The most impressive dessert, and perhaps the most delicious, is Miro Uskokovic’s tall blueberry cake, stacked with thick layers of creamy frosting, and crunchy, slightly smoky pieces of sesame-peanut nougat. It’s covered with a positively sour blueberry sauce at the table. The cake itself has a wonderfully light, tender crumb, and if it’s been a while since you had a truly spectacular slice of cake—if you’ve forgotten just how charming a big slice can be—order it.
If you’re after a stunning view of the city, there's a casual, often noisy café on higher ground (entry requires a ticket to the Whitney) that shares the same team and offers a faster menu of salads, soups, and loaded toasts. Don’t underestimate the views available downstairs at Untitled, which offers seats in the busy, open-air plaza by the High Line. Though the service out here can be less steady and attentive than it is inside, it's warm and friendly in the manner you'd expect from a Danny Meyer joint. And there's way better people-watching: locals unable to resist photographing the new façade; people pacing the street, yelling obscene things into their phones; European tourists making out a little sloppily on the stairs before stopping to buy a popsicle from one of the carts parked on the sidewalk, and then taking carefully orchestrated selfies. It’s not just dinner, it's a front-row seat to midsummer Manhattan.
Untitled is at 99 Gansevoort Street (Meatpacking District), New York, NY; +1 (212) 570-3670 or untitledatthewhitney.com
Rating: One Star (Good)
What to Order: Roasted and fried chicken salad ($24); Tuna with basil seed vinaigrette ($25); Smashed cucumbers with soba ($12); Pole beans with calamari and hazelnuts ($14); Marinated mussels ($14); Strawberry-ricotta pound cake ($14); Peanut butter-blueberry crunch cake ($14)
Who’s Next to You: Shoppers with their bags; French tourists at the end of a walking-intensive afternoon; downtown socialites meeting for cocktails; amblers down from the High Line
Need to Know: To access the more casual café upstairs, you’ll need a ticket to the Whitney. The restaurant Untitled does not require this.
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