REALITY-BASED GASTRONOMIC OPINIONS
132 West Houston Street
New York, NY 10012
Neighborhood: Greenwich Village
Dine Date: August 16, 2011
Serge Becker from party-time eateries La Esquina and Café Select, Paul Salmon of the Rockhouse Hotel in Negril, Jamaica, and Binn and Genc Jakupi of 1Oak and The Box are behind this small and trendy Jamaican hotspot on the North side of West Houston.
The restaurant opened to the public in February of 2011 after a few months of private dining for an undefined set of the city’s trendoids. Since the veil-lifting, it has been getting solid and extensive press due to its ownership, as well as a fair amount of blogs and user reviews. Pissy Anna Wintour has been fervently protesting the restaurant’s very existence (she lives nearby), and apparently with some success – Miss Lilys has still been unable to score a full liquor license from New York State’s liquor authority.
With all of this fanfare, it's natural that expectations were high in checking out this hipster hideaway. The delivery didn’t match the hype, but maybe that’s something you don’t really care about? Read on.
The restaurant’s entrance is nothing fancy and isn’t much to look at, but maybe that’s the point. I walk in at 7:30pm in time for my reservation, but I play like I don’t have one. When I reach the maître d’s stand as a walk-in, he stops chatting to the beautiful waitress idling near the stand, looks me up and down, and tells me that he “might” be able to “get me in now” for a table, but that he will need it back at 8:00pm. Really? You want to seat me for a full dinner, then kick me out of the table in less than a half hour? Why even bother suggesting it? I tell him this can’t work, and he goes back to chatting with the waitress without another word. I clear my throat and he gazes back at me down his nose. I tell him that my assistant actually may have booked that table after all. He checks his book and acknowledges, and I’m told to wait at the bar until my dining companion arrives. My companion arrives a few moments later and tells the maître d’ that we’d like to have a drink at the bar before being seated. The response is “I need your table at 9:00pm sharp, so skip the drink”. We’ve all heard of Jamaican “jerk” but come on – does this guy really have to be such a pretentious DB? Get a grip, dude. We’re putting money into your joint’s pockets here. The customer is always… ahhhh whatever.
We are seated in the back room at a simply set two-top, which is about one foot away from the adjacent tables. Rootsy Jamaican imagery is relentlessly everywhere, but is synchronized and well presented. The theme is a reggae ‘soundsystem’-style party with graphics of bass bins and subwoofers, murals of reggae vinyl records, and the Jamaican flag’s colors forming a line along the banquet. The place is crowded and loud. The crowd looks something like a mixture of Lenny Kravitz’s entourage, too-cool-for-school nerds of every denomination, spacey hipsters, vapid models, and wide-eyed Jersey girls.
Before we even look at the drink list, the server is already rattling off specials and asking if we are ready to order. Uh… no. We just sat down about thirty seconds ago. Chill - be irie.
Aperitifs appear. No liquor license, so we’re on the beer and wine program. The tingaling (Ting soda and Red Stripe) is tastily refreshing and matches the environs. The passion fruit sofu is watery and lifeless.
Appetizers follow. They are served rather unceremoniously in red plastic baskets on wax paper, but it actually does match the vibe, so it’s ok.
The Jamaican jerk corn-on-the-cob is coated with ground coconut – delicious and surprising in its mixture of flavors. It’s not plated hot enough and needs some citrus, but it’s original and really works well.
The ackee and saltfish jaquitos (aka miniature tacos) are an excellent marriage of flavor between the fish and the fruit, and go very well with the spicy hot giardiniera served in a glass mason jar. The tacos are a bit dry and need some kind of sauce, which is manually fulfilled by a few shakes of the Caribbean-style hot sauce bottles on the table.
In roll some entrees.
The curried goat is served with way too much red beans and rice, and some boring rubbery cabbage slaw. The potatoes mixed in with the goat mixture are too dry. The goat itself was of good quality and was nicely marinated, but there is an excess of fat and bone that should have been separated out.
The jerk chicken is very flavorful and authentic, tender and juicy. The jerk seasoning is on the sparse side, but the mango chutney makes up for what could have been a flavor deficit. The accompanying cucumber slices are plain und unseasoned – boring – and arrive without the advertised yogurt sauce.
The Copain pinot noir (Anderson Valley, $60) matches everything well and is a good recommendation from our server, but the price point is about $15 higher than the norm.
9:00pm rolls around and, like clockwork, the server brings us the check without being asked to… with a half-bottle of wine remaining on the table. Cool your jets there, tiger.
The front-of-house is beautiful but brutish in their service delivery, particularly the host. The food is unmemorable and lacking in many respects. The scene is downtown trendy and fun, which is definitely what the place has going for it, but you will be left wondering what all the hype is about. In all fairness, rumor has it that the staff is undergoing a “re-training exercise” to address the concerns that have apparently been coming to the management’s attention, so hopefully this aspect will shape up soon.
Break It Down...
A handful of interesting bites; lacking in many areas.
Terrible host; friendly enough servers, but they are rushing you out.
Downtown cool meets Negril block party.
You won’t feel like you got your money’s worth.
Accommodation On Walk-In
Shockingly rude and lame.
Bathroom: Sanctuary Or Minefield?
Minefield; only one small bathroom for the whole restaurant; people knocking on the door.
Ability To Have Sex In The Bathroom
The one bathroom is in the middle of the dining room and visible to everyone; there is perpetually a line in front of it.
Seat Height Equilibrium
The back dining room has saggy banquets at every table; banquets make you a whopping 4-5 inches shorter than if you took the chair across the way.
Affect Of Staff
Most staff (host, bar, servers, bus) were wayyy too cool for their own good ; server was gracious when I mispronounced “ackee” and asked what it was.
Humor Of Staff
Funny bar staff, fairly light table staff.
Wine Recommendation Honesty
Wine recommendation paired well but could have been a better value selection.
Quality Of Music
Crazy loud in the rear dining room; difficulty maintaining a conversation.
Laaaadies! Purse Hanging Options At The Table
Nice square chair backs for minimum gravitational disruption.
Written by Eric Reithler-Barros