In the heart of Battery Park restaurateur Danny Meyer’s latest concept, the North End Grill, sits among the gleaming office buildings that are home to such powerhouses as American Express and Goldman Sachs. So it came as no surprise that when we walked into the bar at 6pm on a Friday night, it was filled with suits and women dressed to the nines. We were able to find a few stools in the corner, right near the front of the restaurant that was open to the beautiful evening. The bar itself is beautiful as well–with gleaming bottles of liquor displayed like pieces of art on the walls.
We tried two of the signature cocktails…a tamarind margarita, not a pretty drink particularly, but tasty, and a Kachumber Kooler, which was a gorgeous spring green and had such an interesting mix of flavors, including gin, cucumber, cilantro, green chilies, and lime.
Going through the bar to our table I was worried about the sound level, but as soon as we moved from the bar through a food prep area and open kitchen, we came upon an almost serene (by comparison at least) dining room. It was large, but the acoustics made it easy to carry on a conversation, which is no easy feat in New York City restaurants.
North End Grill has an incredible list of Scotches from which to choose, and even offers Scotch flights. My father is a Scotch drinker, but at 89, we couldn’t get him to deviate from his decades-long affinity for J&B on the rocks. Evidently, he was one of the few to order that brand, as our waiter had to check to make sure they even carry it, which they did. The wine list, like the rest of Danny Meyer’s restaurants, is well-conceived and reasonably priced for a high end dining experience.
Almost every dish touches one of chef Floyd Cardoz’ grills, and coming off his last stop, the now shuttered Tabla, Indian spices find their way into the menu in some fashion, adding a depth of flavor and interest.
Cardoz also has a particular fondness for eggs, and a whole section of the menu is devoted to them. I was tempted by the Coddled Egg with crab, bacon, ramps and grits, one of his signature dishes, but I couldn’t find any takers to share it with me.
For dinner we sampled soft shell crab with papaya salad, a massive platter of char-grilled leg of lamb for two, baby lamb with purple potatoes, chickpeas and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and the vegetarian option of the moment–fricassee of morels, fava beans and fiddleheads with polenta. Ginger-griddled spinach onion rings and Thrice-spiced French fries were shared around the table.
We had been told to save room for the Butterscotch pot de creme, so we ordered one for the table. It’s being touted as one of the desserts of the moment in the city, and though I could understand the appeal and it was noteworthy, I prefer my desserts to be in the form of dense chocolate. (It did have crumbled chocolate cookie and baby marshmallows on it, so it’s hard to complain). We also received a complimentary lemon meringue pie that was tart and light.
As with all of Danny Meyer’s restaurants (Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and Maialino among them), the service was exemplary; knowledgeable, friendly, and attentive without being nauseating. Since I’m such a fan of his, I read his Setting the Table book on hospitality a while ago. It gives great insight into the man and offers the reader a vivid sense of why this restaurateur is a role model for all others in his field.
North End Grill doesn’t yet rise to the level of some of his old-timers, but it’s been open less than a year, and Meyer is known for tweaking until the restaurant is just the way he envisioned when it was on the drawing board. I fully expect NEG to be every bit as successful as his other stand-outs and even now I’d go back without hesitation.