The newest New York foodie mecca, Betony, hardly screams trendy or even elegant. Instead, the decor and quiet classical music in the background is reminiscent of the old Russian parlor that used to occupy the space on W. 57th Street. I was a little alarmed when I first arrived, expecting youthful foodies here to indulge with unconventional “lobster rolls,” fried pickles, and signature cocktails. The numerous rave reviews spoke of simple, yet completely whimsical dishes that are perfected with such ease.
I found myself apologizing about the space just moments after being seated in a plush, brown velour seat with matching dark chocolate table cloth and napkin. But I trust Pete Wells, after all this is the NYTimes critic that downgraded famed restaurant Daniel to three-stars earlier this year. If he’s awarded Betony the equal star count to my dream restaurant, the food must be the reason to come (since his critic does cite the serious disconnect between the food and venue).
We found our little paper menus neatly folded underneath our brown napkins. The drink menu was no where to be found and as someone who looks extremely young, my first reaction was that they thought I was underage. Fortunately, that was not the case, as the waiter began to ask what drinks we would like and offered to assist us with our selections. I don’t know what it was, but this seriously overwhelmed me. He began rattling off cocktails after I said I might be interested, but quickly changed my mind to wine.
Finally, once the waiter joked that “I didn’t like him very much” he handed me the wine menu and I felt at ease. It’s not a matter of disliking this type of service, it’s just when you’re already slightly unsure of what you would like (and the pricing of said drinks for that matter) seeing the list in front of you makes selection much easier. I ultimately selected a glass of Cabernet Franc, which is a bit lighter in body then a regular Cabernet. The waiter gave a detailed explanation while pouring the liquid into a gigantic glass. I took a sip and relaxed.
The waiter explained the menu which is divided into three sections; bite sized, appetizer and entree. They suggest you order one dish from each portion of the menu for a complete tasting and full experience. To begin, we knew that the “lobster roll” and “tuna melt” were must orders, especially because I love the traditional version of both these dishes.
Lobster Rolls arrived first, perfectly stacked and absolutely adorable, if that’s an okay word to describe high-end dining.
Imagine the ideal lobster roll filling, creamy with big chunks of meat and an acidic crème fraîche base binding the pieces together. Now lose the buttery bun and replace it with a crunchy, flakey wrapper. This ridiculous lobster roll highlights all of the key flavors, concentrating the seafood flavor to create the ultimate experience. The parsley salt adds an herbal, fresh quality to the delightful rolls. Dan and I both decided that we want to be able to pick up bags of these treats at a grocery store to enjoy them all day everyday.
The next dish to arrive was the “Tuna Melt.”
A lightly melted slice of fotina sits on top of a crispy, delicate piece of brioche. On top of the bread and cheese components, a seared piece of high grade tuna glistens as if right off the flat top. A little piece of tomato and basil add freshness to the round, open-face sandwich. This tuna melt was pretty damn good for the high end version.
After beginning our meal, we back tracked with the arrival of the amuse-bouche and the fresh out of the oven rye bread and salted butter.
Roasted Beet salad gets a face lift with the addition of shaved raw horseradish and delicately whipped crème fraîche. The portion size and timing of the dish acted almost like a palate cleanser between the first and second courses.
The appetizer portion of the meal consisted of us ordering the mushroom cavatelli and the hot/cold foie gras with crispy kale. The pasta dish was placed in front of me, as I indulged in my dish before trading with Dan.
As someone who generally doesn’t like black pepper, the homemade cavatelli was subtle and delicate. When you broke into the poached egg, the yolk oozed out mixing with the mushroom broth adding a creamy nature to the sauce. The roasted mushrooms gave off an added layer of texture and umami flavor, with the parmesan cheese adds a balanced salty flavor to the pasta dish. Not necessarily my favorite dish of the night, but only because the other dishes blew my mind.
Foie Gras, how I love your delicate, illegal in California nature.
The silkiest slice of seared foie gras hides beneath crispy kale leaves. The foie gras is heavenly, rich and delicate, just melting in your mouth leaving behind the most seductive, sweet flavor. Right in the middle of the elegant foie gras sits a delicate circle of smoked pork hock. A consommé made of the pork hocks is poured over the foie gras adding another layer of smoky tenderness. Despite the broth, the kale manages to stay crisp, adding a serious contrast of texture. Even Dan, who generally avoids foie gras found this dish to be wonderful. I’m sorry it’s a controversial piece of protein, but it’s delicious.
The step-by-step presentation of my main course, the butter poached lobster, makes this dish absolutely extraordinary.
The plate arrives revealing a bright pink lobster tail, herb puree and gigantic pile of fresh dill. The waiter pours the creamy lobster bisque-butter through the dill leaves and onto the product below. The scent of herbs fills your lungs, realizing the fresh and delicate nature of the dish.
The butter sauce forms a pool at the bottom of the dish allowing for the lobster and summer beans to begin soaking up the wonderfully rich flavors. The waiter then removes the giant pile of dill from the dish revealing all of the beans and components hidden by the greens.
It’s a lot less pretty this way, but oh my g-d, if you love lobster as much as I do, this dish will completely change the way you look at the beautiful crustacean. Forget the calories, the more butter the better. The lobster melts in your mouth, as I opted to use a spoon making sure the sweet and savory broth made its way into every bite. The slightly al dente medley of beans adds a crunch of texture needed to contrast the dreamy pieces of lobster. Finally, the herb puree mixed adds a little bit of a grainy texture but totally packs punch when it comes to adding flavor. (I need to stop describing this because I want to go back and eat more).
Dan’s dish of Short Ribs was presented in a style where the beef actually looked like delicate pieces of beef tenderloin or filet. A delicate jus is poured over the steak table side sending the intoxicating flavor across the table.
Tender pieces of short rib slow cooked in fat for two-days then seared over charcoal giving a beautiful crust and smokiness to the piece of meat. The knife delicately touches the meat slicing through with ease. The pieces are juicy and flavorful, as wonderfully prepared as any high quality cut of meat. It’s easy to forget that these are short ribs, instead of a medallion of filet. For the piece on the bone, politeness isn’t necessary, as the waiter actually encourages you to eat like a caveman and then places a moist towelette on the edge of the table to clean up afterwards. A delicate fried sweetbread is silky and sweet on the inside with a crunchy exterior. Grilled romaine is piled on top of the meat and jus adding further levels of smokiness and freshness to balance out the heavy dish. The brilliance of this seemingly simple dish is mind-blowing.
The meal finished off with petite-fours for me and a cup of decaf for Dan.
Pink Peppercorn Caramel Chew might be one of my new favorite treats. It’s slightly spicy, salty and sweet and totally melts in your mouth leaving little pieces of crunchy peppercorns behind. Can I have a bag of these treats, please? The frozen macaron was delicious, as Dan quickly stole the last few bites. The only thing left was the cherry and pistachio divinity, which as an unusual texture reminiscent of a not-sticky marshmallow or marzipan. It was a delightful sweet note to end the meal.
Like my favorite movie says, I’m warning you “not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within.” The space at Betony is in need of a major face life and change in the atmosphere, but once the food begins to arrive all of your concerns start to go away. Every dish was more fabulous then the last with the entrees leaving a lasting impression. Created by the guys from Eleven Madison Park, they know how to make a lasting impression. I’m dreaming about going back to Betony, snagging a seat at the bar and ordering a plate of “lobster rolls” and trying one of their delightful cocktails. It’s a great place for a fabulous, unconventionally whimsical meal, just don’t expect to be “wowed” by the atmosphere.
Betony – 41 West 57th Street – New York, NY
Location: Gramercy/Flatiron, NY
Type: New American
Perfect For: Special Occasions, Date Night, Dinner with Parents, Impressing Foodies
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: “Lobster Roll,” Hot or Cold Foie Gras, Poached Lobster, Grilled Short Ribs