Where To Bite Butter [Manhattan, NY]
No, the LWB kitchen is not suddenly endorsing butter as the foundation of a healthy diet. This is not the Paula Deen handbook for home-cooking with various types of fat.
But I am suggesting that the next time you’re roaming around midtown, you skip the line at the touristy, mediocre Times Square restaurants or the grab-and-go chains on every other corner and instead make a reservation at Butter, the month-old child of Deen’s Food Network Star Neighbor, Iron Chef and Restaurateur Alex Guarnaschelli.
For months, I’ve passed the carefully wrapped exterior of this new, upscale restaurant during its construction. On my way to work, I’d wonder about its interior the way a child sizes up a Christmastime present. And when finally the green awning appeared beside the neighboring Cassa Hotel’s coordinating red awning, I immediately pulled together a team of hungry family members to sample Guarnaschelli’s famed cuisine with me.
On Thursday, my two cousins, my parents, and myself cozied up in one of the curved, mahogany and leather banquets in the spacious subterranean restaurant and ordered a sizable feast. Though typically I prefer a space with ample light and windows, the high-ceilings kept the underground eatery from seeming at all stuffy. And with Storm Hercules quickly building momentum outside, it was the perfect winter escape.
Recommended Dishes: Hearty American fare has defined Butter since its first location on Lafayette St. opened in 2002. On the new menu, there is no shortage of butter-based dishes, including the truffle-butter baked scallops my mother had for supper, and the restaurant’s famous butter-poached Maine lobster. But I had no trouble finding healthy, vegetarian options to enjoy. Of particular note is the Union Square Market Vegetable Ragout. Not only was this gorgeous dish a perfect example of Guarnaschelli’s local New York market-inspired menu, but it also served as a stunning centerpiece when shared by the table. Thumbelina carrots and parsnips were paired with a choice fried sage leaf, a few halved brussels sprouts, an artichoke heart, and other colorful winter vegetables served over a light yellow tomato sauce and white beans. Certainly, this would be more than enough as an entree, but it’s almost too-big for that. Don’t pass up the opportunity to share it, however, or have some vegetables as your side and the rest for a desk lunch the following day that will have all of your co-workers lingering jealously by your cubicle.
The Not-So-Good-Bite: I’ll admit, any time I eat at a restaurant with such a distinguished chef at the helm, my expectations are automatically raised. When you grow up watching Food Network stars critique – the doneness of a meat in 30 minute high-intensity challenges; a dish’s plating, a restaurant’s service for errors that wouldn’t even register to the average diner on a typical evening out – it’s hard to imagine these same chefs repeating any of those mistakes. I’ll also admit, I’m willing to look the other way at Butter because I know the restaurant is still ironing out problems that any new restaurant experiences.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that our service was very slow – it teetered just on the edge of frustrating. But any time I thought to ask where our cocktails had happened off to, they appeared. And while Jonathan’s duck was, without a question of a doubt, cooked far beyond rare, (even from my safe distance I could see it) right beside him, Eric enjoyed an identical dish, cooked to veritable perfection.
As I said, my fondness for the restaurant in general has me eager to brush off these errors as the kinks that come with any restaurant opening.
The Good Bite: The variety of vegetarian dishes and sides was refreshing. Crispy brussels sprout leaves topped homemade ricotta and hen of the woods mushrooms on sourdough toasts, and my entree was a perfectly healthy, satisfying pairing of a salad and a side. I enjoyed the chilled baby beets, both golden and red, with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds, alongside my winter green salad. Both were extremely simple dishes, paired down to only the most necessary ingredients, but you could taste each component, and the play on textures was notable in both courses. My salad, with a few slender endive leaves and a modest crumble of baked parmesan crisps, was still more about the greens than anything else.
The Best Bite: Even at a restaurant known for its hearty fare, I had no trouble creating a healthy, tailored, vegetarian meal. I enjoyed a beautiful cocktail with whole watermelon ice cubes and fresh squeezed limes, made sugar-free per my request. My mother’s Russian kale salad arrived, sans cheese, but still delightful with its gold rush apples, celery, and toasted pecans (hold those too for a lighter starter option). And as if to secure the restaurant’s reputation for seasonal ingredients and general good taste, one of the specials was a Porcini Mushroom Flatbread, topped with aged balsamic, goat cheese, basil, a sprinkle of fresh grated Parmesan, and a generous drizzle of truffle oil. Not the healthiest dish on the table, but perfect shared between the five of us.
The menu pricing is what you would expect from a Midtown Manhattan joint, especially one bearing Guarnaschelli’s million-dollar name, or perhaps lower. But either way the portions are more than plentiful, and a well-planned assortment of sides and appetizers could easily accommodate a hungry stomach.
If the Little Word Bites diet can be satisfied at a restaurant called Butter, I imagine every dietary restriction could be satisfied here. Although the enormous basket of breads would be a trying temptation for those leading a gluten-free lifestyle. This place is particularly good for after-work gatherings and large parties. There are few New York restaurants which such ample space to work with. All Butter needs to do is smooth out a few folds in the service, and this new Midtown star is good to go.
Until next time,