Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bar Americain: Disappointingly Good

Sometimes good just isn’t good enough.

Unfair, don’t you think? Only in New York can a fairly good restaurant get rocked for being just… good. That said, with so many great options within a four block radius at any given time, I doubt I’ll be back to Bar Americain.

You should know, I love celeb chef restaurants. I think that the pressure put on these guys to perform can make the experience and food even better that your run of the mill joint… so in essence, you can get even more for your hard earned buck. But to do that, you need to deliver. And good doesn’t cut it.

Unfortunately, Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain is a hit and miss experience…. and the misses outnumbered the hits. It makes up its mind early in the meal, to be just… good.

The spot is a sexy, expansive space tucked into a midtown locale. The room is rich in dark woods and iron, with a beautiful mirror the size of Delaware flanking the bar. It has all the buzz of a NY brasserie, including the snobby greeters, who snicker at those who spill into the space unannounced. Attitude at the door aside, I liked the feel and design… nice job.

At first glance of the single page of offerings, the menu is exciting and full of choices.

Hearing about the shellfish sampler, I dove in head first. It was a good choice, but somewhat uneven and overpriced. The crab and mango mixture was fantastic.. full of flavor and freshly made. The lobster and avocado mixture was average. The shrimp with tomatillo sauce was delicious, but the 2 lonely shrimp hanging off the glass were begging for friends… as was the glass of unused sauce that remained.

Still optimistic, we were delivered two apps that we were excited about. Again, one a hit, and one, a terrible miss.

The squash blossoms were elegant and well prepared. Filled and lightly fried, they were a small but just right portion. Pricey, but different and… well, good.

I ordered the shrimp and grits, and was thoroughly disappointed. First, at $14, I am expecting at least 2 tablespoons of grits. I was lucky for a teaspoon. Honest. On top of my teaspoon of grits (served on a small side plate) were my 5 small sautéed shrimp. I had been duped. Even I know that this dish cost $2 to prepare… so maybe they can scoop out a few spoonfuls of grits to stretch the failure to include larger or more shrimp? I’m not a portion maven, but cheap is cheap… even in Manhattan.

The main courses are tried and true Bar American staples… the Skate, topped with capers…. and the pork loin, with corn. They took 40 minutes to reach out table after we finished our apps. Ouch.

The skate had a fishy back taste, not a good sign when ordering fresh fish at a restaurant of this caliber. Remember, any fish… ANY fish you order should not have a fishy taste. That said, this dish was boxed and headed home (or to someone who needed to eat it more than us).

The pork loin was a tremendous cut, steak-like and amazingly tender. On the side was a sauce that clashed with the dish… a soy-molasses fusion that just didn’t work. The tablespoon of corn on the side was decidedly decoration and nothing that could actually satisfy an appetite. This dish had the opportunity to shine like none other… as this was the best cut of pork I have had since a trip to Seattle’s Dahlia Lounge more than a few years ago…. but again, it failed to cross the finish line. It was just, good. Nothing else.

So my two cents? Don’t try to pretend to be something your not.

If you are going to offer dishes with regional flair, you need to deliver. Keep it simple.

…and don’t strive to be good. In this town, it just won’t work.

On Andre’s scale of 1 -10 (10 being run out of your house and eat there today)…. I give Bar American a 5.

Right in the middle, of so-so and terrific. Just, well, good.

Bar Americain
Regional American Cuisine

152 W 52nd St, New York 10019
Btwn 6th & 7th Ave

$35 to $70 pp with drink, apps and dinner

Phone: 212-265-9700