I dimly remember Peter, Paul & Mary singing an old folk song ..”if you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do and if you haven’t got a ha’penny, then god bless you”.. In this case, you want the whole shebang – the full on Tenpenny and the blessing is free of charge. Bloody hell, I’d trudge up to midtown even if this restaurant were called Tenquarter. Or Ten-2 dollars. Rain, sleet, hail. Ha. 46th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue is hardly a hip destination, particularly of an evening. But if this restaurant were in say, Brooklyn or on the lower east side, there would be no getting a table for weeks. Between breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings, we can all easily dine here.
It’s not exactly an aesthetic delight, the atmosphere I mean. It’s perfectly cozy though and probably kinda urban chic in some rural Indiana town. Situated as it is in the back of the tiny white lobby of the Gotham Hotel, it’s a midtown oasis of brick, candles, wood and fabulous destination dining. It’s really, really uber good. And actually charming.
They start you off with warm pretzel bread accompanied by a choice of apple butter or a mouth tingling dijon. My dining companions ate theirs so quickly the condiments never had a chance but just before my last bites, I managed a full tasting and it was all I could do to not say – hit me again. More food would be coming so no gluttony necessary. Yet.
There are only a few specialty cocktails offered, I think four. But the Unstrung Harp will now be my siren’s call. Forget Capri, 46th Street is holding a vessel of prosecco, Gosling’s rum, ginger and lime just for me. I hope. It was sensational. I tasted companion’s drinks, a tantalizing Negroni made with aperol and cynar and the Ocelot, a margarita with jalapeno lime cordial, aperol and a splash of soda. Excellent kick-off before we moved on to the food and a small but very nice wine list settling on a Dolcetto.
Our cocktail time included the pretzel bread and an order of crispy fried artichokes, set with a vibrant lemon aioli and spattered with hickory smoked trout roe. Wha’ huh? A lovely thrill. And if you’re not inclined to have the spring vegetables – don’t even go. Or at least lie to me. This appetizer is off the charts. It’s an artful symphony to gaze at and The Rolling Stones at their peak to devour. Colorful, eclectic, the vegetables are offered pickled, raw, roasted, candied, dehydrated, and fresh. There are favas, thinly dried tomato slices, zucchini blossom chips, sunchokes, beans and it goes on, all drizzled with a sort of powdered ranch dressing. Complete heaven. It crunches, excites, sweetens and satisfies. Even the baby lettuce salad has a coup de grace with a creamy, chopped pistachio and white balsamic dressing.
I was excited to see what happened next. For me, it was the meltingly petite gnocchi with fresh from the market hen o’the woods mushrooms and garnished with oyster leaves. Fantastic. The oyster essence is the right keynote for the earthiness of the dish. A table mate relished the squid ink spaghetti with sweet crab complimented by a smoky chorizo, all delightfully in sync. Another had the heritage pork rack in a bourbon sauce with dandelion greens. Off to the side, an individual savory apple pie – how wacky and how thoughtful. Then there was the perfectly cooked halibut. Throw on the pureed kalamata olives, artichokes and smack it with a tart meyer lemon sauce and you are officially happy. It’s thoughtful food, unexpected ingredients pop in for a quick hello and indulge your senses.
But just to seal the happiness deal…the menu seems to keep on offer a chocolate delight with sea salt, honeycomb and malt gelato. That would have been delectable enough but we were most curious about the strawberry caprese. A wise move. This was insanely incredible. It looked just like bocconcini with tomatoes and basil but nuh uh. Little white balls of panna cotta (I think), razor thin dehydrated strawberries and dried candied basil. Huzzah! It was a sight to see. And absolutely fun to eat – the sweet, the savory, the surprise all contributed to the creative elegance and beauty that sits on each plate coming out of that kitchen.
What’s especially nice is that innovative, distinctive, pleasing cuisine is actually affordable. Where else would you hear Jimi Hendrix singing in the background but still be able to converse. And you can get a table without offering up your dog in exchange. It’s modern American but truly modern, an actual midtown destination spot and quite, quite pleasurable. Take a bus, a taxi, a long walk perhaps. It’s worth the neighborhood challenge.
16 East 46th Street between Madison/Fifth Avenue
Closed Saturday & Sunday (though that might change)