Restaurant 81

Last night was a girls night.  I get together every couple of months with three girlfriends.  Most times we do something during the day but last night was dinner.  They all live on the Upper Westside so I made the journey uptown for dinner. 

In the past year, a variety of well reviewed restaurants have opened  on the UWS.  I have never understood why more places haven’t opened up there.  There is an audience for it.  The latest round of restaurants include Dovetail, Quest, Mermaid Inn, Telepan, (soon)Shake Shack and Eighty-One where I went last night. 

I will probably get blasted for this but I was trying to explain the restaurant to Fred this morning and what it was that I didn’t like.  The food was good not great.  The menu didn’t really appeal to me but it was creative and thoughtful.  The restaurant is beautiful.  Very adult.  Large plush booths, quiet, plenty of room, lush curtains, a wall of wine, a long bar.  Good service.  What is it?  Fred hit the nail on the head.  There is no edge. 

Granted, last night was Passover, and we were on the UWS, but by 930 the restaurant was empty.  In essence, the restaurants up there are a welcome addition to all the locals but I would never go out of my way,  unless it was to see my pals up there, to go to dinner.  The importance of the UWS restaurants to create a relationship with their clientele is even greater than the restaurants downtown.  I just don’t see people from other neighborhoods making an effort to go to 81st street to eat dinner unless you live up town.

We began with a small glass of carrot juice from the chef that was just awful.  Not sure what was interesting about it except it was pure without any pieces of carrot.  They also passed out bread and matzo.  The matzo was a nice touch. 

I started off with a shaved raw vegetable salad with a walnut pesto.  Simple and light.  I did taste the hens egg with roasted asparagus and morels which was quite rich and tasty.  For dinner, I went with the soft shell crabs.  Ode to the season.  Crispy soft shell crabs over a grapefruit chutney which didn’t work and a cold couscous on the side that was so loaded with garlic that the two bites I took are still living with me this morning.  Two people had the cod which was a huge piece that was had been cooked in a sake broth and doused with crispy shallots.  It was quite good.  We had two fantastic bottles of wine.  The list is quite extensive.  We also had a frozen meyer lemon souffle that had a dollop of orange sherbet on top.  The combo of the flavors made it taste like a creamsicle.  Love that.   A nice touch is the small tray of desserts they serve at the end.   There are some really nice thin spicy cheese sticks at the bar too.

A wonderful night with my friends.  I am glad I went up town last night to check out one of the new restaurants that have been sorely needed in that neck of the woods.  Maybe my expectations were higher.  Restaurant 81 was okay but absolutely not worth the journey.  The vibe just didn’t do it for me and neither did the food.