Scott Conant was keeping a watchful eye over Faustina last night. So let me start with him. He is charming. Chatty, smart and honestly just adorable. He has been involved in the NY restaurant scene for years. Like all good chefs, he has figured out how to brand himself in the world of food.
His latest restaurant is Faustina which is located in the Cooper Hotel. Hotel restaurants have a different set of pros and cons. Lately we have seen a few known restaurateurs and great chefs open up in hotels around NYC. Danny Meyer's Maialino in the Grammercy, Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield at the Breslin located in the Ace Hotel, Andrew Carmellini at Locande Verde in the Greenwich Hotel and Cafe Gitane at the Jane. The cons can be finding a bathroom and the crowds at the hotel. The pros are the hotels are behind you.
The restaurant is simple, modern and feels a bit like a swank hotel. It will be nice when they can open the glass walls out to the backyard in the warmer weather. There are many opportunities to sit and eat at the bar. When you enter the hotel, all the high top tables are set for dinner and so is the bar in the restaurant. A bit off putting if you just want to have a drink. I came early to have a drink and they moved the place setting for us but I still felt like I was taking someone's seat. They might consider just bringing them out the settings only if someone wants to order dinner. That is what they do at most restaurants which is a bit more inclusive.
The menu is made for sharing. All the plates are relatively small except for 3 dishes which are noted as "large plates". We started off with the raw fish. Cubes of tuna with a small piece of avocado on top, sliced kampachi with thinly sliced mushrooms and garlic chips set in olive oil, pink snapper, toro with a vinaigrette, pink snapper and olive oil poached sardines over artichokes and greens. It was best when it was simple. Many of the raw fish dishes were overpowered by something. My favorite was the dish that was simply sliced fish and salmon roe with olive oil. The fish was tasty and all the flavors came through. I liked the poached sardines too which was served like a small salad.
We tried a few of the shared hot dishes. Fried chicken, ribs, rock shrimp and sea urchin custard. The fried chicken wasn't the best for sharing. 2 pieces with a crispy thick skin over roasted potatoes which is the chicken sits too long the potatoes make the skin soft. I would cut the pieces of chicken into 6 small pieces and serve them solo. Everyone can dip in and taste their own, hot out of the fryer. The rock shrimp was nice and light. A different take on the classic Nobu dish.
The ribs were really well done. Balsamic glazed with a tomato chutney. The meat literally came off the bone which is just how I like it. The last dish of this course was the sea urchin custard which was just strange. Overwhelming rich and if you don't like the intense taste of sea urchin, don't go near this dish.
We had two sides. Roasted cauliflower with capers and shaved bottarga. Not that interesting. The roasted eggplant with pork shoulder was delicious. A ragu. He should put this over pasta or serve it with pieces of crispy bread. Different, innovative and delicious.
Dessert, why not? A chocolate parfait which was tasty and the date pudding. The waiter pushed the date pudding and he was right. Really delicious. A steamed pudding with a crispy top. Didn't even taste like dates for those who don't dig dates. Well done.
Glad we went. The entire area of the Bowery has exploded with restaurants over the past year from Gemma in the Bowery Hotel to Keith McNally's pizza place, Pulino that opens this week to DGBG. It is great to see the neighborhood change and have so many choices. Next time, I will probably stop by Faustina and sit at the bar and just order a few small plates.