Disclosure: This meal was a complimentary media dinner arranged by André’s public relations team. That being said, we tipped appropriately, and there will be no special treatment. Now, let’s get down to it.
When an invite to “Dinner with André” popped up in my inbox the other day, my first reaction was, What? André who?
... Then I got it. Ohhh, the restaurant’s name is André. Cute. It’s personal. And just a touch cheeky, in that cocktail soiree sort of way. I kind of liked it. I gave the preview menu a quick scan — Peekey-Toe crab* salad, jamon de Bayonne and melon trio, smoked terrine de foie gras (and those are just some of the apps) … mmm. Let’s give it a go.
So a little background: André is the newly-redesigned, 30-ish seat dining room attached to Opia bar and lounge on the second floor of the Renaissance Hotel (a Marriott property) in Midtown northeast (59th and Lex).
What I like about the concept is that nothing, and everything, is new. Opia has been here for years; the venue is growing with the hotel, which has undergone a major redesign during the last few years — think, bulbous, flower-inspired, trippy-chic (left).
Which also means that the management team (Frederick Lesort & Antoine Blech), the chef (Ted Pryor) and even some (if not most) of the rest of the staff have been working together for years via Opia, so there are none of those brand new restaurant kinks to be worked out.
André is an ambitious new project for a team of veterans: They’ve gotten good at what they do, so they’re going after a new challenge, one that builds on what they’ve already accomplished. It’s admirable.
And a tad ballsy. This is not a casual dining room. My friend who wore a full suit was entirely more appropriately-dressed than me; I was on the precipice of under dressed in jeans, metallic heels, a black top and semi-fashionable (metallic threading) blazer. That doesn’t happen so often.
But really, who cares what I was wearing. We were here to eat, and we did. Here’s the breakdown:
So tough deciding on the apps. They caught my attention in the menu PDF I was sent by email, and again at the restaurant. (Thinking about it now, I’d hazard a guess it’s because the kitchen is so much more familiar/confidant doing lounge-y, appetizer-style food.) We finally decided on the Peekey-Toe crab salad on a bed of English pea puree, fried zucchini blossoms, mango vinaigrette ($14), and the jamon de Bayonne and melon trio with poppy seed vinaigrette ($12).
First impression, and the one that carried through the meal: Beautiful ingredients. The crab, fresh, light, non-fishy; the pea puree fresh and springy — think about how pea tendrils bounce and you’re about there. The melon was at the peak of ripeness, and I was just complaining the other day how I never eat melon at restaurants because it’s so ubiquitously under-ripe and watery.
If how these melon balls tasted was how melon generally tasted, I’d surely be a regular. And who could possibly have anything bad to say about the gorgeous, thin-shaved ham from Bayonne, France. Pas moi.
Missing: A pile of homemade potato chips to scoop up the crab dish. The deep-fried zucchini blossoms, which were supposed to be just a garnish, were actually a tease, because everything about this app is so soft, it needs a crunch, a structure. (What do you think the batter on crab cakes is?) No matter how good the goods, no one wants to eat mushy food with a fork.
We ordered the whole fish à la Plancha with summer vegetables (M/P) — which I would probably not have ordered had I taken the time to demystify the lovely, roll-off-your-tongue sound of à la Plancha, which, I now know, basically means “cooked or grilled on a metal plate.” Which isn’t a bad way to cook a fish, just, well, it’s fish. Cooked well. And briefly presented to you, whole, on a plank, before being whisked back into the kitchen, only to return accompanied by monotone, yellow-white-brown colored vegetables. (Yawn.) On the other hand, the other dish I was considering, the warm-poached Maine lobster salad with baby beets and vinaigrette ($28), looked amazing.
Dish no. 2 was the roasted chicken breast with quinoa grains, butter beans, sherry and fresh fig sauce ($22) — an excellent choice. When we ordered it, the waiter told us the chicken (of all things) takes an extra 20 minutes. What?! Why of all things does chicken take more prep? Whatever they did, the whole dish was well executed and a lot more cohesive than mine.
I don’t eat more than two bites of dessert, generally (unless it’s cheese), so I let my friend pick dessert and he went for the molten chocolate cake, which also takes a little extra prep time. (He was batting 2 for 2 that night.)
What’s not to love about molten chocolate cake? You cut into it with a fork and it oozes chocolate, like a slow-moving lava flow.
Overall, I stick by my first impression, which is that this a bold move to open a restaurant like this, at this time, but variables such as the intimate nature (read, 30-ish seats) of the dining room, plus André’s connectedness to Opia — André’s big brother, in many senses — it’s not entirely implausible. It’s actually a really good situational challenge for a seasoned team with an under-utilized room, which is how I suspect it began.
*Why, when Google-searching all variations of “Peeky Toe Crab” do only photos of crab dishes come up? I want to see a Peeky Toe, or Peeky-Toe, or Peekytoe, crab, and it’s driving me crazy I can’t find one. Then, there’s this Flickr user’s commentary: “The crab in Maine is an under-rated treasure compared with the lobster. Dan theorizes that the “peeky toe crab” recently ubiquitous on chi-chi menus everywhere is really the same blue leg crab species always eaten in Maine.”