Sunday, May 27, 2012


On a desolate stretch of far west Chelsea- that club-goer's stomping grounds just before the West Side Highway- a new Mediterranean restaurant has popped up, The Americano.  Entering through a large floor to ceiling glass wall, you pass the long, steely bar into the back dining room, which despite being on the ground floor, has a distinct subterranean (read: basement) feel.  Decor is a industrial to the nines;  it feels like it's going for an streamlined, clubby feel appropriate for the neighborhood.  There was no creativity in even giving the restaurant a name inside the eponymous hotel, and the spareness of the rooms, while perhaps appealing, is almost laughable.  Fortunately, the food shows slightly more panache, but there is a palpable theme of austerity throughout.

Billed as "French fare with a Latin flair", chef Joseph Buenconsejo's menu slants primarily Mediterranean.   You'll be smart to commit your order to memory, because service not once delivered the correct plate to its recipient, and doubly so since the room is so poorly lit, it may be difficult to determine exactly what is on the plate once it's in front of you, anyways.   There are some nice seasonal nods here, but mostly the food is not too conceptual.
The best plate of the night was a charred octopus and calamari app., surrounding a zesty mound of black beans with peppery arugula.  The seafood attained an ideal smoky sear while retaining its crucial tenderness.  A bountiful salad featured leafy Bibb and pickly shaved vegetables in a mustard vinaigrette: nothing momentous, but a solid salad in the least.  A mushroom soup was anticlimatic: a thin, drab, taupe bisque with the noticeable gaseous flavor of truffle oil, although as the soup-of-the-day, it's impossible to know whether it lived even up to a description in absentia, given that our waitress simply deemed it "mushroom" without further extrapolation.  In addition, a good 10% of one of the bowls ordered had sloshed out all over the saucer beneath, soggying the doily to a very unappealing brown mess.

The main dishes are brazenly spartan: not a squiggle or foam to be had, usually a protein with some token veggies and a plentiful sauce.  We stuck to the piscine side of things, sampling halibut, cod and (God forbid) Chilean seabass (obviously not my choice).  The fact that the latter was even on the menu was disheartening, so I didn't hazard a taste (in addition to the dry-rub smear of black olives in the preparation, it was going to be far from my favorite dish, even with a verdant smash of oily spring peas beneath).  Its orderer shrugged "It's good" when inquired of his satisfaction, and I'll take that assessment at face value: was mostly consumed, but far from plate-licked.
 Halibut was awash in a creamy white sauce flecked with shreds of spinach and crowned with a sizeable pastry fleurons.        Arriving simultaneously were two small pitchers of sauce: one white, one brown, both of uncertain purpose.  The white most likely appeared to be destined for the halibut, but then again, wholly redundant.  The brown tasted of Worcestershire, which had little to do with anything at the table presently as well.  Apparently it was the piri piri broth (thought much too syrupy to actually qualify as broth) to douse the cod, but actually distracted from the rest of the components of the dish: smoked shrimp tumbled with steamed potatoes and a tomato concasse, and a random fling of blistered shishito peppers atop.  I would've ditched the cod and just stuck with shrimp, potatoes and peppers for a more cohesive dish.  For my own part, the "broth" went unused.  Given the absence of accoutrements, we ordered a smattering of sides.  The creamed spinach was basically the sauce of the halibut in inverse proportions of leaf to butter, thankfully small in portion for its garlicky richness, but indulgently tasty, to its credit.  The asparagus and morels were six disappointingly tough stalks, halved and planked above a puree of morels, squashing the anticipation of the uber-seasonal mushroom into a muddy sludge- most of which refused to cling to the asparagus and ended up abandoned in the bottom of the small bowl.  A saute of wild mushrooms was most successful: neither too dry nor soggy, and with a good variety of meaty specimens like oyster, chanterelle and cremini.

A tarte tatin seemed a safe enough venture for dessert, given that we weren't feeling much of a yen to really milk out the experience: the tables surrounding us were a raucous crew of teens celebrating high school graduation.  And if you used the restrooms one floor down, you gained a vista to the party in progress in the hotel's private room.  Which answered the question as to whether teenagers actually DO behave that way in real life, or just on t.v.  Parents forewarned: apparently, they do.  But none of the kids stuck around for dessert, so our tarte, a puck of soft, sugary apple atop a somewhat tough crust of pate feuillettee served with a squat, oversize dollop of creme fraiche, went down easily enough.   And here, too, we at least got a squiggle, in the form of a caramel zig-zag.

And Zig Zags were inarguably the tamest of the paraphernalia being utilized in the festivities for the party below.  Given the hotel's address, the party-set is probably going to be the majority of its clientele, probably even moreso than the hotel guests.  If branding is most successful when impressed upon the youth, then The Americano has hit the ground running.

518 West 27th Street
tel.  (212)525-0000

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