Thursday, June 22, 2017


I know it's one of those places that prides itself on being under the radar, but had I not run into a friend directly outside the front door I might've continued probing about cluelessly until by a process of elimination I tried the correct door.  The forest green one, nondescript and bereft of signage is the one you want, opening into just what you would expect of the notorious, historical address.  It is dark and shadowy, with just enough swank and mystery to keep things interesting.  As if it's reputation weren't fascinating enough, and a lot of that intrigue endured the transition and reinvention into Chumley's 2.0.  But even the original's fairly ambitious menu could not surpass its notoriety for drink: it retains the title of speakeasy even now as it's used in conjunction with a culinary destination-worthy restaurant.

Cocktails, of course, remain a strong suit.  On the menu, DRINKS are featured as prominently as DINNER.  A fourteen page list of tipple ranging from modern concoctions with yuzushu or brennavin to a $5 Budweiser to a $400 Cabernet.  But the chef, Victoria Blamey, deemed "badass" by one particular conoscento lives up to the title.  The lady might hate vegetables, and seems rigorously opposed to creating anything that might be considered dainty or frou-frou.  But this results in a bold, unique menu, unabashedly creative and gutsy, if not at all vegan or vegetarian friendly.  There is one entree that would qualify as such, but it doesn't present as a concession: I was drawn to the Spring Porridge with favas and green garlic almost as much as any other of the alluring,
 provocative dishes.  Some of them embody a bit of mystery.... I'm fairly well-versed in the vegetable spectrum, but Hon Tsai would've tripped me up without the help of Google.  Were it not for the trout roe, it could've served a vegetarian, but it wouldn't be nearly as delightful without it.  The juicy orbs popped with a smoky salinity, enhancing the garlicky daidai ensconcing the sturdy vegetable.

From there on, things trend animalian.  Don't think that the rose Harissa imparts some sort of daintiness to roasted cod; it is bold with pepper-inflected pancetta and a smoked coconut jus applied table side.  Normally I'm not a skin-eater, but this one was crispy as the best of bacons and tasted not unlike it.  Some intensely softened sugar snaps nestled underneath, as a reminder of the season which could get forgotten in the windowless hall.   The 86'd Burger was not and never will be 86'd from the menu.  There was one on nearly fifty percent of the tables, and usually is.  For good reason: it's an impeccable sandwich, its bun plush and yeasty anointed with bone marrow.  Crispy shallots are tucked within
 anchored by smooth American cheese and Chumley's special sauce, gleefully oozing out the sides.  With a winky emoji alongside the handwritten menu entry comes the disclaimer that they "must decline any modifications to this item," which is beyond reasonable, because I cannot imagine what it would need for improvement, nor why any one would want to leave off any of its accouterments.    The crispy fries accompanying are deliciously hot and salty, some with bits of potato skin and char, and the only thing skinny about that whole ordeal.

A more enthusiastic nod to the Greenmarket was given by a scrumptious strawberries-and-cream dessert, prime berries in a pillow of milky whipped cream and smooth vanilla ice cream sprinkled with candied pistachios.  Even more playful is a foil wrapped ice cream sandwich, elevated to adult standards with naughtily dark wafers still crisp to the tooth, and a dense fruity ice cream rich with Luxardo maraschino cherries.  Maybe it's the low light, or the history of the joint, but both seem naughtier than they might in other surroundings.

 Which is a compliment, along with pretty much everything else I have to say about Chumley's.

86 Bedford Street
tel. 212-675-2081

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