Hudson Clearwater’s Attempts at an American Cooking Revival

hudson clearwater's unmarked entrance. courtesy of bucultureshock.com.

hudson clearwater’s unmarked entrance. courtesy of bucultureshock.com.

If the restaurant Hudson Clearwater were a singer, it would definitely be Lana Del Rey. Like the glamorous singer, it is technically equipped with all the trappings of an “it” restaurant–rising star chef at the helm, the right address in the trendy West Village, attractive clientele, and a menu that focuses on the ever-popular trend of rustic American cooking. Yet once you peel away all the pretty packaging, there’s not much there. The food, while well-executed, lacked that magnetic, memorable quality that would make me want to return for another visit. Again, like a Lana Del Rey performance, the whole experience was a pleasant but forgettable production.

The evening started on a promising note. There was some excitement trying to find the mysterious unmarked entrance to the restaurant, a total gimmick pandering to people’s desires to be in on an exclusive secret. (Bohemian, La Esquina, anyone? You know you felt all smug when you told people about the time you went there!) The restaurant had a good vibe, brought on by the lively and stylish diners patronizing the restaurant. There were several “girls night out” parties making appearances, along with those on romantic dates and others on platonic co-ed outings. The crowd consisted mostly of the late 20s-30s demographic, but there were a few older people here and there. Hudson Clearwater is good for all dining occasions, although I think it’s most ideal for a dinner date.

The cocktails came highly recommended, so we ordered the Upstate Rose, Hudson Mule and King’s County. I loved my Hudson Mule, as I love any drink with vodka or ginger. For appetizers, we ordered the highly acclaimed butter clams and gnocchi and the pork belly special of the day. I was expecting big things from the gnocchi, but they didn’t live up to the hype at all. I prefer my gnocchi soft and pillowy, like the amazing buttery ones I had at Hearth. These tasted more like stale soup dumplings, which was very disappointing. The clams were great and the broth was tasty, but the dish as a whole lacked cohesion. The pork belly was pleasant enough and very solid.

butter clams, gnocchi, sautéed kale, parsley-lemon bouillon. courtesy of foodspotting.com.

butter clams, gnocchi, sautéed kale, parsley-lemon bouillon. courtesy of foodspotting.com.

pork belly special appetizer of the day

pork belly special appetizer of the day

For entrees, we tried the grilled hanger steak, atlantic sea bass, spice-rubbed pork chop and crispy duck breast. We also ordered the potato-cauliflower gratin and shaved brussels sprouts for sides, and the chef generously sent over some broccoli florets and mushrooms on the house, a hook-up courtesy of my sister-in-law’s connections. Again, I have to reiterate how all the dishes were well executed and technically delicious, but I didn’t find them amazing and memorable. The hanger steak was a little dry, quite unlike the deliciously tender one that they make at BLT Prime. The sea bass didn’t live up to any fish fillet I’ve tried at the excellent East Village seafood restaurant Prima. The brussels sprouts left me longing for the ones I’ve had at August. Same thing with the desserts–the apple tarte, lemon bar and bread pudding were all good, but I’ve had much better versions elsewhere.

grilled hanger steak

grilled hanger steak

atlantic sea bass

atlantic sea bass

spice-rubbed pork chop

spice-rubbed pork chop

crispy duck breast

crispy duck breast

potato-cauliflower gratin, shaved brussels sprouts, broccoli florets

potato-cauliflower gratin, shaved brussels sprouts, broccoli florets

apple tarte tatin, chocolate-banana brioche bread pudding, meyer lemon bar

apple tarte tatin, chocolate-banana brioche bread pudding, meyer lemon bar

The point I’m trying to make here is that most good restaurants have at least one thing they do really well, and this is what keeps them in business, as diners return because they can’t get enough of the fried chicken, pork buns, or whatever that restaurant’s forte is. Hudson Clearwater doesn’t have that one big hit, at least not yet, that will make it an enduring classic on the restaurant scene. It’s fine for the time being as a pleasant West Village hot spot, but you’ll forget about it in a few years’ time, sort of how you’ll rack your brain trying to remember Lana Del Rey’s greatest hits.

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