Are restaurants the new experiential retail? Everyone knows that in-store experiences are important to luring in the customer, and a lot of retailers seem to be banking on the experience of eating. La Mercerie in Soho, for instance, sells the plates that it serves its crepes on in the adjoining store, Lexus operates a sleek lifestyle center home to a restaurant called Intersect, and Restoration Hardware invested in a stunning, 6-story concept in the Meatpacking District, where customers can eat in the dining room of their dreams at RH Rooftop Restaurant.Read More
Philly often gets a bad rap, but one thing that gets the city good press it its food scene. Several food franchises like Han Dynasty and La Colombe have successfully crossed over into New York, and now another one will join them. High Street on Hudson is the latest transport, and its cute, farm-to-table American cooking and Instagram-worthy breakfast sandwiches and pastries are sure to be hits with the brunch crowd.
The restaurant is in a prime location that straddles the West Village and Meatpacking. However, it lacks the character of the charming little eateries like a Buvette or Cafe Cluny that are representative of this area. It is an upscale fast casual restaurant, and it definitely looks and feels like one. The food quality is for sure better than a Pret or an Au Bon Pain, but I wouldn’t say that it’s quite as good as its full service counterparts.
The pastries were the biggest disappointment. The waitress described High Street’s sweets as being more savory than your typical pastry, which sounded very intriguing in theory, but not so in practice. I wanted so much for the hazelnut-fig escargot to taste like a danish, which it did, but one where the baker completely forgot the sugar. The disconnect between what I saw and what I ate was very troublesome, and I left the baked good largely uneaten.
What’s great about the menu is that there are equal parts devoted to traditional breakfast and lunch items. High Street raises the bar on egg sandwiches, although I wish they made them easier to eat. My Forager sandwich was stuffed with all the greatest hits from the local farmers’ market–the dreamiest soft scrambled farm eggs, creamy green meadow swiss cheese, braised kale and a handsome slab of earthy king oyster mushroom–but they could hardly be contained between the unstable infrastructure of flimsy poppy seed brioche buns.
The ancient grains salad held up much better, which is something you might expect from a dish that has been around since the age of the cavemen. It completely lived up to its Paleo mantra of clean eating, with a little cheat day of goat cheese and cider cranberries thrown in. The clear winner of the day was the humble sweet onion parsnip soup. The flavors were exactly as advertised, which made it such a success.
One upside of the fast-casual nature of High Street on Hudson is that the operations are pretty efficient. We were quoted a wait time of 40 minutes on a Saturday but were seated in 20, and the food all came out pretty fast. And if it doesn’t, you can always browse the interesting clothing stores in nearby Meatpacking, or you can take some things to-go and eat it on the High Line instead of the High Street.
High Street on Hudson
637 Hudson Street (between Horatio and Gansevoort St)
New York, NY 10014
Scarpetta had its moment in 2008, back when “models and bottles” were a thing, and flashy, high-end dining was de rigueur. Since then, Chef Scott Conant has moved on to other projects like guest judging for Chopped, and the trend of low-key, farm-to-table dining has relegated the archaic opulence of Scarpetta to the sidelines.
On a recent visit to Scarpetta, I was surprised to see that the restaurant was still doing very well for itself. It always amazes me that there exists a market of people who actually find dining in the Meatpacking district enjoyable. But what’s really sustaining this restaurant is the famous spaghetti with tomato and basil. It happened to be on the Restaurant Week menu, and of course, this being the restaurant’s signature dish, I had to order it.
It’s impressive that this spaghetti, which is quite simple in its approach, is so good. These days we expect so much more oomph from our pasta, beef ragu this or duck fat that, that we forget that sometimes less is more. Especially when the tomatoes are this fresh and the basil speaks so loud and clear. You can really appreciate the naturally sweet, herbal flavors without the distractions of other bells and whistles. What I really love about the sauce is how thick and pulpy it is. It coats the al dente noodles more like a ketchup so that none of that farm fresh flavor is lost in any bite, and each strand is equally delicious as the last. And of course, the buttery undertones add a nice, opulent touch that elevate this childhood classic to its refined Meatpacking self.
Scarpetta is no one-trick pony, its other pasta dishes are also quite strong. We tried the tagliatelle, a gorgeous plate of peas, asparagus and mushrooms that tasted like a hop and a skip through a spring garden. In case all this talk of hopping and skipping sound a little too light for you, rest assured that the goat crema will keep you grounded and pleasantly full.
Scarpetta is a place to indulge, so flavors always tend towards the rich and decadent. One appetizer that fully embraced the theme of excess was the creamy mushroom polenta, another signature dish. It arrived in a very small bowl, and at first I was a little outraged by the size, but then one spoonful nearly did me in–that bite was filled to the brim with all sorts of earthy, savory and creamy, and I really had to pace myself to finish the whole thing. The burrata was a lighter option, with the pretty white dollops of cheese and colorful tomato slices looking like edible paint on an artist’s palette. It was perfectly fine, but I’ve had much better burrata elsewhere, in which the soft, creamy essence was exploited much more effectively.
When it came for dessert, we ordered the coconut panna cotta and the nutella mousse. The nutella mousse essentially tasted like Ferrero Rocher on a plate, which is a compliment, as I can never say no to that hazelnut truffle wrapped up in gold. I was a little skeptical of the coconut panna cotta, as the tropical influences were quite out of character for a menu that was so clearly Italian, but somehow it worked. The coconut and guava were subtle enough to give the panna cotta some flavor without turning into some tiki bar mess. But really, it wouldn’t have mattered if the desserts blew it out of the water or not, all you’ll remember is how good that spaghetti was. It’s like everyone remembers who won the gold, but never the silver or bronze, and that spaghetti is Scarpetta’s golden medal.
355 W 14th St (Hudson St and 8th Ave)
New York, NY 10014
Eating at Santina is like being on an obnoxious cruise ship. The tropical decorations, although festive, are over-the-top and tacky. Your fellow diners are of the most annoying sort, the type that the Meatpacking district tends to attract, unfortunately, people of all ages who like to throw their money around wearing pastels and button downs, with an unusually high representation of bros and their girlfriends. You’re horrified by how you got talked into spending $17 on a disgusting tiki cocktail at this crazy circus, and you seriously contemplate leaving, but you can’t just leave, because you worked so hard scanning Opentable for months to get a table. The ship has already sailed on that option.
Fortunately the food at Santina makes this ride somewhat worth it. I say somewhat, because the food is outrageously overpriced, and some of the portions in certain dishes are insultingly small. The whole grilled porgy, for instance, was a complete misnomer. It was more accurately half of a fillet, covered in a forest of artichokes to hide how small it was. At first, we thought this was part one of the dish, perhaps this was porgy made two ways with part two coming later, but alas, that was all there was to it. The tortellini was excellent, coated in a pesto sauce that made the smooth ricotta filling pop, but it was truly an appetizer priced as an entree.
You really just have to face the fact that you will pay a lot for the food here. It’s sort of like the sticker shock you get from going to London when the exchange rate is bad and realizing that everything costs double. One bite of the restaurant’s signature dish, the cecina chickpea pancake, might make you think the money was well spent. Spread it with some salsa verde and you’ll be happy as a lamb eating one. The butternut carpaccio is also fantastic, a lattice of sweet, delicate pieces of squash reinforced by pumpkin seeds and cream. Just as you were about to forgive Santina for being so crazy and stingy, they come out with the wild rice calamari, a dish whose blandness can only be masked by tons of sauce. Your money can only go so far here.
You can’t have a big blowout dinner without dessert, and we went for the chocolate diplomatico, which the server sold as being super chocolatey. It was a pretty accurate description, imagine eating Toll House baking chocolate squares straight from the bag. It was a gaudy dessert that lacked finesse for sure, but totally fitting for the occasion and the place. I was pretty relieved by the time dinner was over. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, there were some highs followed by some low lows, but overall it was a memorable meal. Like a cruise, I would do it once but never again. Unless someone else paid.
820 Washington St (between Gansevoort and Little W. 12th St)
New York, NY 10014