Reality-Based Gastronomic Opinions

 

The Lincoln
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
142 W. 65th St.
New York, NY 10023
212-359-6500
lincolnristorante.com

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

Dine date: August 10, 2011

Meal: Dinner

Named by GQ Magazine as the Best New Restaurant In America in 2010, The Lincoln is a serious new-school Italian standout attached to the magnanimous Lincoln Center complex.  At the helm is Jonathan Benno of Per Se and French Laundry fame, also named The World’s Most Influential Chef in 2010 by Epicurious.

Approaching the restaurant’s main entrance on West 65th Street, the first thing that grabs us is the jaw dropping design of the floor-to-ceiling glass exterior of the building, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro at a reported cost of $20 million.  Beautiful, a massive 2-story structure, we weren’t even sure this could be the restaurant since, at that scale, it could just be another building within the Lincoln Center complex.

Time to test the seating service.  We split up and my dining companion goes in first, I wait on the sidewalk for a few minutes, then follow.  At the ground floor entrance I am greeted by a lone maître d’ in a stark foyer who sends me up the stairs to the second maître d’ desk at the entrance to the principal dining room.  I say that I am there for my reservation and they tell me my guest has already arrived and is at the bar.  One of the impeccably dressed maître d’s then walks me to the bar to show me exactly where my fellow diner is sitting – nice touch, didn’t have to do that.  We pass the open-air kitchen and I get a glance at Mr. Benno running the show, through a large aquarium-like window.

At the bar, we are seated in comfortable chairs overlooking the kitchen with the cavernous space of the main dining room behind us.  The ever-curving wood-paneled ceiling gives way to the glass walls that surround us on all sides, overlooking the square in Lincoln Center with it’s reflecting pools and sculptures.  Large vases contain fresh seasonal flowers and plants, there are large hollow columns stretching all the way up to the 25-ft ceilings, filled with stacks of illuminated wine bottles.  The bartender is all about service, explaining the intricate cocktails and the mix & match Negroni game they have – you get to choose, multiple choice style, the 3 ingredients for your Negroni from a selection of niche liqueur options.  The bartender even mixes a few versions and gives us tiny tastes before we make our decision.  Brilliant.  A truly consultative approach to bartending.  The Charbay Orange and soda I order is a large honest pour.

Chef Jonathan Benno

We watch a parade of 10 servers pass by in single file line to plate a large table at the exact same time.  Impressive.  We strike up a conversation with the bartender about Mr. Benno and his exploits at Per Se.  Knowing well that Per Se is one of the only Michelin 3-stars in NYC, I naively ask “isn’t pair-see a Michelin star?”.  The bartender responds graciously that yes, Per Se is in fact a Michelin 3-star and that Mr. Benno left Keller’s side to take on The Lincoln project.  Cool, good attitude, didn’t make me look foolish in front of my dinner companion.  Check.

We are seated at a perfect corner table and the bar tab is transferred to the table.  Spacing is god with about 1.5 table-lengths in between each table.  An expert service team immediately begins the service.  An amuse-bouche of a salty tapenade served on bread crisps materializes in front of us.  The lackluster breadbasket is filled with slices of whole grain, pizza, white and breadsticks.  The well-spoken and elegant lead server walks us through the menu defining every ingredient with precision and efficiency.  I naively ask if “guh-noo-dee” (gnudi) is some sort of meat, the server doesn’t skip a beat and politely explains that it is a pasta, without saying the word again correctly – once again, gracious and polite, he could have gasped and been pretentious about it.  Cool.  We order our food, which is plated simultaneously in perfect timing and sequence.

The antipasti of swordfish belly, watermelon and radicchio ($16) is a serene exercise in juxtaposition with lovely sweet bites of fresh watermelon wrestling with the mild fishiness of the flawless swordfish and large chunks of sea salt interspersed in between sucrine lettuce.  It has a rustic feel with the stunning color of the chicory giving way to the lightly seasoned curls of swordfish flesh, and an understated tang of vinegar snaps the palate to attention.  Absolutely kickass for the summer.

The softshell crab with giardiniera and emulsione al limone and red mustard cress ($22) is a little less accomplished – the fried crab is not too oily but does have a certain toughness, albeit being fresh and of high quality.  The surrounding sauce is too much akin to a standard mayonnaise or tartar and could be more creative for the price and venue, but the giardiniera is refined and balanced and the well-presented pickled cauliflower adds a nice vinegary zap to the ensemble.

Gnudi di ricotta e verdure d’estate

The gnudi di ricotta e verdure d’estate ($20) is elegant and wholesome.  7 golfball-sized gnudi are served in a green vegetable puree with snap peas and other summer vegetables lightly placed on top.   The consistency is excellent and satisfying, the portion is just right.  Sticks to your ribs but doesn’t prevent you from proceeding to your next course.

The burrata ($20) is clean and fresh with crisp celery and cherry heirloom tomatoes acting as a vehicle for the burrata, which was unfortunately too small in proportion, especially for the steep price.  It is also plated too hot.  The peas and black pepper swim in a buttery sauce that is not too overpowering, salty for sure but we’re loving that contrast to the sweetness once again.

Entrees. The striped bass with summer squash, basil, and sale di pignoli ($28) is perfection.  The skin is crispy and salted, and the sublime basil puree is subtle and almost spinach-ey.  The roasted summer squash tastes like it was picked out of the garden minutes ago.  Whaaaaaat.

The lamb loin chop with “fairy tale” eggplant, artichokes and sugo d’agnelo ($36)  is exquisitely prepared, although there isn’t much meat on the bone so this doesn’t appear to be the most copious of dishes on the menu.  The eggplant and artichokes are incredibly fresh once again.  This is a perfect dish for sometime carnivores who don’t want to load up on a large quantity of meat, but savor a high-quality cut every now and then.

We opt out of desert and are instead served a complimentary sweet plate of nougat wrapped in caramel which is nutty and buttery and delicious.  The biscotti has an almost shortbread consistency and lacks the crisp that we want.  The mini chocolate cupcakes are a bit too dry, perhaps flourless?  No real complaints though, it’s free and the very small portions make sense after the massive meal, so all good.

All in all, this 3-hour marathon is perfectly conceived, served, and enveloped by one of the most impressive dining rooms we’ve seen in New York City in recent memory.  The service works like a well-oiled team and is very impressive.  The prices are quite high and this is definitely a special-occasion spot.   It’s proximity to Lincoln Center suggest a perfect follow-up to a night at the opera.  Check it out.

 

Break It Down…

 

Eats

Next-level haute Italian by a celebrity chef.

 

Service

A team of beautiful professionals that work as a team, from start to finish of the experience.

Vibe

Incredible and immense space, however can seem a bit cold and conservative.

Value

Many of the dishes are too expensive for what they are.

Accommodation On Walk-In

They seemed to be ok to a walk-in unless it’s between 5-8pm, this is when showgoers at Lincoln Center pour out of a performance and potentially overrun the restaurant.

Bathroom: Sanctuary Or Minefield?

No pushy bathroom attendants, and large enough facilities to prevent a pileup during peak hours.

Ability To Have Sex In The Bathroom

The stalls are their own private rooms with full door, and big enough.  However the downstairs maître d’ might get wise to it.

Seat Height Equilibrium

No banquets in the room, no surprises with the chairs which are all uniform.

Affect Of Staff

Given a few opportunities to be snobby and pretentious, they didn’t take them.  All class.

Humor Of Staff

Delivery at the bar was cordial, but somewhat steely at the table.

Wine Recommendation Honesty

We asked for something unusual and versatile, we were recommended a moderately priced bottle of Italian orange wine that worked perfectly and felt like a good value.

Quality Of Music

n/a

There wasn’t any.

Noise Level/Acoustics

The massive space somehow doesn’t get too loud despite all of its reflective surfaces.  However I found that my voice carried later in the evening when the crowd had thinned out.

Written by Eric Reithler-Barros
eric@insolentgourmet.com