NYC Restaurants

Bar Room at the Modern
9 East 53rd Street (b/w 5th and 6th Aves)
New York, NY, 10022
(212) 333-1220 Map

Cuisine: New American

Menu:   View the Menu

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Cititour Review:
I tend not to dine out in Midtown. It’s just not my ‘hood. When I was a lawyer, sure, I hit all the Midtown greats with associates and partners and assorted clients who were footing the bill. But now, in my days as a freelancer living below 23rd Street, I don’t venture up to the city’s midsection all that much. But when The Modern, Danny Meyer’s restaurant in the newly renovated MOMA, opened it’s café and bar room, I felt it was time to leave my comfort zone and stray into the land of suits and expense accounts.

Designed by Bentel & Bentel (they’ve done Gramercy Tavern as well), The Bar Room feels like you’d expect MOMA’s flagship eatery to feel—clean, lean, and cool, with low ceilings, mirrored panels, Danish furniture and tableware, and a 46-foot marble bar lit from below and backed by a magnificent glass wine wall holding 2210 bottles. On the far wall, which stretches the horizontal length of the Bar Room, hangs “Clearing,” a sunny photograph of a dewy, verdant forest by German artist Thomas Demand that is so realistic, it almost fills the room with the soft, humid air of a rainforest.

At midday, The Bar Room buzzes with the city’s savvy business elite—banker types in Burberry and Hermes, creative directors in Prada and Paul Smith, publishing types in assorted levels of fabulousness, handsome women clad in boucle Chanel, and an impressive cast of characters seated at the long bar, with their noses buried in the FT, and forks deep into dishes of artic char tartare with daikon and trout caviar ($13), smoked eel rillettes with horseradish sauce ($11), and charred octopus with potato salad ($10).

The chef, Gabriel Kreuther, who earned three stars for his innovative French fare at Atelier, will unveil the formal dining room, a similarly minimalist, but far more elegant space overlooking the Abby Aldrich Sculpture Garden in February, but in the meantime, there is plenty to eat in The Bar Room. Indeed, the café menu is quite large with 25 Alsatian-inspired dishes (all in large appetizer/small entree size) gently priced from $8-$17. This is a menu that causes major decision-making issues—it is filled with temptation. So I would either go with a lot of friends and share, or plan to come back several times so as not to feel cheated out of some of the menu stars.

Since I am not one who can resist anything that reads “roasted bacon wrapped goat cheese,” we started with the Fine Herbes Salad ($10), accompanied by two fat discs of fresh and creamy chevre snuggled into taught bacon jackets. The salad was delicate and sparely dressed, so the tender flavors of the herbs could truly be expressed. And while the cheese was soft and tangy against the smoky bacon, I am not sure why those lovely goat cheese-bacon bon bons were not hot—they were room temperature.

Kreuther’s Tarte Flambé ($12), the traditional Alsatian pizza topped with caramelized onions, crème fraiche and bacon was good, but the crust was too thin and too under-seasoned—it tasted like nothing. Apparently this practically see-through crust is the way the tart is traditionally made, but the crust was thin to the point of being translucent, had little flavor, and did not stand up to the ingredients, growing soggy quickly. Look, I’m not saying it was bad—warm crème fraiche tangled up with sweet onions and nuggets of bacon cannot be unpleasant—but I prefer a crust in the style of that tart flambé at August—with some chewy, crispy heft and flavor.

Kreuther’s homemade liverwurst, on the other hand, served with coarse mustard, lingonberry marmalade and country toast, was spectacular. Mario Batali look out, this liverwurst makes your pig’s feet look like child’s play. The paté-like wurst—a creamy version of chopped liver by way of Alsace—is fashioned from ground veal liver, pork neck, and fat back, and given some verve and dimension from fried onions, nutmeg, whole spice, cloves, and cayenne pepper. It was intensely seasoned, creamy and light—not dense—and studded with shaved black trumpets mushrooms. I don’t know that I have ever tasted liverwurst, and my only memories of it I think hail from some episode of The Brady Bunch, but I loved it. I slathered it on the toasted country bread, topped it with a bit of mustard, and was such a happy girl. (Though I would have preferred if the kitchen could be a bit more generous with the mustard – my friend Julie and I were fighting over the last bits.)

Our lunch continued with amazingly tender braised pork cheeks served over a thrilling mess of sauerkraut flashed with ginger jus ($13), and a fabulous grilled quail—a tender little bird, spiced with cardamom, anise, and cinnamon, and bedded on a vibrant green meadow of toasted chive spaetzle and lentils ($13).

Desserts, in the capable hands of Marc Aumont (who worked at Bouley and most recently with Katy Sparks at Compass), were lovely. If you, like me, love lemon desserts, you’ll want to earmark some room in your tummy for Marc’s tongue-tingling lemon Napoleon—feathery light golden tuilles piped with tart lemon curd and served in a pool of passion fruit with mango sorbet. Since I cannot resist fried dough, we also the beignets—these were shaped like bowties and were surprisingly fluffy and light, and served with two dipping sauces, and a scoop of delicious homemade vanilla bean ice cream.

I enjoyed my trip to Midtown and my lunch at The Bar Room immensely. It is civilized and lively—a modern, intellectual-chic dining hall with a menu that I am quite excited to continue to work my way through. And while I never thought I would utter this phrase—I must return if only for more Liverwurst.

Review By: Andrea Strong

Neighborhood: East 50s

Entree Price: $10-15


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