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Country and the Café at Country


sammy
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The Carlton hotel on Madison Avenue and 29th Street has been undergoing an extensive renovation over this year. Geoffrey Zakarian, of Town restaurant in the Chambers hotel, will be operating the new restaurant in the Carlton, which will be called Country. There has been a little bit of press about this, most notably a New York Times feature in May. Doug Psaltis will be working in the kitchen at Country as chef de cuisine or whatever it is that they're going to call the chef running the kitchen on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to Zakarian who will be more of an executive-restaurateur figure. To the extent that Psaltis has no ownership interest or anything of that sort, it's not "his" restaurant, but that's where he'll be.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have to tell you, you get the info before I do, and I talk to the Town folks daily. Any other gossip that can help me get to a new chef faster is appreciated. Anything I can do for you, email. Thanks for the tips...

The Carlton hotel on Madison Avenue and 29th Street has been undergoing an extensive renovation over this year. Geoffrey Zakarian, of Town restaurant in the Chambers hotel, will be operating the new restaurant in the Carlton, which will be called Country. There has been a little bit of press about this, most notably a New York Times feature in May. Doug Psaltis will be working in the kitchen at Country as chef de cuisine or whatever it is that they're going to call the chef running the kitchen on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to Zakarian who will be more of an executive-restaurateur figure. To the extent that Psaltis has no ownership interest or anything of that sort, it's not "his" restaurant, but that's where he'll be.

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We get Psaltis-related information pretty quickly around here because Doug Psaltis's brother, Michael Psaltis, is a literary agent (and also the co-author of the new Psaltis book, Seasoning of a Chef) and numbers among his clients not only Doug Psaltis but also me, the eGullet Society and probably half a dozen folks who participate heavily here. (I met Michael through Doug, after I spent a week working alongside Doug in the kitchen at Alain Ducasse New York a few years ago). At the same time, this relationship prevents me from divulging some of that information ahead of the media release schedule. Right now, the only official word from Bullfrog & Baum, the publicists for Country, is that Zakarian will be opening the place. This was announced in an e-mail blast to media on May 24. The Psaltis involvement has not, as far as I know, been officially announced. So I can confirm the information Sammy has but I can't provide much more at this time. Once the official press materials come out, we'll try to get more information online as quickly as possible.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I can add these two cents:

The pastry chef will be Craig Harzewski, formerly of Le Cirque.

The space was pretty raw when I saw it but it looks like it'll be a great big project. The kitchens look awesome- there's nothing better than a shiny new place with shiny new appliances to get a cook excited about working.

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The chef at Town says two months, October 1st opening earliest. I confirmed it with the Hotel.

We get Psaltis-related information pretty quickly around here because Doug Psaltis's brother, Michael Psaltis, is a literary agent (and also the co-author of the new Psaltis book, Seasoning of a Chef) and numbers among his clients not only Doug Psaltis but also me, the eGullet Society and probably half a dozen folks who participate heavily here. (I met Michael through Doug, after I spent a week working alongside Doug in the kitchen at Alain Ducasse New York a few years ago). At the same time, this relationship prevents me from divulging some of that information ahead of the media release schedule. Right now, the only official word from Bullfrog & Baum, the publicists for Country, is that Zakarian will be opening the place. This was announced in an e-mail blast to media on May 24. The Psaltis involvement has not, as far as I know, been officially announced. So I can confirm the information Sammy has but I can't provide much more at this time. Once the official press materials come out, we'll try to get more information online as quickly as possible.

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  • 1 month later...

We were in last night. The space is beautiful, though poorly laid out. The food is, shall we say, a work in progress. We ate in the cafe (the fine dining restaurant upstairs is not open yet -- probably mid-November for that) and the standard was substantially below what Psaltis was doing at Mix and what Zakarian has done at Town. The one superlative dish was “Tiny Squid, Cuttlefish and Soupions with Piquillos, Black Rice and Chorizo” -- probably the best squid dish I've ever had, and obviously inspired by the time Psaltis spent in Spain doing research for the restaurant. There was a terrific panzanella salad as an appetizer, but it should have been a side dish for meat rather than a standalone item. Two fish dishes -- cod and bass -- were uninspired. I guess they were good for $21 entrees -- good ingredients, cooked correctly, nice portion size -- but they were ordinary. Shrimp with rosemary, again good but basically uninteresting (though plated nicely with heads loosely attached). "White gazpacho" appetizer (with a pronounced grape flavor) overly sweet and lacking pizzaz. Two good pasta dishes: an appetizer of canneloni with mushrooms and an entree of "artisanal pasta" with tomato and black truffle -- the latter would actually be worth ordering again. Well-made albeit cold rolls on the table ruined by poor olive oil but later rescued by a disc of imported butter (individually wrapped and labeled). We tried the two desserts recommended by our server -- profiteroles and a mango rice pudding -- and they were likewise tasty but nothing special. I have higher hopes for the fine dining part, and also imagine there could be a lot of improvement at the cafe level.

The press coverage claiming the food would be served family style was simply incorrect. There were normal appetizers and entrees, plus some vegetable sides and charcuterie items. I guess those could be shared, but a shared veg does not a family style restaurant make. So I don't know what that was about.

(edited to add a little more detail)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think good or very good for the price point is an accurate assessment. But good for Doug Psaltis and Geoffrey Zakarian? No way. These guys are capable of so much more. There seems to be some sort of dyssynergy going on here, at least at this early stage: a lack of focus and coherence; an absence of flair.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The press coverage claiming the food would be served family style was simply incorrect. There were normal appetizers and entrees, plus some vegetable sides and charcuterie items. I guess those could be shared, but a shared veg does not a family style restaurant make. So I don't know what that was about.

(edited to add a little more detail)

i thought that i'd read that upstairs would be family style, with one menu repeated for two weeks.. did not realize the cafe would be a similar format, although i had assumed that it wouldn't be as the discussion of breakfast offerings didn't indicate this in any manner..

anyone else think it's odd that they've opened the casual cafe prior to the more formal restaurant, on which they'd likely like to be judged and have the cafe pick up some of the overflow from??

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It's not atypical to open in that order: cafe then restaurant. That's how they just did it at the Modern.

Perhaps it's the upstairs that's supposed to be family style. That sounds unappealing to me -- prix-fixe fine-dining family style? -- but I guess we'll have to wait and see how it's implemented.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It's not atypical to open in that order: cafe then restaurant. That's how they just did it at the Modern.

Perhaps it's the upstairs that's supposed to be family style. That sounds unappealing to me -- prix-fixe fine-dining family style? -- but I guess we'll have to wait and see how it's implemented.

are you talking the bar room versus the rear reserved area?? just curious if there's a new restaurant at the Modern..

i've been reading about the concept behind country for almost a year now.. my understanding is that they'll be putting together a market driven menu that will run for two weeks.. you'll be able to call, find out what they're serving, and decide whether you like it enough to reserve and go eat there.. it'll be price fixe and served family style.. i'm hoping that the reservation process will somehow allow us to discuss the various menus and have a chance to visit after hearing impressions of the current offerings.. somehow i doubt that it'll work out that way in the beginning..

btw- the new hotel lobby is absolutely beautiful and has a great abr which is pretty poorly visited so far..

see Fabricant's quick synopsis..

Edited by juuceman (log)
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are you talking the bar room versus the rear reserved area?

Correct. The bar room cafe opened first, followed by the fine dining area several weeks later. Same as at Country.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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you'll be able to call, find out what they're serving, and decide whether you like it enough to reserve and go eat there..  it'll be price fixe and served family style..  i'm hoping that the reservation process will somehow allow us to discuss the various menus and have a chance to visit after hearing impressions of the current offerings.. see Fabricant's quick synopsis..

Interesting concept. I hope he doesn't slap the hand that feeds him.

So, when you enter the restaurant, you sit down and just wait for the food? No menus, ordering (except for wine) or other choices?

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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  • 3 weeks later...
White gazpacho with smoked almonds and bits of apple and cucumber was like a mutation of muesli, which was migrating from dawn to noon, when it swam in an ethereal sea - crème fraîche, Muscat grape juice, almond oil - more refreshing than milk or yogurt.
Slices of grilled lamb, slightly overcooked and tough, had been rubbed with sumac, garlic and a type of paprika, then dressed with yogurt and paired with a cucumber relish. The dish evoked Greek and Middle Eastern cooking and put Country into the crowded category of restaurants that cannot be reduced to any one ethnic designation.

Chefs Geoffrey Zakarian and Doug Psaltis present a "less formal, first-stage operation of a larger enterprise" in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

The Cafe at Country (Frank Bruni)

Commentary and related discussion regarding Mr. Bruni's style of reviewing and the New York Times star system can be found here.

Discussion regarding Country can be found here.

Discussion relating to Town can be found here.

Click here for previous discussion relating to Mix with Chef Doug Psaltis as chef de cuisine.

Soba

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phenominal review. on point.

thank god bruni's talking about the food and beverage and not going off on rants. looks like he came back from his little vacation and got down to business.

sounds like 3 stars are coming.

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I went to the cafe at Country a few days ago and really enjoyed it. I was a bit surprised--I expected it to be much less polished and art "in the making" so to speak....searching for its legs I guess. But no, I found the food was well executed and polished. Nice wine list too but I think the wine staff and I don't share the same preferences and was more comfortable with my selections than what they recommended. I started with foie gras which was superb, then the pork dish which is similar to bbq ribs. Very nice. Sides are nice. My expectations were low, but I found it quite pleasing, especially for their "lower end" restaurant. Geoffrey Zakarian was there as well and was both friendly and monitoring the room fully.

Edited by DutchMuse (log)
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  • 1 month later...

If the late dinner I had at The Cafe at Country was not the most horrendous dinner I had in 2005, it's the most horrendous meal I had in the last decade, even out doing my pretty terrible dinner at Jewel Bako. The she crab soup had a lot of flavor and no seasoning. My friend's foie gras terrine tasted bitter and slightly spoiled. The cheese gougiere was similarly under seasoned and lacked the elegance that one associate with a choux pastry. Instead, it was heavy, gooey (since it was piped with melted cheese that overpowered the delicate choux), and bland. The kitchen might as well just melted a glob of cheese and throw some dough on it. My other friend's Cod fish was about the best dish all night. The Cod was well cooked, and the salted cod cakes was actually well seasoned. The scallops on the other hand was over cooked and dry with taste resembling that of a dry spongey disk. Meanwhile, it was sitting in some cauliflowers that is card board like and a sauce that is sickeningly sweet. To my great dismay, my dining companions ordered dessert-a lemon custard tart with some burnt eggwhites on top. Now, I know this is not possible, but it's actually true....The lemon flavor on the tart and the white puffy stuff on top of the tart tasted fake....Like they just dumped some synthetic lemon oil or lemon essence on the thing....which is weird because lemon is cheap and doing a lemon dessert isn't hard....Then again, nothing really surprise me these days. The pastry underneath the custard was as tough as a rock, and could be used as a weapon if thrown at someone. We literally had to saw it apart.

I was sick for the next day. My dining companions fared better but then again they are not eager to return to the Cafe at Country either. For my part, I would like to introduce them to a wonderful seasoning called "salt".

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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So I guess you didn't enjoy the restaurant and wouldn't give it three stars as mentioned in an earlier post?

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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  • 2 weeks later...
. . . the most horrendous meal I had in the last decade, . . . The cheese gougiere was similarly under seasoned and lacked the elegance that one associate with a choux pastry. Instead, it was heavy, gooey (since it was piped with melted cheese that overpowered the delicate choux), and bland. The kitchen might as well just melted a glob of cheese and throw some dough on it.  . . . .

I'm reminded of what Mimi Sheraton, a doyen of culinary journalists, had to say about a meal cooked by the chef at the James Beard house.

. . . I have had many meals there -a few very good, most mediocre. Psaltis's was the worst and the flaws were caused more by the chef's conception of the dishes than by the poor facilities at the House. . . .  There's nothing funny or cute about a canape that is a tuna melt..hot canned tuna fish topped with American cheese... more disgusting than funny . . .
The chef's defenders at the time, made much of the poor conditions of the kitchen at the Beard House, but it seems Mimi's report may have gone directly to the heart of the limitations of the chef's conceptual direction and the nature of his taste buds. Piping melted cheese into a choux puff seems anti-intuitive and almost disrespectful to the pastry. Don't get me wrong, I love Adria, Dufresne, and the like, but they are genuinely creative. not just contrary.

This leads to a deeper problem. With that sort of lack of respect for traditional materials and attempts to get by on cheesy effects, (pun intended) how is the restaurant going to attract the kind of young dedicated culinary school grads willing to work the long hours for low pay, necessary to get a new restaurant off the ground. Young cooks already know that working for a chef in a new and unproven restaurant is chancy enough without working for a chef who's paid his disrespects to the very chefs whose restaurants are high on the list of places in which these kids want to work in the first place? How effective is a good recommendation from Psaltis going to be in getting a job with Thomas Keller, Dan Barber or most of the really first rate chefs in the country. It was interesting and telling that the media was unable to drum up any support for Psaltis' account of his on the job "seasoning" even when they attempted to interview those chefs who were spoken highly of by Psaltis and whose names appeared in the acknowledgments page of his book.

Whoops, misspelled someone's name the first time.

Edited by Bux (log)

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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Had brunch at Country yesterday, and I truly enjoyed it. Snaps for being open on Christmas Day (although I guess a restaurant located in a hotel is more likely to be open anyway).

The saganaki appetizer was wonderful -- rich and flavorful. I've had this Greek cheese several times before, and too often it's served overcooked, undercooked, or just plain rubbery. Not so here -- the texture was perfect, melting and succulent, not a touch of rubber anywhere. Usually saganaki is flavored with ouzo, set aflame, and then the flames are theatrically doused with lemon juice. I didn't see anything set aflame in the dining room (thank goodness), but the cheese had the right lovely complex flavors -- salty, lemon-y, and the subtle flavor of licorice that I'm assuming must have been ouzo. It was served hot in the pan with cubes of fennel (accenting the licorice flavor -- seemed very thoughtful to me since it complemented the ouzo so well) and roasted tomato and a bit of the fennel fronds on top. IMHO, this was a dish that worked on every level.

Mr. alacarte had the special of the day -- a smoked salmon entree served with wedges of potato pancake (reminded me strongly of latkes -- maybe that was intentional, maybe not) and a soft poached egg on top. The waiter told us that they smoke the salmon in house. The salmon was poached and not at all salty, which wasn't quite what I had expected but still was delicious. It had a nice velvety texture too. They should add it to the menu on a permanent basis.

I had the risotto primavera, which was good but not outstanding. They got the texture right -- separate grains of rice, not a glutinous mess of rice. The vegetable broth the rice was cooked in was a bright green, which smelled fresh and appetizing but it was a little off-putting to receive a small glass pot full of green rice. They saute vegetables separately and then put them on top of the risotto with melted Parmesan on top, it looks very pretty that way. It was good but I missed the way flavors meld together in risotto -- this was like two dishes served together.

One last note -- clever presentation of mr. alacarte's iced tea. Country freezes iced tea into cubes (a good idea, which I first heard about here from phaelon!). It's a nice idea, but they make a very big deal out of it. Guests are first presented an insulated cup full of orange iced-tea cubes and then a small pitcher of liquid iced tea is poured over the cubes with a bit of fanfare. OK, OK, we get it!

The upstairs is beautiful, crystal chandeliers that look like icicles and a huge Tiffany glass dome. The second floor should be open in January. I have every intention of taking advantage of the Champagne Bar on the 2nd floor. The bar seems stocked with the same stuff as the big bar downstairs, but it's tiny and intimate.

Summary -- this place gets a thumbs-up from me.

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Well-made albeit cold rolls on the table ruined by poor olive oil but later rescued by a disc of imported butter (individually wrapped and labeled).

I'm agreeing with this. Dump that olive oil! It's served in pretty flasks that look like something to be sold at the hotel gift shop, but tastes like a mouthful of greasy nothing. I should have asked for butter.

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