653 11th Avenue, New York NY 10036 (at 48th Street; map); 212-757-2224
Service: Friendly, solicitous
Setting: Handsome hotel dining room designed by David Rockwell. It does feel like a hotel dining room.
Compare It To: Craft Bar, Market Table
Mus-Haves: Maple Bacon Sticky Bun, Yogurt parfait, Pappardelle with Lamb Bollognese, Duck Confit Sandwich
Cost: At least $35 for a two course lunch all in, and $50 for the equivalent at dinner
In a city as restaurant-saturated as New York, every successful restaurant has its own M.O., its own distinct reason to be. There are celebrity chef-driven restaurants, fashion-and-buzz-driven restaurants, ingredient-driven restaurants, and restaurants based on or inspired by a specific region, country, or even a continent. By the third time I ate at Print, the new restaurant in the equally new Ink Hotel with the talented husband and wife team of Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez and Charles Rodriguez, I must admit I found myself wondering about the restaurant's positioning (or lack thereof) in the ever-expanding galaxy of New York restaurants. The description on the restaurant's website didn't help all that much:
Print is a seasonally inspired farm-to-table restaurant located in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen. The menu incorporates sustainable ingredients from New York area regional farms and local vendors sourced by our in-house forager. The cuisine evokes the sensibilities of cooking found in the southern parts of France and Italy.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? A little too familiar. But God is in the details, especially when it comes to restaurants, so the serious eaters took a cab to the neighborhood of car dealers that surrounds Print, just to see if Print added up to more than the sum of its "saying all the right things" parts.
Carlucci is a prodigiously talented pastry chef, so brunch gives her a chance to strut her stuff. Her maple bacon sticky buns ($4) have a crunchy exterior and tender interior, and are moist, sweet, and just porky enough. We ordered two for the table, and we weren't sorry.
Grilled house-made flatbread topped with a fried egg, pancetta, Parmesan, and fresh thyme ($9) sounds like a perfect breakfast pizza, but alas, the flatbread was a little, well, flat.
Yogurt parfait layered with house-made granola ($10), is a throwaway on many brunch and breakfast menus around time, but not here. The yogurt is tart and ultra-creamy, the granola worthy of Serious Eats' resident oat lover Erin Zimmer's scrutiny, and this parfait is studded with terrific roasted fruit.
The Rodriguezes and their full-time forager seem to have a thing for sustainably raised pigs (and rightfully so), so it wasn't surprising that a slow-roasted pork sandwich with Berkshire ham, fontina cheese, and pickled onions ($15), was terrific—sweet, tangy, and plenty porky. I say "was," because, alas, it is no longer on the brunch or lunch menu. Why do good restaurants take seriously delicious things off the menu for no apparent reason?
It has been replaced by an even better duck confit sandwich ($15) topped with duck prosciutto and the same housemade pickles. This intensely flavorful sandwich is accompanied by perfectly fine crunchy broccoli tempura. Why? I do not know.
The burger ($16) is made with grass-fed beef and served with fine local cheddar cheese, excellent smoked bacon, pickled red onions, and very good french fries. This is a perfectly conceived fancy-pants burger done in by the grass-fed beef, which is a little soft and not juicy enough (even when ordered rare) for my taste. I long for the day that politically correct grass-fed and finished beef tastes as good as its evil corn-fed cousin.
A blood orange salad ($9) is well-put together with dates, almonds, arugula, and a champagne vinaigrette. It seemed a little skimpy, but it was a damn good salad.
A baby romaine caesar salad ($7) with croutons and good Parmesan cheese is properly tangy, crispy, and lemon-y. It won't change your life, but very few caesar salads do.
Steamed little neck clams, chorizo, potatoes, and grilled bread ($12), are an obvious nod to Portugal, and made to order for dunking the Sullivan Street Bakery bread that comes with it. This might have been too salty even for me, one of the great salt lovers of all time.
Rodriguez has a way with pasta. Pizzoccheri (buckwheat noodles) traditionally prepared with mushroom sauce, Parmesan, speck, sage, and pea shoots, was soul-satisfying and hit the spot on a dreary March day. But alas, with the arrival of spring came the departure of this item from the menu. Bring it back, Charles, please! It's cold outside.
Spinach pappardelle with a lamb bolognese ($16), the pasta currently on the menu, was even better. The nubbins of freshly ground lamb were barely sauced but didn't need to be, and the spinach noodles were perfectly cooked.
Seared scallops, pancetta, artichoke, roasted tomatoes, spinach, and olive tapenade ($24) has the makings of an overly busy and needlessly complicated dish, but it was in fact seriously delicious. The scallops had that gorgeous, burnished color and golden brown crust that I can never seem to get at home, and the olive tapenade is in fact the glue that holds the whole dish together.
Grilled pastured chicken ($18) comes from perhaps the best-in-show chicken purveyor used by many New York chefs, Pennsylvania's Four Story Hill Farms, but it was too dry, even though it came with a chicken jus that topped the bird itself along with a bed of sweet, nutty, delicious roasted parsnips, celery root, and beets.
Desserts might be the strongest part of Print's game. It's no surprise considering Carlucci was one of New York City's best pastry chefs before opening the now sadly shuttered teeny, tiny Indian restaurant Lassi on Greenwich Avenue.
A frozen hazelnut parfait ($8), made of Argyle Farms maple yogurt mousse, espresso syrup, and warm grappa, was amazing. It's sweet, it's tart, it's creamy, it's nutty, it's intensely flavorful—it's everything you want a dessert to be.
What is described on the menu as chocolate bread, Lancaster County honey, and Brooklyn's own Salvatore ricotta ($9), is in fact a big hunk of house-baked chocolate bread you tear off chunks from and then dip into the honey and the ricotta. I love interactive, participatory desserts, especially when they taste as good as this one.
That same Salvatore riccota shows up in another extraordinary Carlucci-Rodriguez creation, a ricotta crème brulée ($9) accompanied by slices of baked apple and apple cider sorbet. This is crème brulée raised to another level.
Print is a fuzzily positioned very good restaurant in a neighborhood that even the most intrepid New Yorkers rarely get to unless they happen to be buying a car. It should make the hotel guests very happy, because they can get a fine, fine meal without ever leaving their room. If they give the restaurant more of a distinctive focus, it could actually become a destination restaurant. The Rodriguezes have the chops to do it. They just need a little help with the vision thing, as Dubya used to say.